That Time I Helped An Addict
I helped an addict the other day. Or at least I tried to. One realizes rather quickly, an addict only helps himself. No amount of love will save him. But I tried to open a few doors. Leave a window open just a crack.
His loved ones deliberated for hours over the phone and via text messages about how we should help. I think the fancy term is intervention. I’ve learned a lot of new terms in the last few weeks. Words experts put to actions that all felt desperate and risky to me. This individual has one of the biggest hearts I know, but when the time came, would we be dealing with our loved one, or a ghost of his manhood overtaken by an addiction robbing him of the abundant life he’d been promised? One phone call in particular set our course of action. I put things in my own life on hold, and made the 11-hour drive across three state lines to do what I could.
In the midst of all my emotions, I grew quickly overwhelmed by the hoops we'd have to jump through to get help. In this case, the individual didn’t have health insurance, so we needed assistance that was free or had a sliding scale payment system (another new term). Time and again, I thought, “If I was the addict, I’d never have the wherewithal to figure all this out.” To make matters worse, every person I talked to about options is quick to point out statistics aren’t good. The addict has to want the help. Recovery likely won’t take if the individual isn't at rock bottom. He might recover only to fall back into addiction at a later date. An addict can leave a facility any time he wants to, unless of course he is incarcerated. We were trying to avoid that.
Years ago, I lost another loved one to an overdose. “Hi, my name is Traci, and I have loved ones who struggle with addiction.” The days we spent intervening recently triggered a hundred memories of another time we weren’t able to help enough. This time around, we had to try. The circumstances were entirely different, yet I had difficulty separating the two.
I played the role of researcher. Each day, I’d make dozens of calls and search on the Internet for viable options. The first step was detox, and then what rehab places should we consider? Outpatient, inpatient, transitional housing, working facilities? Questions like “do you have beds available?” and “what steps will he need to take in order to be considered for your program?” rolled off my tongue on repeat. Entirely new conversations for me, but this way, when the time came for him to make decisions, he’d have some direction.
During one phone call, I was asking the questions I’d rehearsed a dozen times in the last 72 hours. The helpful (thank you Lord for the helpful ones) man on the other end of the line gave me some information, then he said,
Now, who’s making these phone calls? Is it you or is it him?
After stumbling over my words a little, I assured him I would compile an updated list of possibilities, but the addict would make the calls.
Be careful,” he said. “I’m a recovering addict. Clean for twelve years now. The things I had to work hard for in my recovery meant everything to me. I wasn’t willing to screw up the progress I’d made. The things handed to me didn’t mean as much. He’ll have to do the work.”
I’d heard it all week long, but somehow this man’s words are the ones that penetrated. My loved one who struggles with alcohol and drugs was sick. As a mother, that pulled at all my heart strings. When my little girl is ill, I devote entire days to getting her healthy again. I buy Sprite. I mix up Jell-o. I cook chicken noodle soup. I swap out movie after movie. I rotate warm and cold washcloths. We take her temperature multiples times in an hour (that’s her favorite part). This situation warranted a different behavior entirely. It was going to take longer than a few days for my loved one to get better, and the best thing I could do - no matter how difficult it seemed - was to hand him over to our Great Healer, and step out of the way. You can love and support, but you can’t fix.
After some time, it became apparent I’d done all I could do that particular trip, even though the journey was far from over. As I headed out of town, I realized my drive home was only a short distance. The addict, my loved one, his road home would be a much longer one.