Sunday, September 11, 2016

Luke, The Living, and Finding a Balance

The last ten days or so have been a bit emotional for me. I have maintained equilibrium, to be sure, and some of the emotion has been a burden taken on voluntarily, as I have become invested in the movement to bring about change in the way the heroin epidemic is viewed by those in political power and by the public at large. I am not regretting that decision. The need for a revision to attitudes about addiction, to see it as a health issue rather than a moral or legal issue, is perhaps the most necessary crusade I have ever embarked on. I have been taking part in some public activities designed to put human faces to the epidemic, to allow those that have perished the dignity that most of the too-soon departed of this world are afforded, and to allow their families to openly grieve and memorialize them without shame--and without their plight being swept under the rug as merely the loss of some junkies hellbent on their own destruction.
I have not lost anyone very close to me in the epidemic to date. But I have had to administer Narcan to prevent a death. I have witnessed the immediate aftermath of two other overdoses. Earlier this year, in the winter, I witnessed first hand what a horrible physical ordeal attempted withdrawal from opiates truly is, and watched helplessly as someone that wanted more than anything else in the world to be free of the bonds of her drug simply could not get through the pain without having to get high again. And unfortunately, the last couple of weeks have seen the return, after an absence of three years, of full-blown opiate addiction in somebody that will always matter to me. I have gone to several of these awareness events with eyes wide open, knowing that before long, the first sentence of this paragraph may not be the case anymore.
And I am scared. Like I have never been afraid before. The deterioration that takes place on a day to day basis is shocking me. I know that boundaries are necessary, and I have erected them at a figurative place that spares me a front row seat at the spectacle. I also am well aware that the disease has to run its course, that I cannot force someone by the force of (good)will to put it down and start to recover. I am aware that staying too close would be a form of enabling. And I am also aware that the using addict desperately needs some hope to hang onto, that they themselves are still loved and cared about even as their disease running rampant necessitates a certain distance being kept from them by those that love and care about them. The combined effect of the fear, the pain, the cumulative grief of the losses we as a community have suffered, seeing the heartache among those close to me,  and the need to maintain healthy boundaries is exhausting. I am emotionally strung out, and I don't mind admitting it, because I am not what anyone pictures when the term "empath" comes to mind. If all this is having this kind of effect on me, one can only imagine how it is affecting those normally more sensitive and openhearted than I am. Actually, I don't have to imagine it--I have come to know some people who have been emotionally razed to the ground by this epidemic and the casualties it has claimed. I am still functioning, still able to maintain a bit of "carry on, chap"--but as I said, I am weary, bone-tired in fact, of the immersion in the depths of despair of others.
But I am drawing strength and solace from those who are working the front lines with me. The people involved with Truth Pharm grow more admirable in my eyes by the day. They are weighed down by their sorrow--but they are not only going on with their lives, but they have channeled their grief into a cause, trying to insure that their loved ones did not die in vain, that the ongoing struggles of the loved ones of others may grind away the resistance to change that is needed for more effective treatment options for the afflicted to be implemented. They comport themselves with dignity without being meek; they are resolute without being belligerent. They are fast becoming models of how I want to be as my life progresses, and sadness and tragedy loom ever larger in the side mirror.
And this has been the surrounding environment in which the last thirty hours took place. I wrote in yesterday's post about the meeting last night, and how the idea and concept of expectations was reframed for me in a way that allowed me to at least dimly understand how the active addict I am closest to is seeing my presence in her life, and what my role in her state of mind is. Then, this afternoon, I found a conversation, in my Messenger,  I had several weeks ago with someone that took up most of a night;  it was with someone who has had multiple relapses, and that person emphasized how important it was for the loved ones of the person that can't seem to get it to not give up on them. It reinforced the realization that I had come to, that it is important for me to stay in the picture with Somebody, that as messed up as she is and as changed as our relationship is, I am still her rock, the one person above all others whom she respects and cares about--and wants to think well of her, to not give up on her.
And then the speaker at the meeting tonight was someone whose sharing profoundly affected me at the meeting last night, someone whose ex is using heavily and whom, in spite of the long history of discord between them, she still feels affection for--they have a daughter together. And it transported me back a year or three ago, when MOTY was out there and I was hoping that she find it within herself to come back to recovery. I didn't have the perspective then that I do now; if I had to do it over again, I would have been more accommodating to her feelings about my presence in the meetings. I understand now, like I did not at the time, that seeing me at meetings she was going to was a reminder to her of her own sense of failure, of how she had fallen short of what she expected of herself. Whatever I may feel about it is, in the end, unimportant--I am the one with the solid, functional recovery, and therefore it is much easier for me to make adjustments and to bend. Expecting someone that has been making bad decisions and exercising the judgment of a using addict for a long time to suddenly have perspective and wisdom is ludicrous. It's on me to do so.
And during the meeting, I heard from Somebody. She had told me, in her last text messages yesterday, that she was going to try to start kicking today--and the message today was one asking for the type of candy she likes. I remember her and others telling me that candy and chocolate is helpful in the detox/withdrawal process, and I didn't dismiss it out of hand. But I was planning on going to a memorial for those that have died in the epidemic after the meeting ended, and I told her it would be some time before I got around to it... And I didn't say so, but my thought was also, "You need to know that I am not going to drop everything and do stuff for you while you are in the midst of addiction."
I did go to the memorial afterward, and had been there about ten minutes when the mother of one of the earliest documented OD deaths ascended to the altar to make a few remarks. And she blew me away. She talked about the necessity of commemorating those that have died--but mentioned that she has a second son struggling with addiction, and that she is devoting most of her efforts to being there for him in ways she was too ignorant and too stubborn to be there for her deceased son.
And the lights went on in my head. When the first words came from her mouth, what popped into my mind was the famous passage from Luke where Jesus of Nazareth says "Let the dead bury the dead." I have always had trouble discerning what was meant by that, but at that moment, I had a moment of clarity regarding what it means now: I've done my part, and more, to memorialize the dead in the last couple of weeks. I had just worked through a tough stretch with Somebody, realizing that she has a half legitimate reason to believe that the man who told her for three years that he would never abandon her had done, however briefly, just that. And I had reason to believe that she was at least trying to put it down tonight.
I left the church when the lady was done speaking, went to CVS and bought the candy, and drove to Somebody's apartment to deliver it (the fact that she was home and therefore still observing her curfew was another good sign). The fact that her physical appearance was shockingly bad didn't matter to me. The fact that she is still keeping bad company, or at least using company, didn't matter to me. What mattered was that when kindness was required, when a teeny dose of hope was what was being asked of me, when it was asked to me to put action behind my words--I responded. Can it be considered enabling? I suppose it could. But I don't really think so. I delivered it, hugged her twice, told her she is still beautiful and that I loved her--and left. Was it easy? No, it wasn't. Will it have any immediate effect? Probably not.
But when the day comes when she is clean again--it's a big if at this point, but I'm trying to be optimistic--she will remember the kindness. Because such acts extended to using addicts are few and far between, and I know--I know-- how important it is to her that I stay in her corner, even if we are not together formally, even if we never will be "together" again. It is not about what I would like to see happen.
It is about what God is asking of me, to do what is best for her as she is right now. And it is no more or less of a commitment than any of the hundred other things I do every day as part of being a recovering person. There will be ample ways and times to be there for the already dead. But my priority needs to be the living, and making the idea of recovery attractive to those who are tired of being an active addict.
And Preston must go.

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