Disgraced footballer Ben Cousins was in Sydney today helping to launch an anti-drugs program. The former West Coast Eagles star admitted to his drug addiction, and teamed up with boxer Anthony Mundine to launch the World Boxing Association’s annual “KO to Drugs” bout.
Now this is all very commendable. But with all due respect, one has to ask just how helpful all this will be in the light of remarks made by Cousins at the launch. His comments seemed to effectively nullify any strong anti-drug message the launch was seeking to present. Consider these remarks:
“I knew all along that I don’t condone what I was doing but I could justify it. I think there is a lack of public awareness from a majority of people for people who are in my situation. Deep down I don’t think I really had a choice. The very things that make me a great footballer are some of the things that lead me to fall into those sorts of traps. From a medical point of view, drug addiction is an illness. It is a very hard thing for people who have not experienced it to get their head around.”
Now let me say at the outset that I have been there and done that. In my rebellious youth I was addicted to some hard core drugs. So hopefully Ben cannot so easily dismiss my concerns. And yes, he does seem to be seeking to justify his drug problem. That is not going to be much of a deterrent for young people considering illicit drug use.
Sadly, it seems that he has fully bought into the rhetoric of the pro-drug crowd by saying this is all just a health issue. The pro-drug crowd has long argued that this is not – and should not be – a criminal problem, but only seen as a health problem. That is, many want to legalise or decriminalise all drug use. They want to take it out of the criminal justice system altogether, and just pretend it is a health issue only.
Now drug use and abuse is certainly a health issue. These drugs can do real harm to your health and your lifespan. But it is exactly because drugs are so harmful that sensible societies have made them illegal. And they should stay that way. Prevention is always better than cure, and keeping people off illicit drugs is always going to be easier than setting people free from drug addiction. That is as true of Ben as of anyone else.
Keeping drugs illegal – with appropriate penalties for violations of the law – is a proven means to deter many people from getting involved with drugs in the first place. Unfortunately it appears that Ben has just become a parrot for the pro-drug crowd, and if his way of thinking prevails, many more young people will be harmed by such drug use.
And then he goes on to claim that he really did not have a choice in the matter. Indeed, he made this point a second time in response to a question: “For a lot of people they don’t choose to do it, in a lot of ways it chooses them.”
Sorry Ben, but I am not buying this. What are you trying to tell us? That someone forced you to have your first joint? That someone held a shotgun to your head, demanding you take your first hit of speed? That you had no choice when heroin or other drugs were offered to you? That some drug dealer said, “Take these drugs or we will shoot your dog”?
Sure, once addiction sets in, then it seems like choices become limited. But even there, we are not robots or choice-less pawns. We all can make choices about the addictions we have gotten into. Many people – including myself – have broken free of drug addictions.
And no apologies were forthcoming from Cousins. No shame either. “I am not ashamed or embarrassed to say I have had a drugs problem”. But why then help launch a “KO to Drugs” program? Does not such a program imply that taking drugs is somehow wrong or at least dangerous? In which case, why not feel shame?
Shame is a great protector. Along with guilt, it can help us avoid harmful activities and behaviours. But by saying he has no shame, he effectively is saying that he does not think that his drug use was really wrong. Sure, he may feel sorry that he lost his footy career, and messed up friends and families, but the core problem remains, and he still seems to be in denial about the real harm of drug abuse.
Until Cousins can admit to the wrongdoing involved in drug use, he is simply kidding himself, and is not really on the road to recovery. Just as an alcoholic has to first admit that he has a problem before real change can take place, so too here with drug abuse. Admitting our mistakes and wrong choices is the first step to recovery.
In sum, it was good of Ben to take a first step in confronting his past. But based on his comments, it seems that he has a long way to go before he will see real breakthrough in his life. And he has a long way to go before he can become an effective anti-drugs campaigner, or a helpful role model for young people.