Earlier this year I shared the thoughts, feelings, experiences, and advice of someone who loves an addict, and whose life has been effected BY an addict. As I discussed then, there are things that I believe the family and loved ones of an addict need to know, in order to be able to function, cope, live life well, and love their addict well. However, I also realize that it is equally important and valuable to understand the perspective of the addict…to hear their side of the story. To learn and understand what it is that THEY need and desire most from the people who love them.
My little sister is currently entering into Week 8 of an 18 month long rehabilitation program. Training camp, really. The enemy she is learning how to combat? Heroin…and a decade long addiction to it.
Here is what she has to say. If you love someone who is struggling with addiction, it could be that this is what they want to say to you, too:
I am a drug addict, living at a rehabilitation facility. But I am not at your typical 30-day rehab. I’m here for no fewer than 2 years. That’s an abnormally long program, but I have an addiction to a drug that is abnormally hard to beat. I’m a heroin addict. A hard core junkie. Anyone who knows my family knows I was not raised to turn out the way I did. I don’t know it feels to be the family member of an addict, but I can imagine it must be heart-wrenching. I do however know how it feels to be an addict with a family who feels absolutely clueless about what I’m going through, confused about what addiction really is, and in the dark about how to help.
1) Addiction is a Disease
While some people disagree, it’s actually quite simple to make this classification. Addict’s brains are wired differently than a “normal person’s”. Once a drug is introduced to their body, a reaction occurs over time, and the addict’s body needs the drug to function the same way a normal person’s body needs food and water. A disease-say cancer-if untreated, will eventually kill it’s host. I don’t want to die, but left to my own free will, I will compulsively seek and use my drug of choice, NO MATTER THE CONSEQUENCES. Families do not judge their loved ones for getting diagnosed with cancer, so if you have an addict in your family, try to remember that if left untreated, they are also fighting a terminal disease.
2) I Can’t Get Better For Anyone But Myself
No matter how badly the family wants recovery for their addict, that will never be enough. I tried a million different times to get better, for the sake of my family, and nothing ever worked. It never worked, because I was always doing it to appease someone else. I had to explore my rock bottom. I hit rock bottom and kept digging. My rock bottom was living on the streets of Denver, Colorado. I spent 8 months in jail in 2014. I was in the center of a federal investigation. Having the DEA bust my door down more than once in a year opened my eyes. I began to see how out of control my life had become. While I appreciate everything my parents did to try to help me and get me to change my ways, it had no bearing on my final decision to stop using heroin. That sounds selfish, but addiction is a selfish disease. If I had to quit for someone else, it just wouldn’t stick.
3) It’s Not Your Fault
I had a great childhood. I did all this to myself. I’m sure it’s easy for family members to wonder what they did wrong. I know it’s something my own parents have asked themselves and me. The answer is…nothing. It’s my own fault that I allowed this disease to go untreated. My family was and is great. In cases where that isn’t true, and the family HAS done something wrong…it’s still not your fault. No one can MAKE another person become an addict. So shed your guilt, and keep moving forward.
4) I Don’t Want To Be This Way
I have friends, people from my past, who are married, have kids, own their own homes….I envy them to no end. I do not want to be the way I am. I have sat in my car countless hours, waiting for my drug dealer to come, and watched thousands of people going about their normal day-to-day lives..totally unaware that they have something that is worth more than gold to me-a normal life. My disease requires me to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, trying to obtain this drug that my body needs. I can’t go out of town with friends for the weekend, because I can’t be away from my source for more than 8 hours, or I will be bed-ridden. My disease sometimes sends me into a depression so deep that it causes suicidal thoughts. But…my disease also causes my brain to downplay how awful the bad times are, and to glamorize the good times, so that I want more. I’m sick, and I don’t want to be. I feel possessed, and like I have lost my power of choice.
5) Don’t Enable Me
Enabling is the absolute worst thing you can do for me. Addict’s are master manipulators. At least, I know I am. Monetary support of any kind will only progress my disease more rapidly.
And there you have it. The addict’s perspective.
I don’t mind if you share this with everyone. I’d rather them hear my truth, and my side, than form their own opinions. I love you, and hope I have answered all of your questions.
Sadly, since this article was written, my sister made the decision to leave rehab and has since relapsed. She states that “relapse is part of the recovery process, and she has every intention to refocus and get back on track.
Prayers for her are welcome. If you have an addict in your life, I hope you are surrounded by people who are willing to pray for them as well.