2012 and here we are again mourning in the age old battle of talent verses chemicals.
Every news report, every tribute page, every Facebook feed will be rubber stamped with the resounding public howl of ‘Why didn’t anyone help? Where were the loved ones to look after them?’
Both are blindingly naive and ignorant comments, the hallmark of a life untrammelled by the ravages of addiction, and they crop up with wearying inevitability every time a fresh corpse arrives on the doorstep.
If you’re interesting in knowing, I’ll tell you where the help was. It was sitting impotently on the sidelines, burned out by decades of failing at every solution that had occurred to it.
The concept that an addict can be helped is a cruel illusion, hanging like the proverbial carrot. Years of education, common sense and experience does not diminish the illusion.
AA’s tried and tested axiom of Awareness, Acceptance, Action as a blueprint for recovery has a quite different meaning applied to parallel programs designed for families and friends of addicts. For them, it means Awareness there is an addiction and that your life is swirling down the plughole as you obsess about how to stop the frightening decline of someone you love. Acceptance that you can do nothing, nothing to stop it. Action in repairing your own life which has been ravaged as surely as if you were taking the drugs in their stead.
For to suggest otherwise, that you have no responsibility for your own life, it is worth nothing and you are undeserving of a modicum of peace of mind or happiness, is to devalue the currency of what it means to be human as surely as if you made the decision to give your life over to chemicals yourself.
Here’s how it begins, in the flush of youth when one has the best of intentions and the belief that if one tries hard enough a change can be effected, if only an addict could see sense and be brought to realize how they are self destructing and bringing their family down with them by their apparently breathtaking insensitivity.
Worry and fear are expressed to deaf ears. Word gets back to you, oh yes, it always does, what social etiquettes have been breached, what borders of scandalous encroachments into decent behaviour have been crossed. How many days an addict has stayed up for, who they have stolen from, who they threw up on at a dinner party, who they assaulted, what financial difficulties they are in, when they were arrested, who died right beside them doing the exact same amounts of drugs.
You begged. You argued. You watched as they left the house at 4am so they wouldn’t have to witness your tears. You listened as they provoked rows as an excuse to storm out, indeed you walked on eggshells waiting for the inevitable build up to a confrontation because you recognized the signs that a binge was coming. You took the blame for being the cause of their turmoil.
You made excuses and lied to cover up how bad things were or why important appointments were ignored. Interviews, jobs, Christmas, birthdays. You invented reasons for absences and nursed the pain, anger and resentment. Then you tidied them all away in order to grocery shop, show up for parent day, clean the house, all the little things that constitute running a life you now did alone so there would be a life to return to should the addict get sober.
You confiscated their access to money, cut cards up, changed joint bank accounts. You threatened anyone you found a number for screwed up in a back pocket when you washed vomit off rancid clothes. You turned down invitations to events you felt might result in not seeing someone for three weeks due to the temptation it might involve. Refused holidays, worrying what might happen to the house, to them, if you left. You sat in night after night babysitting as home made security, monitoring the telephone. Hid car keys. Searched for tiny plastic bags in the back of drawers. You locked up clothing. Staged interventions, consulted professionals, researched meetings, rehabs. You drove optimistically, hundreds of miles to therapy sessions, for you, for them. Modified your reactions and attitudes for fear of being accused of causing an outburst. You arranged kidnaps. Bore the sudden disappearance of all your valuables. Scoured streets in the small hours, burst into parties you heard were happening and caused scenes. Ferried them home with one arm on the door lock.
One day someone has the forethought to explain to you that unless you chain someone to the floor they will continue using, no matter how terrible a depth they have sunk to or brought you to the brink of and to your relief it makes perfect sense. They say, what about you? Do you have a life any more? A light goes on and you see that you do not. You have become a shell who no longer functions save for dedicating an ugly, thankless existence to stopping a destructive path and attending court dates. You would make inroads to change that except for the fact that your attention is currently diverted by saving the home you live in and the life of the one you used to love, or the life of the one you gave life to in the first place, only to watch them squander it.
You lose the home anyway, amongst the mess of bailiffs and bill collectors that you have arranged your life around avoiding and sidestepping to no avail. What might have made a difference has gone into the pockets of lawyers and dealers.
A ray of light appears and sobriety seems to have been achieved. You pour your heart into supportive letters to half way houses, to jails. You give up days, weekends to visitation rights. You accept that strangers, well meaning and callous alike, now supervise your interaction with the person in treatment and you acquiesce to their rules without a murmur. You fork over the last of your money as a lifeline. There is elation, love, a renewal of hope. Promises are made as well as apologies. You shoulder your share of learning new behaviour in order to maintain the peace, treading carefully and remembering not to ask for much or restrict freedoms. You reluctantly let go of fear, thinking hourly that you may need it, you never know. You surrender time that might have been spent on living a life to the structure that has replaced it of AA meetings, Al Anon and counselling, figuring it is the price to pay for the absence of unending horror. You may perhaps be told that now sobriety has been reached, that you represent the past and a life of joy cannot be attained unless it is with someone else who doesn’t carry the baggage you do. The renewed person, with all their hard won wisdom and repaired life, lavishes their best efforts on someone who sees what a sensitive, wonderful person they are, full of morals, ethics and compassion.
Your mouth remains zipped every time a situation occurs, a person appears on the horizon, that might threaten your tenuous hold on something approaching normality but soon you begin to notice that vows are slipping, appointments sliding and periods of time are again being lost and unaccounted for and with a heart of lead you wait. You wait and allow the situation to sink to the lowest depth in the hope it may be the key to a realization that a person has reached rock bottom from which they must surely want to return. You allow them to lose everything afresh, including yourself. You withhold love and contact wishing it would hasten the seemingly impossible to grasp but ridiculously simple truth that life sucks for them due entirely to their addiction even though inside you are dying little by little, hour by hour. Weeks and months go by in which you force yourself into daily activity, a smile, a job showed up to with good grace. When you laugh a small internal voice pipes up wondering how you can find anything funny when so much is at stake. When you surf the internet the thought occurs each morning that you may see a news article announcing the death of the person you love. Each telephone ring – this could be it. You view almost everything in your friend’s lives as trivial, invalidating their small triumphs and woes as petty frippery in comparison to what you shoulder. They are salt in your wounds and you find yourself shunning their company.
Rinse and repeat.
Now ten, perhaps even twenty years pass. Hope and expectation have long since fallen away beyond reach and the weight in your chest is taken as much for granted as an old piece of furniture in the corner of the room. You would care, the next time you are informed that addiction has once more been succumbed to, but being numb and the practice of feeling nothing as self-defence is second nature to you and comes as naturally as breathing. The power to shock you fell by the wayside so long ago you are incapable of surprise, it remains as distant as virginity. All you know how to do is once again remove yourself from the firing line. To cease to care. It infects who you are capable of being, this lack of emotion. It floods over what you say, eat, think until life has lost colour and vivacity and has bled into drabness and inaction. You have heard all the wisdom, platitudes and nuggets of positive sayings and yet none of it changes anything or revives a heart that stops beating. Yours. Theirs.
The day dawns that has hung like a spectre over each waking second you lived through. Death. As if the addict has learned nothing, seen nothing, felt not one ounce of the interminable fear and love that you carried for years. You have no surprise or shock left because you have rehearsed this moment for long, dark decades, thousands of times, and here it is. And it is, as you have always known it would be, the final nail in your own coffin too.
People say, where were the loved ones? Why didn’t they help?