As human beings we can only do so much. Sometimes all we can do is try to help someone before it is too late or before their story begins to veer down the wrong path. You can't save everyone, but some people CAN be saved. Some people CAN change.
I have two very close people in my life that made a change; made THE change. One specifically, that I went through a second uphill-both-ways battle with almost exactly a year after Stephen, my high school love, fatally overdosed on heroin. This woman is someone that I called and still call my best friend. Someone that came into my life by a series of random chances as she became my roommate and best bud. Different drugs; same demon.
Pills were missing from my prescription bottles time and time again no matter what hiding place I used. We lived in a college dorm, it could have been anybody. The last person I suspected was my best friend. When others were ruled out and all signs pointed to her, a suffocating blanket of heartbreak and reality overcame me. I broke down. I thought to myself, 'why me?'... how can this happen again?... I can't do this again... I can't re-live that type of pain.'
Something; a feeling, Love, Friendship, God, Faith, maybe Stephen, told me not to run. Something told me to fight... to fight for her life-- that she needed me more than anyone else in the world needed me right then and there. Her parents had lost one child tragically... I was not going to let them face that loss again. I was not going to let drugs win. I was not going to let drugs take away another person I loved. I asked my mom to stand by me once again to do whatever it took to save my friend. I didn't care if she was going to hate me for telling different people that I knew could help. I didn't care if she hated me forever for exposing her dangerous situation. I needed her to live.
That was in 2011 and she has recovered to an even better version of herself than before her substance abuse battle. Rehab, therapy, starting all over... she powered through it all head on. She learned coping skills that her life depended on. She made a choice; THE choice. I visited her in treatment; I made sure she knew that she was safe, that I would always be there, I would never give up on her, and that she was going to be okay. Each month she was better than the last; it wasn't easy. She faced temptation and self-doubt. She decided she needed to apologize and face the people she had hurt... try to rebuild trust with friends that she loved. If that isn't bravery, than I don't know what the hell is. Her recovery was what she needed... it's what I needed.
Each year I continuously witness her progress for the better. She's consistently there for me just as I was there for her. Her addiction is now family, love, friends, traveling, running, success... and Ken's Honey Mustard. It's amazing, it's rewarding, it's a blessing. She's alive. Alive and very well. After she read the original posting of my article on Stephen's addiction, before I realized that I desperately needed to share her story too, she texted me,
"It's true, people CAN change... if they have best friends like you there, not willing to give up on them. You were one of the only ones who didn't look at me like I was a piece of sh*t after all that I had done- all that I was was going through. To this day I think about how that made me feel... that I was worth more than that-- it saved me... it saved my life. This article breaks down the stigma of that, and for you to be able to look at his passing in this light is courageous and humbling."
Honestly what more can I need than that, than those words, than the proof that I can see every single day? I learned that Addiction is not a death sentence. SOME PEOPLE CHANGE. I loved someone with all of my heart and we lost him to his addiction. I loved my college best friend as if she was my sister and by some miracle that I can still barely grasp, that love saved her. Her will to live a better life saved her. Her determination during her recovery saved her.
I did what I felt in my heart was right. I acted out of love, fear, and hope. During her struggle, I still looked at her and saw my best friend. I didn't quit on her. I didn't give up. Yes, there were days that I was mad, disappointed, and hurt. Past the hurt I saw a second chance for her-- I saw that she could change, she could get better, that her struggle did not have to be a death sentence. When she decided to recover, I chose to forgive and support her. When someone is at their most vulnerable, they need love and support. Some people will let you down, some people will surprise you, but you have to be willing to take that chance while still being prepared to let go.
Someone with an addiction has to find that desire to change. If you love someone with an addiction, show your love and support, and unfortunately--sometimes tough love, VERY tough love. In many cases, you may even have to walk away, which we all know is much easier said than done. Some people succumb to their demons, but not all people that struggle with addiction will lose their battle. Love can win. Family can win. Friendship can win. Life can win.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.