I love someone who has quietly crossed the line from being a clever and carefree, sometimes moody person to someone who is so firmly within the grip of an addiction that it permeates every aspect of his life. (Before the emails come rolling in, no, it is not Jack.)
There are a few phone numbers that, when I see them displayed across my screen, cause me to freeze momentarily. I take a moment to compose myself before answering, because I am well aware that the voice on the other end of the phone may share bad news. I say hello and, as if on auto-pilot, I am quiet, and listen to the speaker’s tone.
Panic, sorrow, or anger, and I brace myself for the words that follow. Because I love a heroin addict and I am well aware of what happens to heroin addicts, and what can ultimately happen to heroin addicts.
I know nothing about being addicted to drugs. I don’t know the actual physical need to inject a substance into my arm via needle. I’ve not experienced my own body clamoring for it, wildly controlling my movements, actions, thoughts, and speech in order to acquire it, in order to calm a demon within me momentarily, in order to gain a small timeframe of peace within me.
When Cory Monteith passed, and when Whitney Houston passed, and when Philip Seymour Hoffman passed, I noticed that while people would agree that these deaths were tragic, there is an often an element of blame placing. “It’s his own fault. He made a stupid decision and his children have to suffer for it.” “Anyone who has everything going for them and ends their life with drugs is a loser.” We expect more of celebrities. Surely they have the resources to rid themselves of something that would, could, and did kill them.
Nothing has unloaded empathy into my heart for this heroin addict that I love and every other heroin addict that I’ve known and passed on streets and on the corners of highway onramps, holding up signs and asking for money than Russell Brand’s essay on his own addiction. Russell Brand has not used drugs for ten years; here’s the the opening line of his essay:
“The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman was sober for 23 years before he took the one drink that eventually led to his demise. Twenty-three years. Addiction is the most patient of beasts, and it sits, biding its time, waiting for a crack in resistance, a weak moment, a sad day.
More of Russell Brand’s words: “It is difficult to feel sympathy for these people. It is difficult to regard some bawdy drunk and see them as sick and powerless. It is difficult to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict who will lie to you and steal from you and forgive them and offer them help. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing? ”
When I look at this heroin addict that is so dear to me, I see pieces of his old self. When he speaks, he is full of warmth. When I stand in front of him, I am aware that I am standing in front of a smart, kind-hearted, compassionate… heroin addict. But right now it is as if those last two words are all that matter, because being a heroin addict – being a slave to an addiction, being the broker between his own body and heroin – is all that he can be right now. I waver between extremes. Either I’m totally invested and I feel like I need to do everything humanly possible to help him get out of it or I can’t even think about it, lest I unravel. With those feelings come guilt – of doing too much, of not doing enough.
I am here, waiting to support him. I cannot force it or allow his journey to consume me, so I wait here quietly. And I am grateful for Russell Brand’s essay. My hope is that stories like these open eyes like they’ve opened my eyes, and more of us can see addicts for the people who they were, who are lost within that addiction, and hope and wait and hope that they can emerge from it and be found again.