From the outside looking in, on addiction


My ex was an addict. This is not information that should be new or surprising. I’ve blogged about it a lot, and I mention it frequently in passing. He was a heroin addict in recovery when I met him, and he began using again some 6-months after we started dating. 6-months after we had said I love you and established our draw and commitment to each other.

Addiction is everywhere. I know so many people who have lost their loved ones to addiction. I am lucky that J didn’t die. I am lucky that we didn’t have children who he would let down. These are the blessings that we can count.

In my blog that is now non-existent – stories that cannot be brought back – I wrote about how often my support system failed me during this time. I wrote about the desperate emails to his family far away, that often came back in silence, or damning me for interfering, or for caring. “Leave me alone, go get professional help, and move on,” came one from his mother after there was a long period of days without contact with J. I also wrote about crying to friends, or co-workers, or my own family, and being told that I am foolish, or things far much worse.

I pleaded for help, for community, during those months, and was always shut out.

These are stories that I’ve already told. I’m not interested in re-telling them today.

My own family has a history of addiction. My family tree is riddled with it. I would say that it destroyed lives, but we are still here nonetheless so it couldn’t have destroyed everything. My family stands, with the puncture wounds of addiction. But, this is also a story that I’m not interested in telling today.

The one I want to tell is of the aftermath of the trauma of looking at addiction from the outside in.

I have difficulty reading articles about the heroin epidemic, just as much as I have trouble reading articles about the campus rape epidemic. I cry uncontrollably when I see movies depicting drug addiction, specifically heroin. I’ll fall into a deep hole of fear and helplessness for that day. A trigger.

I recently put a caption on an instagram photo in which I depicted one of these triggers. I chose the photo because in it, I felt strong, when the girl writing the words actually felt very small and lost and helpless.

Some of my friends reached out to me, thinking I was talking about the heartbreak and grief of a recent break up. I wasn’t. I had witnessed something that day that triggered feelings of helplessness surrounding addiction.

I walked away from the scene sinking and shaking. I sat in a pew at church wanting to fall on the floor and cry. I eventually called a near-stranger and cried to him in an alleyway. And inside, I felt like that 20 year old girl who was pleading for help and constantly being shut down. Once again I was on the outside looking in on addiction. And anyone who knows what that feels like knows that it feels pretty awful.

But as I cried to this person I barely know, something happened. Instead of being told that I’m foolish, or immature, or I don’t know what I want or what I’m doing or who I love or how I care, I was lifted up.

“I’m so proud of you for what you did,” he told me.

“You have a good handle on the situation.”

“I’m going to call a few more people and see how we can help.”

And then, updates as the day went on. He had pulled together a community of people who all validated my feelings, and me as a person.

Addiction is hard. You feel helpless because an addict is only going to get better if they want to get better. And you feel helpless because the person who you love so dearly is no longer there. And when you feel this helpless, and then are constantly shut down by people who you typically know as your support system…well, it’s bad.

Yesterday as I stood shaking and crying and being transported back to all the nasty things that were said to me and felt by me when I was 20, I asked for help. Because I didn’t know what else to do and I needed help. And I was greeted with love and care and validation. And a community of people who I don’t even know came to my rescue and lifted me up.

To all my friends on the outside looking in, you are not alone. I hope that you can find that community that you need. And if you don’t, know that you can always find one in me.

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