I Love a Heroin Addict

by Roo on February 24, 2014

in heavier things, storytelling

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.

Happy? Safe.

Neutral? Safe.

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.

i-love-a-heroin-addict

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.

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Dana Garvey February 24, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Thanks for this post! It is heavy but needs to be talked about. I am an Emergency Room nurse. I see addicts everyday. I see them when they are at their worst….near death, not breathing and we pull them back from the edge for them to tell us they hate us and to leave them alone. I have become very jaded towards people. I expect the worst out of people on most days but then I am pushed back and made to remember that this person could be my friend, my sibling, or me. It is a hard balance between not caring enough or too much. Just continue being there for your friend and he will turn to you when needed. You can never love too much!

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Thank you for doing what you do, Dana! It sounds really hard. :(

Reply

Amy February 24, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Wow. My brother is addicted to pills in the worst way, It’s incredibly painful to deal with but I’ve done so by basically cutting myself off from him because there is so much drama surrounding it and so much pain that he causes that I cannot handle it. I did for so long and it broke me. Hang in there. Get counseling for yourself if you need to. It might help you. Good luck Roo!

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 9:13 pm

I totally understand what you mean by cutting yourself off because you can’t handle it. So hard.

Reply

KIRBY February 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Oh Roo, I just want to hug you. Loving an addict is the most difficult position to be in. Praying for you all!

Reply

Courtney February 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm

My little brother died of a heroin overdose shortly after he turned 22. I was just 23 and still feel the guilt of not doing enough. If I think about it too much, even now 6 years later, the guilt overwhelms me. I know logically that there was absolutely nothing I could do, he was set on his path and I couldn’t change it. Logic doesn’t help.

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Courtney, I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish I could give you a big hug right now.

Reply

Jen February 24, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Oh gosh, Courtney, I don’t even know you and just want to hug you.

My brother is also a heroin addict, and while he has been clean for about 5 years now, he is now battling with alcohol as a replacement, and I too struggle with doing too much versus not doing enough. The sad thing I realized (and actively re-realize frequently) is that there is absolutely NOTHING we can do to fix an addict. All we can do is support them and encourage them when *they are ready* to receive help. It’s so very hard.

I’m so sorry for your loss, and for what the families of other addicts go through. My brother’s addiction has devestated my family in so many ways, and it breaks my heart to know that there are soooo many other families out there battling this same thing. :(

Reply

KT February 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm

This is a comfort to read but also it is painfully familiar. It’s comforting to know I am not alone, to love a heroin addict, because I often feel like I am alone. You never expect that someone you love will get caught up in the throngs of addiction. And I know the feeling, of when I call and there is no response, or sending a text only to have a delayed response. Things that typically wouldn’t bother me, send my mind into the worst case scenarios. And I am totally at a loss as to what to do. Thank you for sharing this.

I hate that I want to support and love my friend as she suffers through her sobriety-relapse cycles, when all the while if she died(TRYING!!!) they will only say she deserves it and she’s done it to herself.

Reply

Jessie February 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Roo,
Such a heartfelt, emotional piece. I too love an addict and know the roller coaster that it brings. You can never have too much empathy or give too much love. Well said my friend. Thank you.
Jess

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Thank you for sharing that with me, Jess. Sending love your way.

Reply

Raylene February 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Oh wow, Roo, such powerful words! Like other readers have said, you can give all you can, but still take care of yourself. I hope this person finds the help and strength he/she needs.

Reply

Melissa February 24, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Thank you, Roo, for posting this and sharing Russell Brand’s essay. I recently found out that my cousin is struggling with her own drug addiction, and I’ll admit that part of my reaction towards her is anger. Why would you do this to yourself when you’re losing everything? Why do you surround yourself with dangerous people? Why? Why? Why? What you’ve shared today reminds me that compassion is most needed, and it’s helped me see her a little more clearly. Thank you.

Reply

Jen February 24, 2014 at 5:06 pm

In addition to compassion, Melissa, it’s also important to remember that as non-addicts, we simply cannot wrap our minds around the “whys” – I’ve been trying to understand my brother’s addiction for more than 10 years now. Like you, I’m like “but why would you do that to yourself?! Why won’t you stop?!” But I know it’s not that simple. I also know that I’ll never completely understand.

Reply

MissCaron February 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Very will written, Roo … “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.” Sadly so very true. They say that those who abuse heroin have a less than 1% chance of a full recovery, meaning never using again. That statistic makes me weep. How can something that comes from this earth, that is created by God, can cause such harm. Not to even slightly compare the two but I feel the same thoughts about things like sugar. How can something cause so much trouble. We abuse the privileges we are granted in this life. All we can do is pray for redemption. I’m so sorry for your friend and their troubles. I pray that they beat the statistics and their life is renewed. God bless.

Reply

Joanna February 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Hugs, lots and lots of hugs.

I’ve dealt with addiction in my family since I was a little one, and I was close, oh so very close when I was a teenager to losing my whole life/future to heroin but luckily my mama/God/sheer luck I was able to get out of the dark hole I was in. But I still struggle, 15 years later and there are bad days I still think about it.

Addiction is a disease. And although it’s easy to say it’s their fault for not being strong enough, it isn’t, an addicts brain is wired to not be strong enough.

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Joanna, thank you so much for sharing that perspective. So glad for you that you’ve overcome, and are still overcoming. (Hugs back!)

Reply

kate February 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm

What you said in your closer has become an important thing for me to continue to remind myself of…”I am here, waiting to support him. I cannot force it or allow his journey to consume me, so I wait here quietly.”

I have been a parent to my parents for years…I’m the third of four kids, but somehow the most responsible and the glue that holds the family together. My mom struggles with addiction and has for too long. At one point, I realized that I cared more about her addiction than she did and I was letting it consume me and wreak havoc on other important relationships and my own mental health. I will never give up on her and will be here to support her always, but I’m not the captain of that sinking ship, as much as I would like to be.

Thanks for sharing, Roo!

Reply

Roo February 25, 2014 at 9:06 am

So rough, Kate. We’re all supposed to rely on our parents (until they’re super old, anyway), not the other way around. So sorry you’re dealing with this.

Reply

Jen February 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Loving an addict is never easy. Like you said, you either feel like you’re not doing enough and somehow enabling them or that you’re doing too much and stressing them out and pushing them further towards whatever it is they’re addicted to. Either way, it is so angry to just be furious with the person all of the time.

Pieces like this one—and Russel Brand’s essay and the essay Norine from The Science of Parenthood wrote for Scary Mommy a few weeks back (http://www.scarymommy.com/the-day-philip-seymour-hoffman-made-me-cry/)—are so important because they highlight the fact that you’re talking about a living, breathing, loved PERSON. Not a piece of trash on the street. Someone with a serious problem that needs help for more than they need judgment. Sometimes it’s not that easy to do, but pieces like this one jar you out of your anger a bit. Thank you for that.

Reply

Kristy @ Kristy's Health Revolution February 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

My dad is a recovering addict. He has been recovering for 33 years now. He never doesn’t work on his recovery. Thanks for this post, Roo.

Reply

Roo February 25, 2014 at 8:03 am

Congratulations to your dad, Kristy! Best of luck to him. :)

Reply

Rebecca February 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm

love this, and love NF.

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Thank you, Rebecca! NF loves you back!

Reply

Katie S February 24, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story and linking to such a great article. You are brave to share in such a public way, and I wish you and your loved one the best.

Reply

Roo February 25, 2014 at 8:42 am

Thanks so much, Katie. Russell Brand’s article is actually a year old, but it started circulating again after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and I’m so glad I read it.

Reply

Courtney @ Don't Blink. Just Run. February 24, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Very well written, and I’m sorry you have to deal with something like that. It’s very tough to love someone with an addiction (spoken from experience) and I feel for you. The phone calls are the absolute worst. I’m sending you loads of virtual hugs, because sometimes words aren’t enough.

Reply

Roo February 25, 2014 at 8:42 am

Thank you, Courtney! I will always take your hugs. :)

Reply

Sabrina February 24, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Thank you for sharing this Roo. His essay moved me to tears, people struggling with addiction need our love and compassion, not our judgement. Hugs to you and your loved one.

Reply

ShelbyDee February 24, 2014 at 2:38 pm

(((hugs)))

Reply

Ashley February 24, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Tough tough TOUGH one. Agree all the way, it’s hard but you have to show love to them. Which can mean many different things. I’ve been on both sides of this, addict and friend. As an addict I used to (selfishly) think I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself. Got clean. Lost my best friend to a heroin overdose. Realized then that it’s much easier to be on the addict side. One of the worst days of my life. I hope and pray that your friend can beat it and you never have to get that phone call.

Reply

Anna February 24, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Thank you for sharing something so very personal with us, Roo. <3

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Thank you for reading, Anna. :)

Reply

Laurie February 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I’m so sorry. I’ve loved addicts in my lifetime too. Alcohol, meth, and heroin. They take us with them. Not just little pieces but huge, whole chunks. Think about some counseling. Just because you don’t have the substance abuse problem doesn’t mean it isn’t taking a very real toll on you too.

If you don’t feel comfortable with 1:1 counseling, there are some wonderful groups for families and loved ones of addicts. It helps a lot to understand more about their disease and what roll you can safely play in helping/loving them.

Hugs to you honey. This is a tough journey.

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Thanks so much, Laurie. I’m a big advocate for self-care, and counseling is some of the best kind of self-care I know. Thank you for the suggestion (and the hugs).

Reply

Kristin February 24, 2014 at 3:42 pm

thanks so much for posting this, i too love a heroin addict who is very close to me and it is unbelievably painful to watch, but you worded it perfectly and i hope more people understand with posts like this and Essays like Russell

Reply

JCF February 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Thanks for putting such complicated feelings into such eloquent words. My much loved younger brother was a heroin addict for several years before his death almost 7 years ago at age 21. I so know that feeling of dread every time the phone rings. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering if I could have done more, which at the same time knowing that I couldn’t. I’m praying the story for your loved one turns out differently.

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I am so very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing that with me, and thank you for your prayers. xo

Reply

Elizabeth February 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Thank you for your timely post. I have seen firsthand the toll addictions take on families. I am the child and grandchild of addicts, and there’s more of them where that came from.
My parent just had a relapse two weeks ago after being clean for 4 years. It’s heart-wrenching. And now I’m a parent, which makes it feel so much worse.
I too struggle with wondering if I’m enabling or being too hard on them. And while I understand Russell Brand’s essay and believe it to have so much truth, I honestly feel that it being a disease and it being selfish are not mutually exclusive. They are both of those things, together (at least, that’s how it feels to me).
Thanks again for sharing. It’s so nice to see realness in others and the acknowledgement that these people are our friends, family members, co-workers…they’re smart, funny, wonderful people to be around, but often very different and terribly painful to be around when high.

Reply

Roo February 25, 2014 at 8:05 am

Interesting thought about those two things not being mutually exclusive. I think in a lot of cases, there might be some truth to that. Yes, that last line. So very true and sad.

Reply

Leigh Ann February 24, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Russell Brand’s essay was brilliant. What hit me hard was when he said he watches the video of himself when he was high and he actually envies that person. They will never be fully free of that addiction. I have no idea what that’s like.

Reply

Roo February 24, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Oh, absolutely. That line stunned me.

Reply

Jennie February 24, 2014 at 5:52 pm

I know exactly what this is like. I too love a heroin addict. It truly is the hardest thing ever. I know what it feels like to see a certain phone number calling and be terrified of what I am about to hear. The hardest part is to be sure not to enable that person. *Hugs*

Reply

Monica February 24, 2014 at 5:57 pm

I was just thinking that I needed to visit your blog when your facebook post stopped me in my tracks. I’m so sorry for your friend and hope that your words opens up a window of compassion.

I spent over a decade working with injection drug users. First, from a harm reduction perspective for needle exchange programs – meeting people where they were at, educating them on how to stay safe while using, and facilitating treatment only when they were ready. I later moved on to HIV research in the same communities and can’t even begin to explain the stigma associated with addiction, and the mess of simply needing a drug to merely get through a day without being horribly dope sick. To this day, I think about the really really great people I knew – many with super shitty life circumstances.

The harm reductionist in me truly hopes that your friend has access to staying safe while using. I don’t know where he is, but most states have syringe exchange programs. Hep C prevalence is seriously high among injectors, and even people who know to never share syringes can easily contract Hep C when drawing up a drug from the same cooker or cotton with an infected person reusing (their own) needle. And stats like CT allow Narcan which is totally life saving in the event of an overdose.

My heart goes out to you Roo. I truly hope the best for your friend and commend your openness to share that addiction is real and prevalent in places that many would not expect. xxx

Reply

Natasha February 24, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Oh, Roo. Thank you so much for sharing the heavy stuff. My cousin was (is) a meth addict, and he has been struggling a long time. He hurt some people close to us, so keeping love and compassion in my heart has been hard, but I try. I really like what you brought up about recent celebrities passing, and how people were blaming/shaming them. I read a few articles about Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the did not sit well with me. Addiction is a disease. My heart goes out to you, sending you big hugs :)

Reply

Aya February 24, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Oh Roo. How do you consistently manage to write about the topics closest to my heart? I, too, love an addict, my one and only brother. For the last several years, I have been living the “I can’t even think about it, lest I unravel” stage. Your words and Russell Brand’s article shook me to the core. Thank you for validating my pain and reminding me in some small way that I am not alone. One of your most courageous, important posts ever.

Reply

Cheri @ Overactive Blogger February 24, 2014 at 9:12 pm

This piece is awesome, and I think it’s good sometimes to skip the funny stuff and get serious.

Addiction is so awful, and you’re doing the right think. You can’t want something for someone who doesn’t want it themselves, so all you can do now is sit and wait and hope and pray that your friend hit his bottom and decides to get the help that he needs.

Reply

Tam February 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Hugs to you and your loved one Roo. I lost an Uncle to a heroin overdose when I was four. No one in my family knew he was addicted until after he passed and they all still struggled (and maybe still do) with not being there for him more, or being able to help him more. I was four so I don’t remember much, but I do remember his warmth and silliness — the man behind the addiction I guess and I am thankful for those memories. My family still tells stories of his childhood antics (like the time he tried to wear 7 pairs of underwear to school — to save time) but each time he is mentioned there is a simultaneous look of joy and pain on their face. I will hope and pray that your loved one reaches out for help when he is ready.

Reply

Lauren February 24, 2014 at 10:13 pm

I don’t know what to say other than I hear you, I think you are brave for sharing, and thank you for writing. I hope you both get the help you respectively need. Lots of hugs.

Reply

Heidi February 24, 2014 at 10:45 pm

I don’t know what to say except that I so love your heart, Roo, and I feel probably the shadow of an echo of your pain…and it brings me to tears. I don’t have an addict that I love, and I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it as you’re doing, but my heart breaks for him and for you and for all the ones who “brought it on themselves.” We are all broken. Praying for grace and healing for him and peace and comfort for you. Love.

P.S.Have you heard the song “Heart Still Beats” by Brave Saint Saturn? It played through just yesterday as I was driving in to work; I can’t believe the timing was coincidence.

Reply

Marissa February 25, 2014 at 9:56 am

My family has been suffering similarly from our family friend who we consider to be a brother’s struggle with addiction for many years. It’s so hard to know what to do to “help” them, or if they can or want to be helped. Can you really be mad at someone who is an addict? It’s so hard to trust them, but you love them so with all your heart and want to believe in them. It’s such a difficult balance. Thanks for sharing this, I thought Russell Brand’s essay was quite good.

Reply

Tammy Bednarik February 25, 2014 at 10:36 am

My daughter was addicted to Herion. Now she is a Recovering addict going 0n 18 months free.. My daughter took one week with a fan and a puke bucket and went the with drawls. She then entered into the methadone program.I am proud of her .she has one friend. She tells everyone donot stand in my way. My Life is my business and it is the most important thing in my life.She goes to NA and AA. ( She is 3 years . sober).I am so proud of my Daughter Beth.

Reply

Alicia February 25, 2014 at 11:58 am

Thank you for this post, Roo. A lot of people seem to forget that addiction is a disease, not a choice. It can be so frustrating to love an addict, because sometimes it is easy to just blame them and their choices. I’ve had many similar struggles with loved ones. My brother has been sober for a year now, but I still get so nervous that something will happen, especially when you hear of stories like Philip Seymour Hoffman who was sober for so long before relapsing. It’s really such a sneaky disease. I’m glad you shared your story and hopefully got others to stop and think before they judge.

Reply

Katie February 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm

LOVE THIS! And actually, I would posit that for those of us who call Jesus Christ our Lord, we should ALL THE MORE acknowledge that we know EXACTLY what it is to have “… 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.”

Because that is what sin is! Oh how our planks blind us from the ability to remove the speck in the eyes of our brothers and sisters! Thank you so much for sharing God’s heart of unconditional love and humility regarding the struggles of our fellow humans <3

Reply

Carol-Anne February 25, 2014 at 9:25 pm

This must have been hard for you to write. I appreciate it. I wish you & your loved one the best.

Reply

AnnotatedLA February 26, 2014 at 10:30 am

Thank you for this amazing post!

I am married to an addict who I am proud to say has been sober for just over 100 days. We discuss often how addicts in recovery are only sober for that day because the next is impossible to see. One of the biggest ideas for an addict to process is NEVER using again. Instead most have to say they are not going to use for the next minute, hour, or day.

And wile addicts are very self-focused and their actions driven by the psychological need to use, it is very important to remember that while it is necessary to hold them responsible for their choices and actions, without the disease they would not be making those particular choices.

I think one of the saddest things about addiction is that it is a family disease. Because of the addicts we love and their irrational, disease-driven behavior, the people who love them develop irrational, disease-driven responses that are no more healthy than the addiction itself. Luckily, just like addicts have NA and AA to help them, family and friends have Al-Anon.

To all the commenters and Roo, please consider Al-Anon as a resource. There are meetings everywhere and the people there are just like you. Without Al-Anon, I would not be on a path to fixing the issues I have, mostly due to addiction in my life.

Reply

Abbie February 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm

I love an alcoholic. And what you wrote is so incredibly spot-on for anyone who cares for an addict, so thank you. I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this, but so grateful to see my thoughts & feelings about the topic articulated so well by someone else.

Reply

Sarah March 2, 2014 at 9:58 am

I grew up with an adopted brother who struggled with addiction, using drugs to numb the pain he carried from the abuse he endured as a young child. I would find crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia hidden in my parents’ home. Unfortunately his choices made him become a very violent and scary person. He just finished a four year prison term for assault. When I became a mother six years ago I made the choice to sever all contact with him for the safety of my children. That doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped caring and praying for him. I will always pray for him, but I can’t make him want to change. I will always want the best for him, and I hope this time he can really do it.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: