During Chad’s first year of rehab, I was super grateful that he was “just an alcoholic”. Sure, he popped pills now and again, but mostly it was “just drinking.” In my head alcohol wasn’t that scary. Almost everyone drinks, it’s legal, and I figured would take years of abuse to actually kill a person (see some awakening stats here). I felt terribly bad for the families of hard drug users; most of the people a few years older than Chad were in recovery from heroin. I just assumed they started out that way, and had never been able to “kick the habit”. Ahhhhh, smell that naitvete!
I remember praying, literally thanking God, that Chad was not a heroin addict. Because we know they all die. Alone. In some hotel room. At least that is what pop culture and movies had taught me. With being “only an alcoholic”, it felt safer somehow. I hadn’t yet learned about the progressive nature of addiction, nor witnessed the disease in its full wrath.
Fast forward six months. Chad moved out of sober living, was doing fine, then has his first major relapse. He and a friend were apparently shooting up something by the name of Dilaudid. Wait. WTF. He’s supposed to only drink copious amount of whiskey (and maybe pop some Xanax). He didn’t shoot drugs into his veins (enter horror scenes of dead brother in apartment, needles, blood, grossness everywhere)! Chad would never do something so disgusting, that other kid made him do it for sure. One time thing. Totally. And back into my safe shell of denial I retreated.
Fast forward to September of 2013. Chad had entered rehab again, this time in Scottsdale. This time it was about 8 months of sobriety until another major relapse. And this time it was to heroin. He told me before he had tried the drug here and there, as if it were some casual experience, nothing to be concerned about. Therefore, I was never concerned (naivete must have been my favorite dish). But now he was on a heroin bender. Alone. In a hotel room. My worst nightmare was becoming reality before my eyes. I was afraid to answer my mum’s phone calls. Anxiety was tearing at my guts. Thankfully, I was involved with Al-Anon by this point,which was the only thing that kept me from completely loosing my shit. Regardless, it was still really, super scary. As well as brutal, blunt punch right to my world. Addiction is indeed a progressive disease, and I now had living proof in Chad.
Rewind to roughly a year ago. Almost 8 month sober again. Relapse again. Now, my brother had picked himself up multiple times at this point. Gotten another great job, another nice apartment. Then decided to go out and shoot up some heroin and loose it all? Something wasn’t adding up to me. Same scenario: back to rehab, back on track. Out to sober living in April of last year, gets another great job, new apartment, then, like some kind of effed up clockwork, a few weeks ago: relapse. If that doesn’t make one understand this disease is “cunning and baffling”, I don’t know what will. Cold, hard truth and reality are now the only meal being served in my kitchen.
Despite years of being angry (see: uneducated, inexperienced), I now do believe he isn’t choosing to fall down time and time again. I do believe he didn’t choose to be an addict. I do believe he lets himself get spiritually unfit, worries too much about the outside and neglects the inside; that is when his relapses happen. Also, that his relapses are part of his path of recovery. I believe he triggered something in his brain when he was in 6th grade and drank and smoked weed for the first time. But I do not believe it was a conscious choice. Why would anyone choose the cycle of pain, shame, loss, and backtracking?
I have done much research, reading, and listening about the disease of addiction. It is scary, mind-boggling, infuriating, and heartbreaking all at the same time. This blog entry popped up in my facebook feed a few weeks ago, and I have read it a few times. Much of what the author says resonates with me, and is on the exact same track as things Chad has tried to explain to me, as well as stories I have heard at many meetings. I want to share her real, raw entry with you, as I cannot share myself from the other side of addiction. I feel this entry does a superb job. She also gives me hope that Chad will not be among the nine out of ten heroin users who ends up dying from this terrible drug.
Shared from renegademothering.com :
We Don’t Start with Needles in our Arms by renegademama
Sometimes I write about parenthood. Sometimes I don’t.
Today I’m writing about alcoholism.
For those of you who are new here, I am a recovering alcoholic. On March 5, I will celebrate 5 years of sobriety. So yes, I am a relatively new sober alcoholic. For background, please read this or this.
I don’t particularly love talking about motherhood and alcoholism. It’s not exactly the high point of my life to announce to a few thousand people that I was that mother, the trash, the hated one, the drunk, drug-addicted one, the one with two gorgeous, innocent children caught in the cross-fire. And her, that dirty bitch, selfishly killing herself.
But I write about it anyway, because after about a year of writing this blog, I realized I was only telling you people half the story, and I realized I might be of help to somebody, some day in some way and something, I tell you, something has to make those years worth living.
And sometimes, when a famous, brilliant actor dies with a needle in his arm, I read the comments from America and I can’t take it. There’s so much ignorance, so much blind condescension based on NOTHING. NOTHING. Opinion. Observation from afar. Some article you read somewhere. An addict you “know.” A drunk you worked with.
The comment that stuck with me like a knife in my brain is this one: “Yeah, addiction isn’t a choice, but shoving a needle in your arm sure as hell is.”
It’s as if people think we start with a needle in our arm. Yeah. Newsflash. WE DON’T.
Alcoholism and addiction are progressive diseases. THEY GET WORSE OVER TIME. We don’t start with a damn needle in our arm. We start drinking beer with friends in high school. We start like you did.
Do you get that? Do you see that? We don’t wake up one day when we’re 19 or 20 or 35 and say to ourselves “You know what I need? A motherfucking bag of heroin and a syringe.”
I started out like you. I partied and experimented with alcohol and marijuana and a couple psychedelics like a whole lot of other kids in school. Yes. I am responsible for that. I made that choice. If that makes me responsible for my alcoholism, well then I guess I’m responsible.
But do you think I knew I was playing with fire? Do you think I knew when I was 17 years old hanging at a friend’s house drinking Peppermint Schnapps that I would one day lose my children to this substance? That I would go to rehab FIVE TIMES, each time sure I would emerge “fixed?” Do you think I knew that my brain from the moment I tasted that alcohol was altered, that from that point forward my brain would tell me that “pleasure” equals “booze” and booze only, that I would one day pursue that relief, that feeling from alcohol, at the cost of everything of value in my life?
Do you think I knew I’d lose my job to the stuff, spend years fighting it, catch 3 or 4 psychiatric diagnoses resulting in ELEVEN different medications at one time, as the doctors tried to figure out what happened to this smart, promising woman?
Do you think I knew I’d end up in a mental institution, having spent a few days on a whisky binge in a small apartment with a dog shitting and pissing on the floor, and the doctor would look at me and say “We knew you were crazy, because no sane person would live in those conditions.”?
Do you think I knew I’d wake up one morning on a respirator in an ER with a doctor who was sure I was trying to kill myself because there were so many substances in my body? Do you think I knew I’d look at him and quite honestly defend myself with the words “Oh no, doctor, I’m not trying to kill myself. I do this every day.”
No. I didn’t know. I didn’t know or think any of this. I was a kid who got good grades and went to college and worked hard. I thought everybody had the experience I was having with alcohol. I thought I was “having fun” like everybody else.
And by the time I realized I was in trouble, I couldn’t stop.
By the time I realized I couldn’t stop, I COULDN’T STOP.
And that, my friends, is the piece you’re missing: By the time we realize we’re dying, we’re dying. By the time we begin to suspect a problem, we are in the grip of a deadly disease, a disease that lives in the body and the mind. The body demands more – aches and screams and begs for more; the mind says “You’ll die if you don’t have more. It will be okay this time. Just one more time, Janelle.”
It’s not rational. It doesn’t weigh options. It doesn’t think about kids or home or acting careers or any other fucking thing. It thinks about itself. It tells me “You’re fine, Janelle. One drink won’t hurt.”
How do you change a mind with an insane mind? Tell me, how do you? How do you alter the thoughts of a brain when it’s the brain making the thoughts?
Do you see the problem, folks? There’s where the element of choice gets really, really sticky. MY BRAIN IS MAKING THE CHOICES AND MY BRAIN IS THE PROBLEM. You’re telling me to “choose” different behavior when my brain is the thing that’s hardwired to choose more alcohol.
And then, the more I drink and the sicker I get, I start looking for other substances to fill an ache in my mind and soul and heart like I cannot describe – the alcohol isn’t enough anymore. I’ve progressed to a new level. I take everything, anything to kill the insatiable need that’s become like air to me.
For my family who will read this, who knew me as a cute little blond-headed, precocious kid, I won’t say how far that need took me.
Does this make you uncomfortable? Does it make you sick? Yeah, me too. But this is it, people. This is what it is. Most of us start out good and decent and wanting a real life with kids and a house and job, and we start out fooling around and maybe we’re a little overzealous but by the time we’re really, really in trouble, we’re dying, and we’re powerless, and the chances for recovery are really, really freaking slim.
Most of us rot in the streets and die in beds in the houses of strangers. We die in bathrooms with needles in our arms, while the world looks on and says “Why didn’t you just choose not to do it, you trash?”
Why don’t you ask a fucking schizophrenic to “just stop having those weird delusions.”?
Why don’t you ask a cancer patient to just stop creating cancer cells?
Why don’t you ask a person with asthma to just get beefier lungs?
What’s that you say? The disease model of addiction removes the element of responsibility? Really. So if you were told you had cancer and need chemo, would you respond “Nope. Not doing it. Not treating my disease. It’s not my fault I have cancer. Therefore, no chemo.”
It wasn’t until somebody explained to me that I was dying of a progressive disease, that I could never consume alcohol safely IN ANY FORM, that my mind would always, always lie to me, that for me, to drink is to die – it was only then that a beam of understanding crept across my mind. It was only then that I began to understand my condition, what had been plaguing me the whole of my adult life and how I could, finally, live freely, like a real human, wife, daughter, employee and mom.
At this point I know I seem like I’m contradicting myself. I just said you can’t fix a broken brain with a broken brain, and now I’m telling you that an understanding of my disease helped set me free. I can only tell you this: all alcoholics and addicts have moments of lucidity – tiny cracks of sanity where we see the truth of ourselves and our lives. And I believe some of us are lucky to get the kind of help we need during that moment of clarity, or surrender, or internal death. And if we’re set on a path from that point, we might make it. That, at least, is what happened to me. But it’s a long, long desperate and dangerous path to get there, and some of us don’t make it.
Then again, maybe it’s just dumb luck. Maybe some are sicker than others. Why does treatment work for some cancer patients and not others? Why do some people die and some don’t? And is it the sick person’s fault? Should they be blamed for losing the battle?
Don’t ever put me up on some pedestal. Don’t ever tell me “Great job, Janelle. Look at the way you turned your life around.”
Don’t ever set me above the homeless crack-addict on the street, thinking I’m better because I survived my disease.
There’s no reason I’m here and she’s there, and there’s no difference between us. I don’t know why I got to live. I don’t know why I didn’t die alone in some bathroom, leaving two blond-headed children to wonder, and miss their mom, while the world packs up its trash in the form of one more useless addict, one more drunk, one more loser who “chose” to throw her life away.
I take a breath and hold my kids and weep for the ones still dying.
me, at 24 years old, at the beginning stages of the deadly grip of alcoholism. i sure don’t look sick, do i?