Saturday, July 14, 2012
My youngest sister just called me. She was crying and the connection was not good but I made out the word "died" and my heart sunk. She was calling to tell me that an old friend to she and her husband, had committed suicide. I don't know the circumstances and my rule in situations like this is to ask little but listen to whatever the other person wants to tell. I did not know their friend well but I had met him a few times. I remember the first time I met him my first reaction was one of gratitude. I was grateful because I was meeting him when I was a sober, married woman in my 30's. Had he and I met under different circumstances, at a different time in our lives, I have the feeling he would have been a certain heartache for me, no matter if a relationship had developed, or not. He was very appealing - handsome, smart, strong, but troubled. Deeply troubled, it would turn out. He fought addiction for all of his adult life, and he lost.
Addiction is a beast. Anyone who knows me knows I have a history in this area and anyone who has read my blogs knows I tend to turn toward analogies when trying to make sense of things that seem to make no sense whatsoever. Addiction runs in my family. Addiction runs in my husband's family. Addiction runs in my ex-husband's family. This means my children have DNA marked by addictive tendencies. I have no need or desire to debate that addiction and alcoholism tend to have genetic markers. I know what I know and what I have lived. I have been very upfront with my children about their need for caution and awareness regarding certain substances and certain behaviors. Addiction thrives on secrecy and denial. Left unchallenged, it takes over. I have family members who have struggled their way to sobriety (my sister's beloved husband, thankfully). I have family members who use substances in such a way, and with such frequency, that I find it alarming but they are adults and unless they have a desire to turn away from the lifestyle, there is little I can do besides pray, at this point, and live as an example that being clean and sober is entirely possible (I gratefully celebrated 27 years of sobriety on Independence Day, fittingly). I have relatives who are in the "zombie" stage of addiction - not quite dead, not quite alive, and willing to take out anyone in their way who would stand between them and their drugs - needless to say, there is no actual relationship left between us at this sad stage. Addiction is baffling to those who suffer with it, and incomprehensible to people who do not have addictive tendencies. Hence, the analogy:
Imagine being a child who is lonely and scared and you carry around the feeling that you don't really fit in anywhere. Imagine someone gives you a small animal and it makes you feel better, less alone, happier for awhile. People try and warn you that this thing is going to get bigger and wilder and you better be careful because it will turn on you. You think it might, at some point, but for now you are bigger and stronger than it and you are in control and it makes you happy, for now. You have friends who feel the same way so you think that if they are doing it, it will work for you too. You keep feeding this animal and you become more and more attached and dependent upon it to make you feel less alone in a scary world. It gets bigger and bigger and stronger and meaner and scarier but still, you feed it because now you ARE afraid of it, and you know it will turn on you but if you just keep feeding it, maybe it will settle in and once again comfort you, the way it used to. But, there comes a time when there is no denying that this thing is going to kill you, and now you find yourself chained to it. You can't go anywhere without it and the only thing you think about is feeding it or escaping it. To escape, you will have to go through the dark and endure pain and be alone and face all your fears. Knowing this, being terrified of the unknown, you may stay and take your chances. You continue to feed it and there is no longer any question that you long since relinquished the position of being in charge, of being bigger and stronger - you are no match for this thing. Because pain is a great motivator, there comes a time when the pain of staying trumps the fear of leaving and you break free and, while it is never easy to escape, it is liberating and you find that you are stronger than you knew, that you are capable of enduring more than you thought you could bear, and that loneliness and discomfort will not kill you and will eventually ease up. Even when the painful feelings return, and they will from time to time, you have more strength at bearing up under their weight. Some people, though, don't escape in time. They always think they will - tomorrow, next week, just a little bit longer - until it is too late and the beast takes all.
Rest in peace, finally, Stephen. Those who loved you, those who knew you, and even those you only knew you a little, are saddened by your death. I always thought you would escape.