Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Addiction is Addiction is Addiction

It's difficult to talk about, Gentle Reader(s). Anonymity is supposed to be protected, right? But it's also difficult because when addiction (or recovery) is really in your life because it's carried by a loved one, you do feel shameful and embarrassed. Oh, all the experts tell you that it's not your shame to shoulder, but that's a bunch a crap. You do feel shame and embarrassment, and the lowlier the addiction by social standards, the deeper the shame. I won't go into too many more details other than to say that it sucks. It really sucks and I've only told you this much so that I can qualify the fact that I'm not speaking from some lofty location untouched and untarnished by the stain of addiction. Of course I'd been familiar with addiction and recovery before this period; in fact, a very cherished friend of mine has been clean and sober for about 14 years, so I've been familiar with the process for quite some time. I also have a cousin who I love like a little brother, who's still suffering from addiction, and it's broken my heart to see him struggle. But in the last couple of  years I gotta tell you, I've researched enough about addiction and recovery to write my own book and develop my own treatment program, for Christ's sake. That's what happens when you fall in love with someone who then surprises you with an addiction... then, the long arduous path of recovery. I just thought you should know this before I proceed.

Ok, I'm proceeding. I have lost a friend due to addiction, and I'm sad about it. There, I said it out loud (sort of). Today it is what it is. No, he didn't overdose or commit suicide. He's very much alive. But nonetheless he's been lost to addiction. Here's the tricky part. He doesn't know he's an addict. Ok, yeah, yeah you say, a lot of people don't know they're addicts - that's called denial, duh. And yes, you'd be correct. But the really painful thing about this particular case is that my friend had already been an addict. He used to be a drunk. A stone cold drunk. Truth be told, I never knew him when he was an alcoholic. I met him once he'd reached sobriety.

We met at a social gathering through a mutual friend and I liked him right away. He was worldly, down to earth, lively and fiercely intelligent. Because of his work (which I'll not mention here) he'd become familiarized with an amazing cross section of people, cultures, languages, and religions. He had a wealth of knowledge, shared interesting stories with an ease that was free of arrogance, but was laced with a hint of whimsy as if he could scarcely believe his own past experiences. I thought he was great. We got to be good friends and started a ritual of all night coffee and chocolate convo-fests, complete with any variety of music you could imagine. I really loved our times together; they were a combination of light entertainment, decadence, deep discussion, with a touch of sexual tension.

He did talk quite a bit about his former life as an alcoholic. He spoke about how he'd ruined things with his ex, almost died, and had such blurry patches in his life as a drunk that he'd woken up in places he didn't remember going to. Apparently one day, after nearly dying and being told that he was taking his life into his own hands if he continued to drink, he stopped; stopped drinking cold turkey, the whole enchilada. It was from that point onward that he moved towards becoming the person I knew him to be (for a while). He didn't drink, he didn't do drugs, and I found it refreshing to be around a totally sober person in a city full of pub dwellers. Without all that alcohol, our discussions were frank and lucid. We often talked about his past, particularly during times when he would have to reunite with old friends who hadn't seen him since he'd been an alcoholic. I knew these times were stressful for him, though he didn't come right out and say it.

During this time golden period, I also talked with him a lot about a major relationship transition that was going down in my life, and he was always straight forward, frank, and open in his communication with me - he helped me through a lot of stuff during that time. Sensing the romantic tension, I always felt that he was incredibly unselfish when it came down to it, and he ultimately encouraged me to do what was truly right, which made me really adore him.

We also talked about current friends and the phenomenon of having several different groups of friends with different expectations. He often alluded to one group of friends who flew high and hung out late, and looked to always be having fun, but also made him feel sucked into chaos every time he was around them. He seemed to dislike the chaos these friends brought, but had a difficult time distancing himself from them. We ended up having heavy discussions about the dangerously seductive relationship between recovering from addiction and thrill seeking... while congratulating one's self on abstaining from one's drug of choice. I broached this subject because even though he wasn't drinking at all, I could sense that he was floating in and out of various danger zones.

It's difficult to explain, but for those of you not familiar with addiction, let it serve to say that even when the drug of choice (in this case, alcohol) gets eliminated from a person's life, the shadow of wanting to escape reality and painful emotions remains. This shadow, if not kept in check, can guide a fragile recovering person right into the slimy arms of other problems like chaotic social circles, destructive patterns, and new addictions, like porn addiction or gambling addiction. Unless a person really tackles the pain and flawed thinking underneath the primary drug of choice, they are likely to find something new to be addicted to and be deep into it before they realize what's happened. At the time I could see that my friend was flirting with unhealthy elements in life, but his story of kicking alcohol was so amazing, that I didn't think that he would succumb to any other addictive elements. I thought he could see the forest for the trees.

Ironically, it was my getting sucked into my own life struggles; financial issues, deaths in the family; relationship woes, which put distance between me and my friend. I suppose that with all that I had going on, I assumed that everyone else around me, including my friend, was ok and stabilized. But truth be told, he probably wasn't alright. He always made it seem like he had so many friends and he was on top of things, that I didn't think I'd be missed if I took some time to deal with the catastrophic events unfolding in my own backyard. I did try to stay in touch with him from time to time, but I have to admit, certain things started to discourage me.

Once I randomly called to check on my friend and found him in crisis, saying things like "I can't take it anymore" and "I'm hanging on by a thread," which was pretty worrying. Apparently, he'd been up all night and just walking the streets on his own; even more worrying. I called another good friend who lived much closer to him and asked her to please call him, try to meet up with him if need be, and that I'd be over a bit later to help out. Well, long story short, not long after the mutual friend had spoken with him, I got a call from her telling me that it was all a false alarm, that he was fine, and that he'd told her that I was "just being dramatic." I was floored. Here he had been, on the phone using quintessential doom and gloom phrases, had been wandering around in the middle of the night, and reduced my aid and assistance to me just being dramatic? That was when I sensed something was very wrong. It felt like he'd let his guard down for a while, and then felt so embarrassed about opening up, that he was willing to make me look stupid for reaching out. That was a bad sign. And truthfully, I was surprised because up until this point, he always seemed to be unashamed about his feelings, whatever they were.

The next stage of the fall came in the form of the women. He and I got more and more distant, but when we did talk, he spoke almost obsessively about these weird hookups and game playing sessions that he'd started engaging in with various women. Either they were women from out of town, with whom he hoped to create something - and those visits would never go well - or they seemed to be local women with dodgy stories, like the one who was a stripper, or the one who was a "hostess" (a prostitute basically). There were all these weird unhealthy sort of connections that he was making, but I was too ashamed to really delve into it with him because, if you remember, he and I had a bit of romantic tension. I didn't want to seem as if I was getting overly involved in his love life. He seemed to get very embittered about women very easily - and this seemed so unlike him. I felt guilty because I knew he cared for me and the most I could offer was friendship; I began to sense some bitterness even towards me, and wanted to say something about all of it, but I feared that he would simply accuse me of being "crazy" like all the other women of the world. He'd started becoming fond of calling all women crazy, which again, seemed unlike him. I once went out on a limb and simply told him that maybe the women he was choosing were crazy and perhaps he needed to tighten up his choices - he just glared at me, then said "Ohhhh, no. ALL women are crazy." It was at that point that I put a little more distance between us.

I did speak to him after the holidays that year and was terribly saddened to hear that he'd spent Christmas dinner with a bunch of dysfunctional strippers - I swear, you couldn't make this up - and that he'd spent the whole time listening to their miserable life talk and argumentative telephone calls. The altruistic me kicked myself for not inviting him over to my place for Christmas, I felt so bad. But the sensible me got stuck wondering what in the fresh blue hell would make someone want to spend Christmas with a bunch of depressed, squabbling strippers? It just sounds like something from a film. The fact that I'm even writing this is just full of wrongness, somehow. Total wrongness. I didn't even know what to say to him at the time.

The last stage was the pot stage. My friend started smoking pot. It's a no brainer to figure out that pot is a drug. If you've been an alcoholic, you'll want to stay away from drugs, right? Wrong, I guess in this case. I don't know when he started, I don't know how, but it was a real shocker. He just stepped onto the scene with a fresh new drug of choice. And if you're about to tell me how mild pot is, save it. I know a mild pot habit when I see one, and leaving a friend's house in the middle of a gathering to go halfway across town by public transport so that you can replenish your stash is not a mild habit. I think the thing that was so amazing to us all, was how he had absolutely nothing to say about his new habit. It was weird. He seemed so off kilter, I think everyone was afraid to say anything for fear that he'd go off. I tried to rationalize for a while, justify things by telling myself that he was now just adjusting to life by being moderate; after all, there are some people who practice moderation even when they've had substance abuse problems in the past. Maybe that was his new, moderate life, yes?

But then, I knew something was way off when I called him last Christmas to ask if he wanted to come over and spend it with us and he hastily and, I might add, huffily said "No thank you [NewGirl], I'm spending Christmas where I spent it last year." I wanted to cry out, With the strippers?! The strippers that you hated spending last Christmas with? But I didn't. I just said ok and hung up. Some time later he did come over, along with some other friends, and let it serve to say that his behavior was atrocious.

He behaved like a shell of his former self. He was snippy, he was angry - I could scarcely understand why he bothered to show up, he was so aggressive with me. At one point he asked how things were going with me and I admitted that things were tough in my relationship still, and he replied by saying, "Yeah, well some people just love drama, I've got my own problems." I was like, well why the fuck did you ask then? I reminded him that some people don't simply love drama, but rather, sometimes bad shit happens all at once, for example the three deaths in my family last year, to which he replied "Oh yeah." Amazingly, he'd forgotten or at least pretended to. Not to mention, he was argumentative, and spoke in a patronizing tone. It was if he just didn't give a shit at all. Again, I couldn't see why he came over, if we were all such poor company. He strutted around, sucking down one joint after the next, talking about how he was "Outta this town for good" as he'd apparently made plans to move out of the country. He spoke bitterly about the city we live in, and all I could say in my head was that he'd be surprised to find that bitterness would somehow follow him wherever he went. It was at this point when I realized he'd been lost to addiction again. I could finally see first-hand why his wife left him - and remember, this is from the supposedly 'mellow' drug, not even hard liquor. I can't imagine what he must have been like as drunk.

During these next few times I saw him, he also made out like he was interested in a female friend of mine. Ironically it was nearly two years ago when I first told this same female friend about him, boasting about his virtues and hoping that I could do some match-making for them. I'd thought it was a brilliant idea to hook them up. He used to talk about being lonely and wanting to find love again. He used to say that he'd gotten tired of introducing his reformed playboy friends to their future wives and that he'd grown tired of being a best man at everyone else's weddings. He used to talk about wanting to be a father. I wanted those things for him. But he's blowing it, and the situation with my female friend is a prime example. By the time she got a chance to spend any real time with him, I didn't want to encourage her interest in him at all. I could see that he was engaging in all the tell-tale signs of addiction denial, including distancing himself from friends who knew him when he was healthy and latching on to new acquaintances since they wouldn't notice that he wasn't being himself. But in the end, it didn't take long for my female friend to figure out that he was out of control; the more time she spent with him, the more he seemed to rattle her inner calm. Now she wants nothing to do with him, and it's sad really, because I used to wish for a great woman to come into his life. He's so deep in, he has no idea that he shot himself in the foot, what with loud talking about other conquests in front of her, and displaying generally unsettling behavior. And he has no idea that he did it to himself.

I don't know where I'm going with the end of this blog. Really, there is no official ending because my contact with my friend has trailed off, I think he still intends to leave town, and frankly I don't have the emotional strength to confront him about his addiction. As I mentioned in another blog the other day, I have quite a bit on my plate, so I'm all tapped out. But I guess I could end this blog by saying that I'll just keep some hope. I hope he gets better. I hope he recovers again. He was an amazing guy and ultimately, I hope he returns to a healthy life. Addiction is a mofo, but there's always hope. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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