A friend of mine texted me and said something remarkably haunting and familiar. She had recently gone through the loss of an ex-lover who had succumbed to his drug addiction, and was baffled by the fact that, though she spent several years loving him and crying over him, she wasn’t terribly upset by the news of his death. In fact, it bothered her to not be bothered by it.
“I really want to know why it doesn’t make me sadder that he died.”
Without hesitation, I responded:
“Because the one you loved died a long time ago.”
It was something so simple and familiar that it was upsetting to not be shocked by it. What a terrible and true statement.
It’s something that isn’t talked about. We talk about drug addiction and the stigma that envelops it. We talk about all the things that surround it, but we never talk about the death that happens while people are still with us, while they are still flesh and bone, while they are still warm and next to us. We talk about the people that are actively using, but we don’t talk about the victims that are left in their wake.
In a lot of my writing, I refer to the loves of my life that I’ve lost that are still very much alive. I lost two of my best friends, two people that I loved more than the air that I breathed, to alcohol and drug abuse. They had different poisons and different paths, but both mirrored each other in ways that it still breaks my heart to this day. In all honesty, it will likely break my heart for the rest of my life.
As I’ve gotten older, the hurt and the anger turned into understanding and empathy. One of them has since gotten sober and really turned their life around, but our relationship will never be the same, no matter how much we may want it to at times. We were two peas in a pod, two people who understood each other in ways that nobody else really did. We referred to each other as platonic soulmates. We loved one another without hesitation or reservation, and it was one of the truest friendships I’ve ever had. But love that deep can’t save someone from something like heroin, and as a self-preservationist, I wasn’t willing to try, and I ran away faster than the speed of light. It breaks my heart. Losing her hurt more than any man I’ve ever loved and lost in my lifetime. That is a pain that I will take to my grave and I will never have a friendship like that again. There are days that I feel like a failure because I wasn’t able to be there for her when she needed me the most. Before it happened, we hung out with these people who we thought were absolutely amazing. Older. Sophisticated. These two guys who we dated, who we thought were just the most awesome people ever. We were young and stupid. Hers would be the one who introduced her to heroin. Mine would be the one who wined and dined me, then drugged and raped me. She was 17. I was 19. I never went back. She stayed. I wish she hadn’t.
There are days where I am baffled that someone as brilliant and as beautiful could be sucked in by such an awful disease. Addiction knows no limits nor does it discriminate. It’s something that I will never understand, and while she may never know this, the more I learn about her sobriety and how she has changed her life, the more proud I become of her. I almost feel like it added something extra to her story. I root for her. I want her life to be something meaningful and brilliant, and I’m hoping she does everything in her power to accomplish that, and I hope she knows that I loved her even during her darkest days, even if I wasn’t there to tell her that.
The other was one of the most tumultuous relationships I’ve ever been in that spanned the better part of ten years. I watched him choose other women, drugs, and a shady lifestyle over being the human being that I had fallen in love with. He was the first person I ever loved and I let him destroy every part of me. He constantly cheated on his girlfriends (including me, I have no doubt) and would try any drug that you put in front of him. I was his backburner girl. I was always there to pick up the pieces of every stupid thing he did and every other girl that he broke, until he would get bored and find something else to do. He got his first DUI before his 21st birthday, got engaged to a girl that enabled him and did equally horrendous things, and bounced from relationship to relationship, from house to house, until he had seemingly gotten his life together.
Our paths crossed later in life, and it seemed like fate. When we got back together, I felt like I won the lottery. Here I was, early twenties, still completely smitten – if not moreso – by the boy I grew up with that I desperately wanted to finally love me back. I had just gotten out of a relationship with someone else who loved booze just about as much as he did and had made my life a living hell for a year straight. (Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?) He drank once in a while, but I finally felt like I didn’t need to worry about him, or handle him, or watch his every move.
Until once in a while became all the time. A few beers became an entire case. I was young, so it’s not like I didn’t drink when we would go to parties or go out to dinner. I was never quite on his level, and I never really wanted to be, but something about it made me feel really unsettled. I had a good job, hopes for a family, and wanted to make something more out of my life. I would stop by his house randomly – I remember one time in particular, I stopped by to surprise him a little after 7pm, and he was passed out on the couch, about 6-7 beer bottles in the sink, and I knew I could no longer make excuses for him.
The final straw of our relationship was the frantic phone call I received from his mother at 1 in the morning. I had just gotten out of a 12-hour shift at my job, completely exhausted, horribly unnerved – I had spent the better part of my day fighting with him and trying to convince him to stay at a party where he was at because I knew he had been drinking, when my phone rang.
“He’s been in an accident.”
Seeing him covered in blood and reeking of booze on a stretcher, his neck in a brace, and drifting in and out of consciousness was one of the biggest wake up calls I’ve ever had in my life. I could have been in that car. My children could have been in that car. No amount of love I would ever have for another human being could ever excuse this behavior, nor could it ever allow me to jeopardize all that I’ve ever worked for. We parted ways shortly after that. Painfully, dramatically, and not without lots of bitterness and fighting, drunken phone calls, and failed attempts at being friends. It was the worst breaking up of hearts that I’ve ever endured because, for the first time in our dramatic and awful relationship, it had been my choice to stop it. It’s amazing that I can look back on something that happened so many years ago and still derive so much raw emotion out of it when I can guarantee that I am not even a blip on that person’s radar. I’m sure that wherever he is now, he doesn’t think of me or the way that I spent half of my life allowing myself to be broken by his actions. I am not sure that he ever loved me, and it took me a very long time to be okay with that.
I knew that, no matter what I did to try to save him, or what I did to try to convince him that he was better, or whatever magical, ridiculous, fairy-tale ideas that I threw at him, it was his choice. I was never going to convince him otherwise, and he was never going to choose me. He never did before. He certainly wasn’t going to now.
That’s the beauty of addiction and indulgence. It’s a type of self-inflicted ignorance that we as sober people don’t have the luxury of experiencing. However, we are not immune. I think that it’s ignorant for people to say that they would “never fall into that path”. They would “never get that low”. Nobody ever wakes up and intends to be an addict or an alcoholic. I truly don’t believe that it’s anybody’s intention to give up control over their entire life. It’s a means to an end for some people. We are all human.
As “sober” people in these situations, we have two choices: we can stay and enable, and allow the actions of others to be accepted, or we can choose to walk away from the situation, and risk being called heartless, misunderstanding, and cold. We can be guilt-tripped into thinking that we are just the same as them – because we can responsibly carry on our lives and do things like have the occasional drink or two, go to parties and not get hammered, get drunk once every few years and regret every moment of it like other people and be hungover for three days because our bodies aren’t used to it. We can respectfully abstain from things like marijuana and other recreational drug use because, well, we just don’t want to do it. There’s no reason behind it. There’s no excuse behind it. Plain and simple, I don’t want to use drugs. I never have in my thirty years on this planet, and I never will. That’s my choice. Why am I judged for my choice? Why is it okay for you to use marijuana or cocaine, but it’s not okay for me to choose not to? Why does that automatically make me “snobby” or “holier than thou” because I make a different choice? I don’t judge you – why do you judge me?
Addiction affects everyone around the person that is afflicted, and it affects them in different ways. We all react differently to it. Some of us get angry, some of us get even. Some of us get empathetic and want to help, some of us run away. We all heal differently and we all react differently when it’s not our own battle. We have to. We are all survivors. We are all in this together. We are all in pain. We all hurt. We all just choose to fight our battles differently.
You truly never know what the person next to you is going through. Always be kind, but more than that, always be grateful. Always be gracious. Always be humble. We are all fighting some kind of demon. Our demons all have different faces but have the same intentions. Do not allow your demons to destroy you. They will destroy much more than you think. You are loved more than you think you are. There is someone out there that thinks that you are the most incredible human being they’ve ever met. Figure out who you want to be, and be that person on purpose. Get help. Talk to someone. Do something before you pick up that bag or that drink. Someone will want to help you if you want to help yourself. I promise you that. If you are struggling, even if you are in the throes of addiction, if you are in the underbelly of the darkest place you’ve ever been, put your hand up. Pray. Ask. Someone will answer. Someone cares. Do it for you. Do it for the you that you want to be. There is a 7-year-old version of you that wants so much more for you than what you are right now. You can still be that person. Just believe.