Nine months ago I published “Prescribed Relapse,” a post on how doctors sabotage our sobriety and threaten our lives as alcoholic addicts by prescribing us vast supplies of opiates. Telling us to “take them as directed” is about as good as recommending we “stop at the second drink” – as if we had any power to drink or drug “like a gentleman.” We don’t! If it cops us a buzz, we default to MORE.
In that post I quoted friend’s Facebook message. This was Rob, whose doctor turned him on to opioids years ago, hatching a fresh addiction that promptly took over his life:
“Yah know, if I’d of known what I would become after a few Vicodin, I’d a shoved them up my doctor’s ass!! I was never into opiates as a kid. But eight years into sobriety I hurt myself really really bad, and I guess I needed them. But in hindsight, if I had a choice between acute pain and becoming a heroin addict, I would have probably chose the pain. But whatever. It’s done. It’s over, right?”
Last week Rob was coming up on a year clean when he died from accidental overdose. My friend is gone. He was 44. I miss him terribly. About 20 of us gathered at his sponsor’s house the other day, wrote him a shoe box full of notes, and circled the bonfire where we burned them to share our memories and weep. I have dialed his voicemail just to hear his voice and bawled my guts out, remembering how I could call any time, how he’d offer me that sweet mix of empathy and “whaddaya gonna do?” acceptance of life’s pains. He was one I leaned on to help me through my horrific break up, because he’d suffered one, too.
The more recent break up that triggered this fatal relapse was much less of a big deal. He missed, not so much his ex-girlfriend as her son – a little boy he’d played dad to for about a year. Building cushion forts, taking the Big Wheel out for a spin, tickling on the grass – we all saw the happy Facebook photos.
I wish to god he’d told me. When we talked about missing the boy, he said a lot of “whatever” and “I’m fine.” Maybe he really thought he was. Or maybe he was just loath to admit that all his old wounds were re-opened, his heart re-cracked, his loneliness bleeding, a despair darkening his skies, that he’d never have a little family of his own. Instead, he asked me for help setting up a Tinder dating profile. That conversation was goofy – lots of “shit -wait a sec, k?” – because we were both on our phones working on phone apps. It was the last we’d ever have.
Telling others we hurt, and how bad we hurt, is one of the hardest things to do. We’re afraid of looking weak, looking naive or over-dramatic, or maybe even deserving of the blows dealt us. For me, with decades of sobriety in AA, the biggest obstacle is pride: I should be more spiritual. I should see through the dust of my collapsed dreams to recognize my part, take responsibility for my delusions, own my self-centered blindness, and, most of all, have faith that all is as it should be.
But when shit hits the fan, when the bottom falls out of your sky-castle and you’re plummeting, all you feel is WAH! NO! I DON’T WANT THIS! I’m sad! I’m mad! I’m hurting! You want to bawl like a toddler, throw a kicking, floor-pounding fit at god and fucking life and those fuckers who hurt you. It’s not exactly the most flattering spiritual pose.
But it’s truth. We have a disease that wants to kill us, and it’s favorite subterfuge is pride. The most powerful trust we can have is to go to a meeting with our spiritual pants around our ankles for all to see – trusting that we’ll be caught by love. When I learned my boyfriend had been screwing a girl from work for two and a half years, I went to my homegroup and cried to fifty people: “My boyfriend has been screwing a girl from work for two and a half years!” How many of them thought, Tch! How self-deluding that woman must be! My disease tells me half the room, but god tells me, in the moment of my deepest vulnerability, no one. Not even that guy in the corner pissed about his DUI. Every person in that room beamed me human compassion.
My message to you is that, though your fan may whirl so shit-free at the moment that dramatic squalor seems far from hitting you, pain will find you. And when it does, you’ll need trust in god just to feel it. Trust in god to forgive yourself for fucking up. Trust in god to own pain as part of your journey. But most of all, you’ll need trust in god to reach out and ask for help. Not just once. Not just stopping when you think it might be getting old for others. As alcoholics, what we cover up festers, becomes an emotional abscess fed by our disease, swelling with resentment and self-pity until eventually it bursts as the emotional nihilism of fuck it. Fuck sobriety. Fuck trying for a good life. I tried, and look what it got me: misery.
Sure, it’s self-centered to keep bending people’s ears about your troubles if you’re not also doing the work to heal yourself. Sure, there are assholes who’ll hear you wrongly, who will twist what you’ve shared against you. But the deeper truth is this: trust is a form of love, and love is what heals us.
If Rob had loved himself enough, maybe he’d have given himself permission to feel a degree of pain that, rationally, made no sense to him. And maybe he’d have tapped into the trust to call somebody, maybe me, maybe another of those loving friends gathered in tears around our pyre of goodbye notes, and say, “I can’t do this. I can’t do life. It hurts too much.”
Maybe he could have given us, instead of heroin, a chance to love him.