June 15, 2010
My phone rings, its tune- red hot chili peppers “under the bridge. I’m driving up township line road by Target, I’ve come to a stop, the Starbucks on my left – I notice that before the call comes through, I notice that before I see her name flash across my screen – Aunt Linda – I notice that before I watch the light turn green and slowly began to move as I feel my heart plummet in my chest – I already know what she’s going to say – he’s dead. Still I answer.
There is a lump inside my throat I am forced to swallow as I say hello, tears already welling in my eyes. Alex (that’s what she calls me) where are you? She asks if I am driving, if I can pull over.
I somehow navigate my way to a parking lot waiting for my other cousin to meet me. My hands shake at the wheel.
See I know that he – my cousin Jeffrey – is dead because I left him that morning, not knowing, I thought he was sleeping. Thought he was okay, even after our rocky evening, I thought I felt him breathing. He and I had been using together the night before, we had our respective spots in our room, people that use together know that you usually have your own space, your own set up and we did, it was foolishly out of one another’s eyesight.
I crouched by my nightstand between the bed and the wall, Jeff sat at the foot of my bed; from where I was I could only see the top of his head. I remember looking up from a shot, seeing the back of his head full of black hair, slump to the side. I jumped up, panic stricken and began slapping his face, he mumbled but began speaking, mostly nonsense. I kept asking if I should call 911. He begged me not to, I thought he would be okay, I made him walk around, we went downstairs to smoke, he drank some gatorade, I thought he was going to be all right. I was 21, and though I was an addict I had just gotten back into the swing of things after being on a hiatus during drug court, I was still somehow naïve to the true power and nature of addiction. Jeffrey was 27, he’d been using the better part of his life. In the weeks prior to his death, a few of his friends had warned me that he was quickly spiraling, that he was having seizures from the coke and that he was self-prophesizing about the whole 27 club (if you don’t know what that is, its about all these famous people like janis joplin and kurt cobain who died at 27).
The night before he died as I sat beside him, he kept saying he was tired, he didn’t want to fight anymore, to let him go.
But I didn’t want to let him go.
I didn’t want him to give up.
Earlier that day he had come home with way less drugs than I had given him money for, I didn’t say anything though I knew he was hoarding them. I say this because throughout the night as I nodded out, I’d come to and he would be missing, I found him twice in the bathroom unconscious – I don’t know what he had or how much but I eventually got him back into my room and to sleep. I remember trying to fight my own high to stay awake and watch him but eventually passing out as well, I thought his “snores” were an indication it was safe for me to sleep, I didn’t know he was actually struggling to breathe.
I checked him the next morning – he seemed to be asleep on the floor, so I went about my day. And then came the call. The tears. The confusion. The guilt. The shame. The cycle of using to offset the pain of losing him. Why had it not been me, why him. Why didn’t I fucking call 911 and listen to my gut. Why.
I used more and more of the very thing that took him from me to blur the world – reality was too painful. It was my fault.
The reality was, it wasn’t my fault – Jeffrey like me, took a path that so many of us don’t have the chance to come back from.
I write about this today in more detail than I normally would, because it’s a sad reality that more and more families have to face, because it is an epidemic, one which knows no boundaries, limits, age, or race – one which only takes, and leaves in its place a bunch of half assed facebook posts in memory of how great the person was.
The reality is this – in 2016 there were 64,000 overdose deaths, with over 20,000 of them related to fentanyl or fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) [source: CDC Wonder].
THAT’S FUCKING INSANE. SIXTY FOUR THOUSAND DEATHS.
Sixty four thousand mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children. DYING.
That’s about 175 people a day if my math serves me correctly.
And for what?
We keep losing all these amazing people at alarming rates, and its scary and confusing for those family and friends who don’t use, and even those who have before, because how do you help? How do you get these people out of the darkness before its too late, what signs are you supposed to look for? Do you show tough love or do you try to save them however desperately? And how do we protect our youth? How do we prevent them from ever starting to pick up?
I don’t know what made Jeffrey start using; I know for me, like most people, it started out recreationally – I don’t recall any pivotal moment when it changed, when getting high was no longer a choice, when it became an innate need, my only means of survival. Only that it did.
Statistically DARE SUCKKKKKS. Statistically AA and NA kinda suck too (BUT I THINK THEY WORK GREAT IF YOU LET THEM). The problem is there really isnt one clear cut solution that works for everyone, I think we just love to shove shit down peoples throats and say hey this is mostly what works and since its an epidemic how about you just follow it and try and if it doesn’t work just keep trying cause we actually have no fucking clue, and this whole thing has sort of spiraled before we could get a grasp on it. ALSO. LACK OF RESOURCES. Unless you got a hot PPO. (truth).
That’s a little ranty but this is my blog so stop reading if you don’t like it.
I’ve done AA (which did work for me at one time), NA, suboxone maintenance, therapy, IOP, OP whatever you could try, I’ve done it. When you’re ten years deep in an addiction you have to make a choice within yourself – do I want to keep using and living this way or do I actually want to stop. There were so many times I was stopping for everyone else, I hadn’t beat myself into the ground enough to have the desire to stay clean- I felt no purpose in life. And then one day I was just like yo, I’m sick of feeling this way, I was actually losing my mind from all the cocaine and if theres one thing I hate it’s a lack of control and reality, so I got my shit together, I ate a fuck ton of food and got a little chubby, I went to a few therapy sessions, I was also immobile from a car accident that I almost died in from being a dickbag, so I watched a lot of netflix and I wrote a book and wrote a lot of my pain out. Is this a normal way to recovery? No, but it worked for me. And I think we need to be conscious of that when we are trying to help people struggling. There isn’t one clear cut answer, you can argue this into the ground with me but lets not. What works for someone that got addicted from doctors scripts after a sports injury may not work for someone that picked up recreationally. And real shit some of this stuff doesn’t work because (unpopular opinion) people just don’t want to get clean yet, they haven’t felt enough pain. Which you totally don’t have to feel or go through but some of us do anyway.
So sorry for that rant, but not really.
I lost my cousin today, 8 years ago, to this disease and he too tried every fucking way he could to get clean. He had been using the better part of his life and that too was some of the issue, it was the only way he knew how.
I wish with all my heart that he had tried harder, but who am I to say he didn’t try hard enough, I know his demons were strong, I know he was exhausted, that he wanted a peace within himself that he couldn’t find here on this earth. I know that I miss him dearly, that he touched the lives of everyone he came into contact with – his contagious laugh, his enormously large heart, his flamboyant looks and personality – he had so many good qualities that his addiction had not managed to steal from him while he was alive. It’s hard to make a post about how truly wonderful and missed he is, without sounding cheesy about it or how I think of him every time I hear “its Britney bitch,” or whenever I see an old chris crocker video. He was to me, one of the most beautiful people in this world.
Which again is why I write this. Because we are losing so many important people.
I don’t know what will work for you, what pain you will endure if you’re using, but reach out, ask for help. It is not an easy road out of the darkness but there are solutions and people who are genuinely willing to guide you through. But the first step has to come from within you.
Sending out Love and Light