It has been said that the average human utters 16,000 words in a single day. As a professional journalist and father of four teenage sons, I imagine my word count is a bit higher than most.
All I know for sure is that not too long ago, I could have lived with sharing a few less of those words.
It all started innocently enough with a Facebook status update relaying a humorous story about my sons’ trip to the grocery store.
Their mission was simple: run to the store; get a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.
An otherwise uneventful trip to the store was made infinitely more interesting the next morning when I found a label for two gold dinner spoons crumpled in the floorboard of my car.
As I later learned, the boys were apparently so overcome with hunger during their 10-minute round trip to the grocery store that they bought a couple of cans of Spaghetti O’s and a two-pack of spoons for a snack on the drive home.
More than 100 of my Facebook friends liked, loved, and laughed about my story – which happened to also include a careless and insensitive passing reference to heroin addiction.
My comment – which referenced the Spaghetti O’s spoon – was unnecessary and added nothing to the story. The reference was innocent enough, but that didn’t stop my comment from being noticed by James Moore, a Hattiesburg-area man whose son< Jeffrey, tragically died from an accidental heroin overdose last year.
James, whom I have known and worked with for a number of years, silently noted my comment with a single “sad” emoji.
My heart dropped when I saw the notification and I immediately realized what I had done.
I deleted my post and sent a message to James to apologize for my ridiculous attempt to be funny.
He knew I didn’t mean anything hurtful by it, but it didn’t change the fact that I put my foot squarely into my mouth for the world to see.
And to make matters worse, I know better than to make light of such a serious problem.
Addiction is a terrible disease that has plagued my family for generations – most recently with my oldest sister, who lost her battle with alcoholism and died a few years ago at the age of 52.
In the years since her death, my family and I have struggled with feeling sad and angry while unsuccessfully trying to make sense of the tragedy.
My sister was brilliant.
But she was broken.
And her drug of choice prevented her from being able to make the decision to put down the bottle and despite her best efforts, the disease simply proved too much for her in the end.
Jeffrey Moore was brilliant, too.
He grew up in church. He played on several youth sports teams. He held down a full-time job. He graduated from community college.
For all intents and purposes, Jeffrey Moore did not portray the stereotypical image of someone who was addicted to heroin.
“And that’s the problem,” as his father explained to me. “These stereotypes and phrases are ingrained in our society.”
As James often points out, it’s going to take time and dialogue to relegate those stereotypes to the past where they belong.
In an effort to speed that transition along (and in an incredible show of strength and humility), the Moore family has chosen to take their struggle public through events like this – as well as a number of billboards scattered throughout the Pine Belt.
The billboards feature a photo of James and his son along with a simple phrase that has turned into something of a mantra for the Moore family:
“Addiction is a disease. It’s not a moral failing. Seek help.”
Those eleven simple words – when coupled with that photo of a father and a son – speak volumes.
This year, I have chosen to take a page from the Moore family and I’m going to try to be a little more deliberate with my choice of words and I encourage you to do the same.
Not so much for my our sake, but for James and his wife, Jan, and their daughter, Jenny.
And more importantly, for Jeffrey, and all of those like him who continue to struggle with addiction.
Gustafson is the not-so-mild-mannered Editor/Publisher of The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times, and The Petal News.
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