In 2015, award-winning Canadian artist, Chris Janz, released the album Complicated Me. With themes of love, longing, loss, hope and comfort, the gifted singer/songwriter/producer had crafted an inspiring collection of 12 songs that touched the hearts of millions, including the powerful "Broken" which has become the theme behind Janz' new initiative to change the perception of addiction.
And now, Janz steps forward, offering honest insight into the complicated truth behind his music, giving perspective to the mystery in much of his work. With both courage and candor, Janz addresses the issue of addiction in his own life, and his desire to help others with his own truth.
With his essay, "I Am Not Afraid, And You Are Not Alone," Chris Janz shares the painful secret he's held deep in his heart, and reveals the soul of his music. Additionally, Chris has released a video for his powerful new song, "You're Not Alone."
Chris Janz has been sharing his compelling and inspiring music and is making special appearances as a speaker on the subject of raising awareness, and removing the stigma of addiction.
I AM NOT AFRAID, AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Imagine choosing to stand up in front of the entire world to reveal the deepest, darkest secret inside you, the one truth you thought you'd guard with your life and take to your grave. We all have secrets. No matter how cavalier, confident, or courageous, we crumble when we consider our most precious and protected secrets laid bare. Just thinking of the reactions and judgement of both loved ones and strangers causes shame and crippling fear.
Regardless of the cause or fault, we are convinced that to reveal ourselves would be relational or social suicide. Despite assurances from those who love us, we fear that discovery of our weaknesses will mean the loss of acceptance and love. Deep down, even in the security of secrecy, we doubt being worthy of that love and acceptance anyway.
So, here I am, about to lay bare an aspect of my life that at one point was a vehemently guarded secret fueled by profound shame and regret. I feel that familiar unease, because there is a stigma surrounding anything that is different or misunderstood, and even in the privacy of this room, alone with my keyboard, I am painfully aware of the reaction of those who will read my words. Still, it is time. I need to shed the crushing weight of this secret, hidden for so long from everyone in my life.
I don't remember when I made the leap from "prescription enthusiast" to "career junkie," but I do remember the first time I felt the pangs of fear, and alarm bells went off, resonating through me. I am an addict.
My journey into drugs doesn't read like the stereotypical high school foray from pot as a "gateway drug" and on to riskier drugs. In fact, I believe that marijuana is no more to blame than alcohol as a contributing factor in making the move to harder drugs. But, that is not my story, anyway. For me, it began with legitimate health issues. I underwent 8 surgeries between the ages of about 11 and 25, and struggled with real pain for a long time. My drugs were prescribed, legal, and as a Canadian citizen, generally free.
I got drugs from a doctor. I had a prescription. Clearly, I couldn't be one of "those people," an addict.
I remember the first time I felt withdrawal. It was Thanksgiving weekend and I was taking two weeks off from my job as music pastor to do a project in the studio. I had run out of a prescription early and had not thought to get it refilled. As symptoms set in, I tried to convince myself that it wasn't anything serious, but I knew deep down it was the angry pang of withdrawal.
I thought of people I had seen coming off of heroin. I tried to convince myself that something else was going on. As I drove home that night after a completely failed recording session, I finally admitted to myself ... it is the drugs.
It was a hellish, painful and frightening experience. I called my doctor and told him that I was going through withdrawal and that I needed help coming off of the painkillers. What I did not tell my doctor was the fact that I had begun filtering and injecting painkillers. Able to admit that I have become dependent upon drugs, I was not yet able to admit just how bad things really had become. I told my doctor that I needed to stop, but actually stopping felt impossible. In anguish and shame, I tried to comprehend what I was becoming ... what I had become, and I felt incredibly alone. Who could I turn to?
I was the one that others turned to; working at a church as a music pastor. Church people aren't addicts, I told myself. Church people don't study the science of drugs in order to determine that 50% more medication is delivered to the brain via injection rather than ingestion, and yet, this is what I had done. How could this be me? Addiction was something shameful that happened to other people.
And yet, it was me... working in a church, but no better than the addict lying in the street.
Suddenly, in what remains one of the most profound moments of my life, the realization struck. I have never been any better than the addict lying on the street; those "invisible" people. I was active, involved, visible ... but my secret remained invisible. That addict in the alley seemed more honest to me than I did to myself.
Over the next few years, painkillers turned to street heroin. It was an objective decision. Heroin was simply cheaper. My marriage ended, and a part of me simply stopped caring. I just didn't want to hurt and heroin masked the pain.
My music has often reflected the truth that I held in secret. I work through my own pain and my realizations about others by writing. I've only gained the courage to share my truth recently, after years of people telling me that my songs touched something in them. My hope is that more people will find inspiration in my music when they understand the honesty behind those lyrics. Perhaps someone will feel brave enough to share their own truth. Perhaps someone else will be inspired to see addiction differently, with less judgement.
I have lost the ability to pass judgement on others. It is so easy to consider ourselves above those we deem lesser. We may not say it, but it's what we think. I look at others now and wonder, what is his story? What is her story? She was five years old once, innocent and carefree, how did she come to be in such misery?
My purpose in writing this is not to tell my whole story at this time. Frankly, it's still too painful, complicated and frightening. My struggle is ongoing, but there is a need to shed some light on this grossly misunderstood problem.
Society is largely uninformed, or misinformed. We hear that addiction is an illness, but we still treat it as something darker, shameful, even evil. We are far more accepting of alcoholism as an illness because drinking, as an activity, is socially acceptable. There is a system that profits from society's weakest at their most vulnerable. The pharmaceutical companies that both contribute to the cause and then offer a "cure" with treatments like methadone maintenance which keeps addict addicted while companies score millions in profits. The "war on drugs" means that billions of dollars are poured into police, courts, prisons, guards etc., turning what should be a medical and social issue into a criminal one. The justice system is clogged and impotent.
Yes, there is a huge illegal drug trade and there is organized crime. I'm not advocating for this. My concern is with the individuals who struggle with addiction, and even with the small time drug dealers. Yes, they are people too, and most of the time, have been pushed into dealing because they themselves are addicted and it is the only way they can support their own habit. If they were not addicted, they would not be dealing.
The war on drugs is really a war on the suffering. No child says, "When I grow up I want to be an addict." No one, while trying to ease one pain, considers that they have just started down the road to much more pain. There is a reason why one person can be content to stop taking painkillers when the pain is gone, and another will find any excuse to get more. It is neurological. It is medical. It is psychological. Addiction is an illness.
It is so easy to turn away from people we see on the street, the ones begging for change, the people that bear the title "drug addict." There is responsibility in caring. It is simpler and less painful to look away than it is to accept the obligations that come with caring. It also makes us feel just a little bit better about ourselves for not being "like them."
My goal in coming forward is to try to restore some sympathy for people who battle this illness. By laying bare my undeniable humanity, I am admitting and confronting that I am one of "them."
Today, this very minute, you know someone who is a drug addict. They don't talk to you about it because it is so unacceptable that they would rather continue to suffer in silence than risk being labeled as an addict. Just imagine what would happen to so many of those we love if the same misguided attitude was applied to any other illness ... diabetes, cancer, depression.
We need to restore some humanity to those so marginalized and cast aside. In my own addiction, I never stopped being the good man that I was, but I was struggling in illness, just as someone with diabetes or depression or any other disease struggles. The stigma, however, made it impossible to reach out for help. I realize that there is a person inside every one of those figures in the dark alleys that we ignore every day. They have a story. They have a life. They have a soul. I'm no better than any one of them, and I have never been: before, during, or after addiction. Neither are you. The only thing worse than struggling with addiction is struggling with addiction alone.
Addiction is complicated. It is a chronic disease of the brain and of the soul. Recovery requires bringing addiction out of the shadows and secrecy. It must be treated as a medical issue instead of viewed as some sort of character weakness. It must be brought out of the criminal justice system which only exacerbates the issue, punishing those who are suffering, and further instilling the need for secrecy.
Only by creating a climate in which people are free to admit the problem can we remove the fear that keeps addicts trapped inside their addiction, terrified of becoming a social pariah, of losing friends and loved ones. The added fear of criminal prosecution prohibits people from standing up to simply say, "Please help me."
Fear is a part of the human condition, something to which no one is immune, but on this issue, I am no longer afraid. Here it is. This is my weakness. I am standing up to say to others, "You are not alone."
I've been there and felt so isolated. If someone reading this is dealing with addiction, I am telling you that you are both an addict AND a good person. Your gifts, your grace, your goodness, your very humanity are innate. They are as much a part of you as your hands or feet. You do not lose your limbs by falling under the curse of addiction. Neither do you lose all of the wonderful things that make you special, that make you unique, that make you important.
I lean on my Christian faith daily. The biggest role of faith is the knowledge that I am not alone, that at the times that seem darkest, there is always a light that is brighter, and that when I feel weakest, that there is strength to be found in the One that is greater than myself. In my weakness, there is strength to be found in the amazing love that dwarfs human comprehension. There are plenty of times I have not felt up to the task. I have not felt good enough or strong enough, and knowing there is Someone infinitely greater than myself, and that He still cares about me, has at times been the greatest comfort and source of inspiration.
And to those fortunate enough to live free of this curse, I encourage the desire to look for the human under the horror of addiction. I pray that you will see the face of the person behind the mask of addiction. The person on the street may have been your neighbor last year. Maybe that person on the street, but for the grace of God, could be YOU next year. And I would challenge people with this: The next time you find yourself standing in judgement of another, maybe because they are dirty, or they smell bad, please stop yourself and consider how you might instead make a positive difference. Rather than give someone money, maybe bring them some food and take the time to ask, and listen to their story. It just might be the first time anyone cared enough to ask. And as you listen, you may be surprised to find that the addict is also a doctor, a lawyer, a cop, a salesman, a CEO ... because addiction does not discriminate.
In my truth, I feel strong enough now to say to others, "You are not lesser, and you are not alone," and I am strong enough to ask others to join me in facing this disease with compassion rather than judgement.