22 million people live with substance use disorder. 45 million people are impacted by addiction. I am 1 of the 45 million people affected by this disease.
The disease of addiction is no one’s fault, but everyone’s problem. Alcoholism was declared a disease in 1956. 61 years later, some still need to be convinced of this scientific fact. Looking at the numbers in the middle of this PLAGUE we now find ourselves in, we don’t have 61 years for people to catch up. Christ, we don’t have 61 hours.
Heroin sucks. It really, really does. It sucks not just in the “man, that sucks” way but also in the literal way. It sucks the happiness out of homes. It sucks the trust out of relationships. It sucks the dreams from a peaceful night’s sleep. It sucks the literal life out of those who use and those who watch those who use.
People still roll their eyes when I call addiction a disease. Yet, when I call it a FAMILY disease, I am not met with the same adversity. Something in the person breaks and they recognize, even but for a moment, that I am sick, physically and mentally ill, over what I watch unfold every day.
Maybe they can see it in my eyes. My very tired, dry, bloodshot eyes. Maybe they can feel it in my frail shoulder blades when they hug me and have no idea what to say other than “have you eaten today?” Maybe they can understand it when they hear me crying in the middle of the night even though I turned the shower and the sink on to kill the noise of my pain.
Yes, MY pain.
All because of a bag of powder that skulked into my life through the bloodstream of someone I love more than I can ever explain on paper.
I am never in denial. I know this drug. I know the statistics. I know the situation is dire. I know overdoses are killing more of us annually than automobile accidents. Killing someone every 16 minutes. I know that one bag costs less than a meal at McDonalds. I know what Fentanyl, Suboxone, Vivitrol, and Narcan are. I know why dealers stamp their wax folds. I know the third day of withdrawal is the worst. I know it costs $250 for a 45-minute session with a specialist who will just tell me everything I already know. “They need to want to save themselves.”
It is poison. Each bag, a bullet. Each snort or injection, the spin of the cylinder. This is our generation’s Russian Roulette.
I am sad a lot of the time. A home where addiction is present is oftentimes a painful place to live. It is hard to watch someone you care about spiral out of control and become someone you have to squint at to recognize. Memories will flood your mind, as you scramble to latch on to one – just one — happy reminiscence. It is difficult to see so clearly what their disease makes them so blind to: their own potential, their own worth, their own mortality.
I am angry a lot of the time. I used to feel guilty saying that. I’ve learned it’s okay for me to say, even out loud, “I am the collateral damage in this. I didn’t ask for this.” I used to walk on eggshells and talk and act very deliberately. I was afraid that something I would say would push them to use, or even worse, give up on themselves. “You’re dope sick? Well, I’m heart sick.”
I am happy a lot of the time. Which is a really odd thing for me to say, right? Since I am also sad, angry, helpless, and confused most of the time, too. If I learned anything from this, it is families are resilient. I am resilient. After a sleepless night of praying the phone won’t ring, or praying it will, the sun will rise and another day of my life will begin. Dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to get done, birthdays need to be celebrated. Yes, some days I am mailing it in – the fears that come along with addiction are all consuming – but some days I do smile and mean it. “I have good days, and bad days, but never normal days.”
To anyone going through this with a loved one — I want you to know — happy times can and will come again once you accept that you cannot “fix” your loved one. You simply (it’s never simple) can’t; but being helpless doesn’t mean you help less. You can love them. You can support them. You can do everything in your power…everything but save them. I know as soon as I accepted this, I was able to let bits of joy enter my life again. This light didn’t kill the darkness, but it brought with it moments of happiness and laughter nonetheless.
I used to hear “you can’t let it get to you like this,” or “just cut them out.” Just cut them out — as if they were nothing more than a one-dimensional character on a poorly written crime drama. I am met with sympathy now, but more so, sadly, I am met with complete and utter understanding from people who can directly identify with my situation. As more and more families are affected by addiction, I hear less and less from the peanut galleries in both my real life and the comment sections of my articles. Perhaps they are too busy still thinking it could never happen to them. Or, more realistically, they are terrified it can.
91 Americans die from drugs every day. I do believe we will outrun the epidemic, beat it to the finish line. We can do this. We have no other choice, because the other choice is heartbreaking. I can’t keep losing people I love. I can’t beat this alone. Each and every voice matters.