I Wish You Peace and Love
January is supposed to be filled with hope, promise and renewal. It’s our chance at resetting the course—righting the wrongs of the year passed, charting a new path for the year ahead and looking forward to a clean, blank slate. At least for most of us. Unfortunately, for some January brings heartbreak, and for 2015, that is the case for a dear friend of mine. Her 25 year old son died of an overdose in early January. He had struggled with his addiction for years, and like many who struggle, it finally won. It hit home for many of us. While I don’t have children of my own, I have nieces and nephews, friends with kids whom I consider family, and I recently was blessed with a stepson. Weird—it used to be that everyone knew someone who had lost someone to cancer. While that’s sadly still true—now we all know someone who has lost someone to the demons of addiction. It’s just as ugly and painful, but unfortunately, not quite main stream enough to discuss in polite company. People aren’t talking about it at cocktail parties, wearing ribbons at their 10ks, or sporting Tervis cups with the addiction logo, but they probably should be. Addiction still feels like a bit of a dirty secret even though almost everyone I’ve spoken to recently knows someone whose kid has addiction issues. We don’t even say he/she is an addict. We politely say they have ‘issues.’ That’s because when we think of an addict, we envision the jittery, dirty, tattooed thug from that bad neighborhood who broke into your Lexus and stole your iPad so he could go shoot up in the alley. Couldn’t possibly be the kid next door–the homecoming queen or king or the valedictorian. Or worse yet, your kid. Imagine. It’s scary, but it’s reality. This kid was a nice, good looking white kid from the ‘burbs. He had a lot of friends, loved football and his job. I’ve gone back to read the guest book linked to the obituary a few times. The messages are consistent—he was a bright light; we’ll miss his sense of humor; his smile lit up the room; he was kind and well mannered. Sound like anyone you know?
It’s hard for someone like me to fathom that a twenty-something would think that sitting by himself inhaling or snorting or chugging or shooting up something so toxic could be more fun than going to a football game with a group of buds, playing X-box, or heading to happy hour on a Friday. We all have our demons. I’m grateful and blessed that to date mine have been nothing a dozen therapy sessions and a bookshelf full Pema Chodron couldn’t handle so it’s hard to relate. I’m not making light of addiction, but rather trying to wrap my brain around it which I think is hard for most of us. When I was in my 20s, I’m not gonna lie—drinking was a passion, a sport even. And, it was one I excelled at on a frequent basis. When I drank, guys laughed at my jokes (aka paid attention to me) and I came out of my shell. Ladies night started on Wednesday and ended on Sunday. So, I guess you could say that alcohol was my drug of choice. I experimented with pot and a few other things I won’t mention here, but I didn’t like any of those experiences. They scared me, and I didn’t like the loss of control. I didn’t like the ‘not knowing.’ I didn’t like not knowing what was in what I was putting into my body. I didn’t like not knowing how I was going to feel after one, two or three inhales. I didn’t like not knowing what the after effects would be after the fog cleared. At least with alcohol, I had some control. I knew how I would feel after 2, 3 or 4 beers, what my limits were and what the repercussions would be—and they were pretty consistent. I knew people who were experimenting beyond alcohol and liking it, and I just didn’t get it. I used to think that made me blessed, but now maybe I think it had more to do with my DNA.
I also used to think the difference between someone like me and someone with ‘issues’ was more of a sliding doors type moment. The moment where I stepped through to the side where I set goals and wanted to achieve them and was able to recognize when enough was enough, say goodnight and head home so I could be bright eyed and bushy tailed for tomorrow. Their sliding doors moment hadn’t yet occurred—they were stuck on the other side. From what I’m beginning to understand, people with addictions aren’t wired like that—they can’t see or rationalize those choices—they don’t even know the doors exist. They are hardwired to focus solely on the pull of their addiction. While they love their family and friends and are genuinely good people, their addiction has turned them into liars and master manipulators. They have to be because they don’t have a moment’s peace from their demon—it is constantly in their head demanding more, more, more. It’s part of their disease.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many close friends deal with their own struggles with alcohol and cocaine over the years. Some won. Some lost. For all of them, however, it was a long, hard battle. When they lost, it was after a few decades of dealing with the monkey on their backs so maybe that’s why this death feels so wrong, and that’s why the drugs of today seem so scary. They don’t kill slowly over decades, they kill suddenly. He should have seen the hope that the New Year brings. Unfortunately, he didn’t get another chance at resetting the course—righting the wrongs of the year passed, charting a new path for the year ahead and looking forward to a clean, blank slate. That’s been taken away from him. That feels wrong and heartbreakingly sad. I think back to when I was 25 and imagine all the things I’ve done, the friends I’ve made, the places I’ve gone, the movies I’ve seen and the songs I’ve danced to since then, and I’m overwhelmed with sadness for all he will miss. I am grateful, however, that he will no longer have to suffer the loneliness of addiction and the struggle he must have endured. How painful for him. I’m mostly sad, however, for his family and friends who don’t get to wake up tomorrow and tell him they love him. They only consolation is that his Mom will no longer have to worry about where he is or what he is doing or if he is safe because he is in the safest place of all now. Finally, he has found peace.
February is supposed to be about love. Love today in this moment. Love your family and your friends. And remember, life may be impermanent, but love is eternal.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Written by: Lori Welch Brown