The Empty Chair at the Holiday Table
The Holiday season is upon us and many people have an empty chair at their holiday table. At this time, when the weather turns chilly and we move indoors to enjoy the warmth and safety of our homes and the closeness of family and friends, I am acutely aware of those not so fortunate: people who are out in the elements, either because of dire financial situations or mental and addictive illness.
The Holidays are particularly difficult for those who must navigate the mighty and destructive waves of addiction. It is a painful time for families who are separated because of a loved one’s incarceration, whose young person is lost on the streets due to drug problems, whose children are in danger because of the violence of the drug cartels, or those who have lost a loved one to overdose. Often a family member is missing from the festivities because of stigma and shame.
I don’t remember when I started dreading Thanksgiving. It wasn’t after my father or my nephew died, because they were remembered and celebrated at the table, or even after the breakup of my first marriage. It was all of the times that my older son was absent because he was locked behind bars in that cold, concrete jungle, and I couldn’t figure out where I belonged – with him to somehow nurture and sustain him, or in the bosom of the rest of my family. It is the memories of holidays when one of my sons wasn’t included because he was lost in the maze of his addiction, and his name wasn’t even mentioned because of pain, discomfort and even judgment. Those omissions widened the hole in my heart.
I weep for the countless families who have been torn apart by discriminatory and destructive drug policies that lock up fathers and remove children from their mothers in the name of the war on drugs, which is really a war waged against families and communities.
During the holidays mothers are banding together and speaking out with human stories of injustice and devastation, to encourage other mothers to join our voices for change. Moms United to End the War on Drugs is an international movement to end the violence, mass incarceration and accidental overdose deaths that are result of these blundering punitive policies. At a time when 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the United States and overdose is a leading cause of accidental death, mothers must lead the way in demanding harm reduction strategies, health-oriented solutions, and restorative justice.
Moms United to End the War on Drugs is a campaign of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), an 18 year old non-profit organization that advocates for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies.
This story was submitted by Gretchen Burns Bergman who is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of A New PATH, and Lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign.
Visit their website for more information: https://www.momsunited.net/empty-chair