Sunday, March 4, 2012

Keeping Vigil

I love someone who is an addict.
I always cringe at that term, even though I've used it on many occasions myself. The ick factor for me, always the teacher, is that that term puts the disease first and the person second.  We learn in education to use "people first" language; such as, a person with autism rather than an autistic child.  I know that sounds anal or knit picky but it's important.  I wish we could start saying, "a person with an addiction", and I guess that change needs to start with me.
This is painful for me to share.  There is no way to make this cutesy or throw in a few well placed wisecracks on this subject.  If you have ever loved someone with the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction, you know what an ugly disease it can be.   My cousin recently referenced addiction as a disease on her blog, Peach Prenni, and boy did she get some feedback on that one!  To be fair it was only one aggravated, opinionated, anonymous person, but it sure had some bite.  
I don't expect everyone to feel all warm and fuzzy about people with addictions.  If you have known a person with an untreated addiction, who is not ready to seek treatment, you may have experienced extreme frustration, anger, or even hatred in your heart.  It would be so very easy to say, "He doesn't care about himself, and is choosing this life.  So I'm done!!" I've been there more times than I can count, friends. 
But the cold hard truth is that alcoholism and drug addiction are a disease.  I do not say this as an expert.  Not by miles.  However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that living untreated with an addiction is like barbed wire to the soul.  Not to mention the body. It is dying one slow step at a time.  No one embraces this life willingly.   No one says, "When I grow up, I want to go to jail, perhaps become a pathological liar, and live a life of isolation from those I love. Oh, and better yet, I would like to walk around the world feeling like I want to jump out of my own skin at all times. " 
Like any other disease, there are treatment options. It is a choice whether or not to seek treatment. I have had this conversation with my loved one hundreds of times.  It goes something like this.  
Let's call my family member Joe, shall we?  

Me: Joe, you did not choose this disease.  No one is debating that.  But like anyone with a disease, you have treatment options.  You can attend daily meetings, see a psychiatrist. You can go to an outpatient program.  You can find a sponsor, etc...
Joe: It was just a temporary setback.  I don't need help.
(I then explain the million and one reasons why Joe does in fact need help.)
Me: I cannot support you living untreated.  If someone I loved had cancer and said, "I think I will just wait to die, instead of taking radiation and chemo," I would have a big freaking problem with that.  It's exactly the same thing.

You see, if someone has decided to continue down this sick path, there is nothing to be done but refuse to enable their disease and pray.  
And I do.  Boy, can it ever get exhausting praying the same prayer one thousand times.  It's like standing outside someone's house and holding a candle light vigil for them every night. Don't give me too much credit here.  I have a terrible track record with my prayer commitment on this subject.  Like I said, it can be exhausting.
But it's time to light the candle again.   
If there ever comes a time when I am too broken to shine my own light, I hope that someone will shine it for me for as long as is necessary.  That, and I hope that they are honest enough to tell me to get my shit together. (I do this quite well for others).
I've been around the block enough to know that God has not given up on Joe.  Prayers are being heard and have been answered.  I could give you a hundred examples of Joe's close brushes with death, but they are not my stories to tell.  
Instead I will leave you with this.  Whenever I close my eyes, I see Joe as himself, not as a disease.  A little piece of me cracks inside when I picture his sweet dimpled smile and his incredibly soft blond hair.  I remember his laugh and his witty, dry sense of humor and his ability to find beauty in the world through music. I see his indomitable spirit that cannot be broken and his Little Orphan Annie belief that everything will be better tomorrow. 
And maybe it will.  For today, I will lay to rest the anxiety, the anger, and the fears.  I will give thanks for every good day and each happy memory.  Because one day at a time is all we ever get anyway.  


  1. I will keep this vigil with you and pray for a miracle. I only remember the sweet, sweet little boy and the gorgeous young man. I understand the tortured soul and wish I could make it better. It's truly up to him and to God. Keep the faith and continue to do what you have always done, love him, pray for him, and trust God.

  2. My mom was an addict, she died almost a year ago of a heroin overdose. I understand the struggle all too well. All you can do is love him, pray for him, and be there for him. It's an awful thing, addiction.

  3. Alida, your honesty is courageous and I thank you. I was hurting when I wrote this and I hoped that someone would read this and know that they are not alone. Because the journey of someone who loves an addict is very lonely. "Joe" is now in treatment at a long term facility. So today he is safe!