addiction

A Decade Out

The line sounds like the cliche opening in a movie trailer, but it’s plucked straight from reality: ten years ago, my life changed forever. I was a 17-year-old dreamer who believed in everything, feared nothing, and dove right in. But on April 20, 2005, I became a 17-year-old adult who didn’t believe in anything, feared EVERYTHING, and second-guessed facets of life I’d never even fathomed. I was thrust face-first into a harrowing situation, and the result was a broken human with a temporary case of PTSD and a life-long case of GAD and depression. 4/20/05 literally changed the fibers of my being, down to the very synapses in my brain.

I’ve talked (briefly) about losing my first love before, but sometimes I feel like I could write forever and still not manage to describe the events, the emotions, the people, the smells and sounds. I could never do the day justice through words in a million years. Whether I go a day or a year without thinking about it, when I let the moment completely take me over, I still feel the same dense sadness in my sweaty panic as I remember.

A struggle as a writer–especially one on the Internet, where things are public as public can be–is how much to reveal. Sure, it’s my life and I can tell my stories, but I very much take into account the privacy of others when I tell a story that doesn’t involve me and me alone. A decade out, though, I feel like it’s a disservice to J’s memory to leave out the details of how he died. Point blank, addiction killed him. I didn’t know it then, but god, I see it now.

The thing is, we see addiction as this gross, shadowy thing in our society. Only horrible, gaunt, rotting people who sell their children’s belongings to get a fix are the ones who get hooked and die, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

J was so different from our societal image of addiction that no one saw it, not even I. He was warm and disarmingly handsome. He could make me laugh with such ease, and even in our hardest times, it never felt uncomfortable. He was caring, intelligent as hell, family-oriented, and loved his friends. J attended church, even though I didn’t, because it mattered to him. He, on paper, was perfect. But the boredom of living in a town that didn’t provide enough stimulation for him–for most of us–pushed him on this precarious path of substance abuse we ALL walked down in that time. The thing is, he walked further than the rest of us… and it ended in the worst way, the way it never should have.

But that addiction doesn’t take away what he gave me, his family, and all of his friends while he was still here. The only thing it actually does is make it a horrible accident, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t deserve to hear the memories the rest of us get to share with each other about a magical human who touched us on an intimate level.

I used to think “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t share this because it’s not just my story,” but the thing is, it is a story that saved me from dying, too. Sure, I immediately went cold turkey the day he died, but it was because I didn’t trust drugs anymore, not because I saw an issue. But when I realized how close or knee-deep-IN he and I and so many others were to addiction, I couldn’t believe no one had stopped us. I couldn’t believe no one had noticed. And then I realized, it’s because we didn’t fit the mold. We made straight A’s, looked attractive and healthy, and we could act our naive faces off. We tricked everyone, and probably the best of us paid for it. A lot more did before him and unfortunately, a lot more have since, too.

Ten years later, I am still broken, but I am alive; I thank J for that gift often. But I think I can thank him more by being more open about him and his struggle, about the different faces of addiction and the different ways we can be addicted. I can thank him by continuing to ruthlessly take care of my health, mental and physical. I can thank him by raising awareness of the INSANE amount of teen drug use, especially in tiny towns. I can thank him by living my life for me and ONLY me, just like he wanted me to.

And in a way, I feel like that means he’s not gone because addiction doesn’t change someone’s core. J’s core was kind, and we’ll spend our time left here making sure that core kindness keeps rippling through the world. He left a legacy that will last forever: through us, through the lives we build, and through the people we help. How many people can say that?

Not many, and we’re all better for knowing someone who could.

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Requiem for Cory

There are some pieces writers put off finishing or even beginning in the first place. There are some entries in our diaries, our blogs, or even still inside our heads we just don’t look forward to completing because something strikes a nerve. The reason we feel compelled to write in the first place is when things hit close to home, but it never makes the sort of heart-twisting topics easier to tackle.

Where do I even begin?

A complete stranger, aged 31, died recently of a drug overdose. But he didn’t feel like a stranger to me, and the situation didn’t either. When Gleekland lost its highschool sweetheart, it brought me right back to losing my own seven years ago. Both men, full of so much goodness and so much left to give, were stopped short by a demon paired with the chemicals which fueled it.

I feel so strongly the loss of his loved ones. Even more strongly, I feel we are not educating our young population about drugs because we go about it from an abstinence stand point. “Drugs are bad. Don’t do them EVER! BECAUSE I SAID SO!”

Just like abstinence-only sex-ed programs, this doesn’t work. When you tell someone simply not to do something without educating them on what could happen if they do engage in said activity, you are essentially doing nothing. In fact, you might be peaking their interest.

I remember being nine years old, sitting in the classroom and listening to a local police officer talk to us in our [insert unmemorable time frame here] D.A.R.E. meeting. I can’t remember a single specific this now-defunct program told us, only that drugs and alcohol were not partners to tango with. I passed with a certificate. We all did.

The problem is no one ever told us what would really happen. No one told us almost all of us would end up drinking on a socially-acceptable level. No one told us half of us would be users of some kind, whether recreationally or habitually. No one told us about the gaunt cheeks we would see on the faces of the people we loved, the frail bodies we would barely notice of people we once called our friends. No one told us our friends would really die, not just in a fake prom-night accident we were allowed to opt out of viewing. No one told us they would really leave us, and leave us forever; some in horrible, violent ways, some in peaceful, lonely ways. Most importantly, no one told us how much their loved ones would hurt when they were gone. No one told us how much we’d cry when we had to sit through another senseless wake. No one told us the things that mattered, the things that could have prevented us from making almost all of these fatal mistakes to begin with.

What does it take to make the powers-that-be realize abstinence-only education about drugs, about sex, about alcohol, about gambling, about weapons, about the hundreds of other things humans abuse is not working? More death?

We don’t need a war on drugs. We need an education worthy of the devastation these things can bring not just me or a TV star, but one worthy of the despair we have all felt after losing someone we loved because none of us was the wiser.

Let’s become the wiser. Let’s help our nieces and nephews and siblings and children and grandchildren understand. Let’s let them actually grow up, and grow up in a world with a little less tragedy… and a lot more information.