Today is the birthday of a dear, dear friend. I met him the first day I was in treatment, and I knew right away that we were soul mates. I believe that each of us has numerous potential soul mates. They are not always (or even mostly) romantic partners but just people in our lives that we connect with on a soul level. This young man befriended me when I so desperately needed to connect with someone who understood what I was going through. He reached out to me because he could see that I was in pain, and he knew that pain in his own life all too well. We talked about all kinds of things, some heavy, some not. I cried about how homesick I was already, and he hugged me. I had never needed a hug more than I did in that moment, and there was something about it that was so genuine and pure, because all we both really wanted was to get better, and we understood that about each other instantly. We became fast friends, and we shared so much over the next few weeks – deepest regrets, fears, goals, hopes, dreams, and laughs. He had a way of making me laugh, even when everything in me wanted to cry. Going to treatment and starting my journey in recovery was a monumentally life-changing experience, and he will forever be a part of that in my mind and in my heart.
It's hard to explain what his friendship has meant – how
deeply important it is to me and how much I rely on it still. I suppose the
attachment I feel would seem odd to some. We met at very different times in our
lives. I was nearly 40, he was 23; I was from NC, he was from NY; I had a
family and an established career, he was just out of school and undecided on
careers but had aspirations of making a return to drumming in a band; I was a
middle-aged mom, he was young and hip (or whatever the kids call it these days).
The substances that got us there were different, but we were both addicts, and
we got each other. The worst of circumstances brought us together, but we got
to know the best parts of each other in treatment because our walls and
defenses were down. In our adult lives, we rarely have the luxury of really
getting to know someone on more than a superficial level. Life is too busy to
connect with our own feelings and emotions on a daily basis, much less somebody
else's. In social situations, we're usually too busy putting our best foot
forward to actually be real. In treatment, we were cut off from outside
distractions. Our minds were clearing from a toxic haze. Emotions were new and
raw. We led with our worst and put it all on the table, stripped everything
away until we just were who we were on a basic level, and the love and
friendship that came from that was unlike any other I've experienced. It was special.
I'm not exaggerating when I say I don't know how I would
have gotten through that time without him. He ended up leaving a week before I
did, and I felt tremendously sad to be left behind ("irrationally upset"
is how I described it in my journal). His last day was a Saturday. I will
forever be grateful to Ashby for readily agreeing to visit on Sunday that week,
knowing how important it was to me to spend that last day together. The next day, I had Ashby take me out to buy
a disposable phone so I could text him because I couldn't stand the thought of
not being connected. He was my life line. In fact, it was the only rule I broke
while I was there. I kept the phone with me all day and texted whenever I got
the chance. It was comforting for both of us. I felt lost in treatment, and he
felt lost in the world. He told me once that he liked being institutionalized.
It was safe. We didn't have to make decisions. He was afraid to trust himself
in a world that felt dangerous and unknown. I was envious of his newness – his
freedom to do anything he wanted to do with his life and make a fresh start,
but he was envious of my stability – my family and career, all the things I
hoped I hadn't destroyed but certainly had damaged. We shared our fears about
what the future might hold. When I got home and started to reintegrate into my
life, I could talk to him about all of the frustrations of early sobriety that my
friends and family who were not in recovery couldn't possibly understand. I
relied on him, heavily.
Being an alcoholic, my powers of denial are particularly strong.
The truth is I really didn't see it coming when his sister sent me a message
out of the blue asking me to call her. I'd never met her, never heard from her
before, but I honestly didn't expect to hear that he was gone, that his
addiction had taken his life. At 24. It was a crushing blow. We were coming up
on 6 months of sobriety, and I fully expected to be sharing milestones with him
for the rest of my life. I was so angry on his behalf because I know how much
he didn't want this. He hated the drug – he hated what it did to others he
cared about and hated what it did to him. He was disgusted by it. It would never
have been his choice. It wasn't his choice.
And that's the sad reality of addiction that is incomprehensible to someone who
has never experienced it and almost incomprehensible to those of us who have.
All of a sudden, I felt very adrift. He was my whole support system inside of
recovery. It was a huge loss, and it
felt like no one around me really understood the magnitude of it. Most people in my life are interconnected in
some way, but he and I had this very isolated relationship. We'd gotten to know each other in a place
most people didn't realize I'd been, dealing with an addiction that most people
didn't know I had. Other people in my life
didn't know him, and I felt very alone in my grief. I also had this panicky fear that my memories
of him would slip away because I was the only keeper of those memories left
behind. Inside jokes don't flourish when
they're one-sided – trust me, he would appreciate the tragedy of that.
Shortly after his death, I had a dream about him. It was a little fuzzy. I don't know where I was, but I came across
him unexpectedly. He was wearing a suit and was glowingly happy and smiling, and he hugged
me, much like he did the first time we met. I had such a good feeling when I woke up that I told his sister about
the dream. I thought it was sort of random
and funny because I hadn't known him to be the suit-wearing type, and I also
found it comforting that he had been so happy in the dream and that it had left
me with a feeling of contentedness as well. She responded that, although I had no way of
knowing it, he had been cremated in a suit he'd had and that he always felt
really good about himself when he wore it. I believe in signs from the
universe, and I believe this was one. I
believe wherever he is, he's finally free and at peace, and I believe he's
still with me and somehow wishing me well. Losing him and not wanting to drink
over it was a turning point in my recovery. One of the main reasons I didn’t
want to drink is that I knew he wouldn't want to be part of a rationalization
for destroying everything we'd worked for. I feel that living happily in recovery is one way I can honor his life
and memory every day, one day at a time.
I've since learned to expand my support network, which is a
necessary component of my recovery, but it hasn't been easy to let people in –
not easy like it was with him. Soul mates don't come along every day. He was
there at the exact moment I needed him in my life, and to me that's no
accident. He continues to be a source of strength and support in my recovery
and has taught me great lessons about myself in life and in death.
I still have that disposable phone I used to text him in
treatment. I haven't been able to give it up or delete the messages. My favorite - "You're the best friend
I've had in a long, long, long time. It's sad but true." While I laughed and gave him a hard time
about the backhandedness of it, I understood exactly what he meant, and it is probably
the truest, nicest, most reciprocated thing anyone has ever said to me. I will
always be grateful that I had the opportunity to know him, and I cherish our shared experiences and the
love and friendship he gave so openly. I wish him a happy birthday and know
that somewhere, somehow he knows that I do.