When Addiction Takes Someone You Love
Tiffany The Great
In light of recent events surrounding the death of an actor who was, without a doubt, phenomenally talented (Obviously I'm referring to Phillip Seymour Hoffman). I've seen some horrible and disturbing opinions regarding those who suffer (and believe me they suffer) from addictions of all forms. I've seen people say they have no sympathy for someone who dies because of their addiction. I've seen people actually say they don't have any compassion for someone who quote "throws their life away" as if it's as simple as that. It just confirms how little our society really cares to understand (even those who personally know addicts) how addiction works or actually DO something other than saying "addicts are bad people" or "addicts are criminals and deserve punishment" etc. People are content with assuming people should be alright once they've gone to rehab. They don't even want to understand that rehabilitation for someone who has had an addiction is a lifelong struggle. It will never be as simple as putting down the needle or the bottle of pills or alcohol. If it were that simple would we even be having the so called "War On Drugs" or have so many laws regarding drugs? Would people who have spent several years in prison have such a hard time staying clean on parole? Believe me when I say more people relapse on parole than those that don't. My husband sees this every single day in his job as a parole officer. Now why am I so upset at all the negativity surrounding the way in which Phillip Seymour Hoffman died? Let me tell you a little story:
The first time I ever experienced real loss (at least in the eyes of a child) was when my imaginary friend "died" after I made some friends when we moved into our house. I was around 4 1/2 or 5. It was before I'd started kindergarten. He was so real to me and I was so distraught that I had a funeral for him in my front yard. I'd dug a little hole and sang a Whitney Houston song ("I'm Saving All My Love For You" with some of the lyrics changed to reflect that I was saving all my love for burying Speaky. I have no idea why that was his name but whatever. I was a kid with a wildly active imagination.). Why is this important for this post? Because it was important to my mom. She had seen and heard me through the screen door. She loved to tell the story. She'd indulged me in always including Speaky in everything. I got a cookie? So did Speaky.
I wish I could say my mom was the soccer mom who drove me and my brother to school and sports functions or who attended everything we did like school concerts or events like that. The one time she DID help out with a Girl Scouts function she was drunk and slurring her words. The one time I can remember her going to a Parent/Teacher Conference was when I was in the 4th grade and she was also drunk that time as well and my teacher knew it. Everyone knew it. They just didn't talk about it. For me, it was just part of my life.
I loved my mom. When she was sober, her smile could light up a room. She was funny and goofy and would even curl my hair or do my makeup. She'd rub my back until her arm practically fell off. She'd always say "Goodmight. I love you. See you in the morning." when she tucked me in. She'd let me watch scary movies when I'd beg her ( With the warning that I could watch only if I wouldn't sneak in my parents' bedroom if I got scared. A warning I often ignored and she let me). She'd let me help her cook and make things like pumpkin pie or cookies. I loved to do the fork marks in the peanut butter cookies (they just didn't taste the same without them). Even after my parents got divorced and my father got full custody, she'd come over or I'd get to visit her wherever she was living at the time. Why am I telling you about all these seemingly normal things? Because I come across far too many people who almost dehumanize addicts. She may have been a severe alcoholic, but she was still my mother. She had sisters and brothers who loved her. She had friends. She was loved. She lied, stole manipulated when her addiction got worse but she was mom and I didn't care. I remember when she was going to take me to the fair in Eastlake, OH. She didn't have a job, nor could she keep one. My dad couldn't afford to take us either no matter how badly he wanted to. She promised me though that if I let her sell my keyboard I had gotten for Christmas that she would use the money to take me. It was ok because, according to her, we would get it back because the pawn shop would hold it for a shirt time until she could buy it back. I didn't even care about that. I wanted to go and I wanted her to go with me. So we went. I rode one ride and she used the leftover money to buy beer. Then we had to leave because there wasn't any more money for tickets to ride more rides. I should have been downright pissed at her. I felt a little bit disappointed but it didn't matter because I got to spend a little bit of time with her even if she may not have been completely truthful. Of course I never saw that keyboard again. My dad was so angry. More at her than me of course. She steadily got worse with drinking to the point where it was the first thing she did when she woke up. Once she had been out drinking with people she didn't even know and they dumped her on our front lawn passed out. It was one of the times I knew my dad still loved her because he wanted to find the people who casually dumped her there like a bag of trash. I very rarely saw my dad get angry like he was that day.
She died when I was 11 after a couple of weeks in the hospital. She went in and out of comas. The first few nights she was there she would hallucinate. Sometimes she'd be awake and alert. Those were the times she would cry and say how embarrassed and disappointed in herself she was. She couldn't even have the photos of me and my brother facing her because she felt she was such a complete failure as a mother. Most of the time she was in a coma and eventually put on life support. Her liver was essentially dead. The doctors called a meeting when her kidneys failed and she needed dialysis to keep her alive. My dad insisted that my brother and I be in the meeting even though the doctors thought it unwise. My dad refused to let us be lied to. I want to say they gave her something like a 15% chance of survival. She couldn't get a transplant even though she was only 34. Only just over 2 years older than my age now. They don't give transplants to alcoholics. She swelled up and turned an awful color yellow because her body couldn't fight the toxins in her body without her liver and kidneys. Eventually I told her one day when she was in a coma that it was ok to stop fighting. I forgave her and was not mad at her. I prayed she would die. I actually prayed that my own mother would finally give in and die because even at 11 I knew it meant she wouldn't be suffering anymore if she did. The day she died my dad picked me up at my bus stop. I knew right then that it must have been close to the end for her because my dad never left work early without a seriously good reason. When we got there they'd taken her off of life support, something I know was a difficult decision for her siblings to make. She was actually awake. I actually got to say goodbye after all the time she was in a coma, the one day she was awake was the same day she passed. It wasn't until later that night that she died surrounded by her closest siblings. We had gotten to the hospital minutes too late. I remember so vividly asking my dad when we left why he was crying when he and my mom were divorced. That was another time I found out my dad still loved her. His response was "Because the mother of my children just died." He was hurting just as badly as we were. The asshole she was living with at the time didn't come to her funeral. That was yet another time I knew my dad loved her still. He swore if he ever saw the guy he'd seriously harm him. Later my aunt Phyllis confirmed that he told her that day he'd still loved her but her alcoholism made it too difficult to stay married.
So what's the point of my telling this long winded and sad story in a public way? The point is that addiction is complicated. My mom loved us. I knew she did. I knew she loved my dad and never got over their divorce. It made things even worse in terms of her drinking. She was an extremely sad drinker. She'd put on sad songs and cry when she'd be wasted. She'd drink until she would pass out and I would stay awake to make sure she wouldn't swallow her tongue (I was a kid. I didn't know that you couldn't really swallow your tongue in the sense that I was thinking at the time.). She'd cry about giving my sister up because she was only a teenager when she'd gotten pregnant by a guy who didn't have any business sleeping with a sixteen year old girl whose mother was dying of cancer at the time. My grandpa had died when she was just a kid. She already smoked by this point and was hanging out with a guy who eventually went to prison for drugs but who left her with a moral dilemma. Her mother died when she was about 3 months pregnant. I'm sure she didn't tell her. Luckily, I know my sister. I grew up knowing her because she was adopted by extended family. My mom never got over the guilt she felt over giving her up. Another blow to her already long line of devastating life experiences. Add all of that to someone with an addictive personality and you get an addict. She tried more than once to get sober and stay that way. Unfortunately like many addicts, she never stopped hanging out with her friends who were also alcoholics and addicts themselves. I believe wholeheartedly my mother needed help for her mental health not just her addiction. People always want to assume that people make a simple choice to take that first hit or first drink, but they don't want to acknowledge the fact that there are so many layers of issues underneath. So maybe our society needs to rethink what we do about addiction. Prison doesn't stop them. Brief stays in rehab and detox don't help but what about trying to give help for what is underneath the drug addiction itself. The reason they thought to turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place? I don't have a perfect solution. I just find it hurtful for someone to so callously say they don't deserve compassion or sympathy. I'm not saying we should enable them or not hold them accountable for their actions. However, losing the trust of loved ones, not being able to hold a job, having the stigma of being labeled as an addict and treated like crap, or paying the ultimate price with their lives, as was the situation with Phillip Seymour Hoffman or my mother, is not to be ignored when it comes to accountability for their decisions.
Please keep that in mind. People with addictions are after all only human. We all make mistakes and bad decisions. Unfortunately for some it turns into a nightmare that not everyone can easily overcome.