The heart of humanity is complex and none but The One who created it can fathom what goes on with the heart! Sometimes we err and other times we witness how fellow humans err, very much to our dismay or pain. I have watched people I love succumb to substance abuse. You have conversations about how toxic substance abuse is, how it affects one's behaviour and the relationship you share.
During the conversations, everything seems to flow until my loved ones hit the next trigger and fall into the same vicious circle of substance abuse. It is devastating but not to the level of watching how someone I love is actually struggling to kick the bad habit and get their life on track. At times, I have had to practice tough love and other times empathy; no matter what I choose, substance abuse is a painful narrative that eats at both the one abusing substances and the ones that love them. Ours is a very complex truth that needs more than one of us to make sense.
The face of the narratives
I recall it like it was yesterday. His name was Tichaona and he was the kind of classmate who somehow managed to get the teacher’s attention and not always for the best of reasons. One day, he just disappeared, him and a team of other like-minded friends of his. The story was that they had been expelled for sneaking out of the school and going to buy a local brand of alcohol. Well, yes, we can say that was then, however, we do know that today it is not just alcohol. The amount of intoxicating substances on the streets have become numerous and some are beyond our comprehension. What I am so certain of is that we watch our loved ones become a shadow of their former selves. It is easier to look at substance abuse in a blanket manner and point fingers alluding to so-and-so’s child who is behaving in a manner that is wayward. Once substance abuse becomes synonymous with someone you know and love, it becomes a whole different ball game. It becomes very personal, close, intimate and no longer is a statistic but has the face of someone your heart dearly holds. It is very hard. Only one that has ever walked the road can certainly tell the tale!
Yes, Tichaona and his friends were expelled – am not sure if that has ever been a solution to anything really – so they don’t influence other students and lead a trail of destruction by inciting renegade elements within the school they say. Well, the school is for learning and some learners are more in need of schooling than others. Now dearest reader, do not get me wrong, I am certainly not promoting waywardness and saying let the schools become anarchists. I am strongly arguing that before we expel and “write-off” learners who abuse substances, how about we find out the root cause of why abusing substances is their solution of choice. Zimbabwe generally and broadly speaking has a punitive approach to life. It seems we have this toxic notion of “either or” and I have spoken at length of exploring our many shades of grey that could be workable compromises. Let us not get distracted here, the point is that there is a need to invest more in understanding and eradicating the root causes of substance abuse and not pound heavily on what I deem the fruit of substance abuse. Many fingers have been pointed and betting houses have come under fire and light of late. If you are conscious about the substance abuse culture, one will know that the so called “bases” need one to be fully aware of hope this complex narrative of substance distribution works. Again, I invite us to go to the root causes so we actually get what is happening in order to come up with solutions that last.
Coming to terms with our efforts
A story is told about a fishing community that had a very robust non-governmental organisation that did some amazing work to facilitate a process of empowerment amongst the people. It was discovered that the rate of childbirth was as steep as the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. However, what did not make sense was also that there was a very, very high uptake of condoms in this respective community. So this organisation held a community meeting and asked if people knew about condoms and they said yes, when asked if they use the condoms they also answered yes. The organisation thought maybe the issue was limited supply and they doubled the supply and yet when they returned to this same community a few months later, the challenges of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy rates were soaring. One young university graduate asked the same questions that had been asked before and got a yes but, she went ahead and asked the community how they used the condoms. It was the breakthrough point as the community made it known that the fishing community also faced challenges with the police and so when they went fishing, they used the condoms to insulate their cellphones from water so that the people on shore could alert them once the police were in the area and avoid being raided then arrested. So, yes! The community used condoms but not for what the organisation hoped – to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. What is the point here, sometimes, it does pay to ask the people who live the life and experience it in order to make sense of any situation. Substance abuse needs a holistic solution that involves anyone linked to substances.
That way, we can get to the bottom of the issues and ensure a long lasting solution. Yes, the situation is dire for now but we indeed can resolve it just like with any pandemic. You are the solution, in your home, community and country at large. No finger pointing. May we be hopeful and do whatever we can to contribute to making the situation much, much better. Until then, we live, laugh and love louder in a bid to show the world that we were here, becoming better, making our mark, and leaving our footprint as we make the world a better place!
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Chirenje writes in her personal capacity as a citizen of Zimbabwe. Twitter: @graceruvimbo; Facebook: Grace Chirenje; Instagram: @graceruvimbo