My sister, although two years younger than I am, has always been fiercely protective of me. I recall her telling me that after I had to switch schools mid-year due to relentless bullying, she was confronted by a passel of my erstwhile classmates, demanding to know why I had left (as if there were any other reason; I’m convinced they just needed to hear it said to their faces, as it must have given them some kind of sick validation). My sister, fearless in ways I have never been, just looked at these girls and said, “That’s none of your business.”
And so a couple of weeks ago, when I learned that she had unceremoniously “unfriended” someone on Facebook, because said “friend” had spewed some vitriolic nonsense about addicts being weak-willed scumbags that can never change for the better (or something along those lines), I had to believe that she did so because of me and my father, the two recovering addicts she is closest to. She didn’t say as much, but in so doing, I felt like I was 12 years old again, awash in gratitude for this one small gesture.
All the same, it saddens me that this is still a fairly prevalent attitude, that addiction is less a “condition” than it is a grave moral failing. It’s certainly true that when we’re in the throes of addiction, we’re predisposed to engage in some questionable behavior at best. It’s a combination of needing to feed the beast, and a greatly diminished sense of self-worth. That’s why I have to laugh at people who still think it’s a matter of “pleasure,” or hedonism. Because I’ll tell you – at the end of my drinking and using, there was no pleasure. There was – maybe – a minute or so of “relief,” which has absolutely nothing to do with pleasure, and everything to do with feeling — if only for a moment — like your head isn’t going to collapse in on itself.
At the same time, though, I get it. It’s hard to put addiction on the same level as most other diseases. It’s nearly impossible to equate addiction with, say, cancer, even though both can kill with the same agonizing, slow, internal insidiousness. Because with addiction comes the perception that we brought it on ourselves. To which I ask you normal, “social” drinkers: do you enjoy drinking? My guess is that you do. We did, too. The difference is that the alcohol kicked open a door that should have been off-limits, a door that you don’t have. Instead of giving us the side-eye and calling us names, you should perhaps pause and thank the deity of your choice that you don’t have that door, and will therefore never know what kind of fucking monsters lurk behind it.
I’m the “sick” one, and yet I’m grateful that my illness has given me more than a little perspective. I’m grateful for the people in my life who may not understand this entirely, but understand enough to know that this is not something I would have chosen for myself. Nobody lifts that very first drink to his or her lips and thinks, “BOY, I sure hope this leads me to the point where I’m seriously considering suicide at 3 in the morning when I’m only 31 years old!” And so, again, to those who believe that we’re amoral bons vivants who are only interested in self-gratification, I’d ask you to read the sentence above this one. Read it several times. And if, after so doing, you still believe that, then all I can ask you to do is kindly fuck yourselves. Really.
Gah. I sometimes feel that this is a standby topic for me, something I write about it simply because I don’t have anything else to write about. But the fact is that nearly 10 years into my recovery, I’m certainly not tired of talking about it, which is good, because talking about it saves my life on the daily. And because there continues to be so much misunderstanding (if not outright ignorance) about addiction, I feel it’s my responsibility to put a face on it.
I am an addict. In almost every other way, I’m just like you. I get attached to particular t.v. shows, I hold opinions on certain political figures, I have hobbies and interests and people I love. I am not some nameless, faceless wraith that is deserving of your scorn and derision, and yet each time I hear someone I know making terrible jokes at the expense of someone who suffers from the same disease that I have, I internalize it. I am in recovery, yes, and have no immediate plans to stop being in recovery, but there is not much separating me from the addled celebrity you called a “junkie whore” on Facebook the other day. There really isn’t, so please just think about that.
Now, having said all this, I will say that I do believe, quite firmly, that once you are aware of your problem, you have an obligation to yourself – above all – to do something about it. There are ways to keep this in remission. Find the one that works. Otherwise, you’re just the goddamn Titanic, and you are going to take a lot of people down with you….or at least the ones that think that by staying aboard, they can save you. Please stop kidding yourself with that tired-ass “I’m not hurting anyone but myself” line. You would be surprised by just how many people you hurt by staying sick. When I say it’s a disease, it’s not a free pass to continue to ravage your way through the lives of others like Godzilla rampaging through some cardboard Tokyo. You don’t get to act like an asshole and then turn around and say, “I can’t help it.”
The person my sister unfriended didn’t know me, didn’t know anything about me, but thought she did. She believed she had all of us pegged, and nobody was going to change her mind. I’m sorry she feels that way. I’m sorry that she lives such an insulated life that she can’t see that we’re quite capable of changing for the better. I see it ALL THE TIME.
Nowadays, I defend myself pretty well, at least when it comes to this. I don’t necessarily need my sister – or anyone else for that matter – to fight my battles for me, but I appreciate it when she does.