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Recovery is for More Than Just the Addict

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I have a cousin who is an addict. Heroin, to be precise. While he’s in recovery now, he will live with the burden of addiction every day for the rest of his life.

So will we.

While I myself am not an addict, I am reminded frequently that there but for the grace of God go I. I had dangerous friends in my twenties who frequently did drugs in front of me. Because my parents were hippies I’ve been around drugs and drug users since my earliest days of childhood. (They gave them up many years ago, thankfully.) I could have easily walked down the same path, taking the easy road. I didn’t, and I thank God regularly for protecting me from that. I’ve never even tried a single drug. Not once. They’ve always scared the crap out of me, and now I know why.

Yet even though I never tried a single drug, I live with the burden of drug addiction every day. I can pretend that I don’t–I live in a shiny white suburban neighborhood, surrounded by ‘good’ people who do ‘good’ things. I help people and I have two wonderful kids. Yet I still carry this weight.

My cousin has always been someone special to me. From the day he was born he was my baby doll, my ‘doodle-bug.’ I helped care for him whenever I could. When my aunt was sick–she had severe depression and medical issues–he would often come to live with us for weeks at a time. After she died when he was 18, he faded away and we didn’t know where he was for a few years. Two years ago we got the call we never wanted to get–he was in jail and was an addict. It hit us all like a ton of bricks. Here was this young man we hadn’t heard from in a few years, but we knew we had to help him. He was our ‘doodle-bug’, after all.

I raced around and called several places, quizzing and finding him what we thought was the “right” recovery program. It was, at the time, for him. He did great work there, living there for nearly six months. He stayed clean for a while after leaving, but as is common with many addicts, within a few months he was using again. The pain of having watched him succeed, and then watching him destroy himself again, was intense. When the phone would ring I braced myself for the news of an overdose. We tried all we knew to do, but nothing helped. An addict is an addict, and he had to make that decision. One day, JD met the pain of addiction himself, when he walked into the house and found his beloved Wii had been stolen. Both kids never quite understood why we never called the police–we knew who had taken them and that they were gone forever.

Fast forward a year and a lot has happened. I’ve learned way more about the criminal justice system than I ever wanted to know. I know how to find arrest warrants, prison inmates, court dockets and even criminal reports. I know that 90% of the legal system operates on the plea bargain system, and that if it were to fall apart, we’d be screwed. I know that drug deals happen right there in the middle of the courthouse. I know what the inside of a prison visiting window really looks like. My kids know what a courtroom looks like. And I pray that they and I will never, ever see one again. My cousin has been through rehab again, and appears to be doing pretty well this time.

Yet the pain remains. I can’t handle jokes about drugs. I know most people mean nothing by them, and they’re funny for everyone else, but they make my stomach tie up in knots. I find that I look at people differently when I meet them–if they’re dressed in a certain way I will often find myself checking their eyes for the telltale signs of opiate abuse. I often automatically assume every crime is driven by drugs. Not a day goes by that the word ‘heroin’ or ‘opiate’ doesn’t appear in my brain–either from news stories, conversations around me, or my own thoughts. I have had an ulcer developing in the past 18 months, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was caused by the stress of loving an addict. There is no chaos monster like the chaos of addiction.

But I DO love him. More than that young man will likely ever know. With a ferocity that scares me sometimes. He may not live nearby and I may not talk to him often, but I love that young man very dearly, every single day. I am proud of the choices that he has made to get clean and to stay clean. They aren’t the easy sugar-coated after-school-special type of decisions a lot of people seem to think they are. He is at war with his body every single day, and for him to stand up and fight that battle I am very proud. Since he isn’t here I try to love on others I know who have battled addiction–to show them grace and mercy where others would turn up their nose. I work to let them know that they are never too far gone, that God always loves them, and that we all screw up. It’s what we do to get back up again that truly matters.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because I know so many of you live with this chaos monster In your own lives. I know that you have either battled addiction or love someone who has. And I want you to know you aren’t alone. We all walk this road of recovery together, one step at a time.

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