Photo by Christopher Windus on Unsplash

A love letter to all who love an addict. 

Last night I attended a celebration of life for my dear friend from high school. It was surreal. Anyone who dies out of turn makes us reflect deeply. 

My best friend was full of light, she was beautiful, creative, funny, and playful. She was also an addict who died of an accidental overdose. 

She was a victim of the opioid crisis who had severe physical pain due to multiple surgeries and became resourceful when doctors quit prescribing the pain medications. She was kind, nurturing, and generous and made numerous attempts to get and stay clean. 

I missed the last 15 years of her life and therefore, did not participate in her addiction as her family so intimately did. 

Not for any other reason than she spared me for some reason. She didn’t respond to calls or emails, she just wasn’t findable and I did not take that personally. I loved her and missed her, but accepted that our lives had taken us in different directions. 

If you’re in my Facebook group, you’ll know I had my bestie (we’ll call her G) with me most of the past couple of days, in spirit.  

I did a quick Live to share my love and joy about getting to celebrate her life. G and I were playfully revisiting the steps of the high school where we met – and listening to Boys II Men. 

I was looking forward to hugging her kids with her, and sharing the experience of her end of life with her (yes, I can feel and hear when a spirit is with me - a new, unpracticed skill).

So in my joy and eagerness to be with her, without any pain or regret, I totally forgot to shield myself, energetically, before joining the event. 

For those of you who are highly sensitive or empathic, you’ll know how vital the shield is when mixing with large numbers of people, right?! 

But I had G with me and felt such love, I was in the clouds and didn’t anticipate the gravity of the emotional situation I was walking into. 

Within the first 30 minutes, I had lost my joyful alignment and was absorbing everyone’s energy and emotions. 

I write this reflection for the family and friends of G. I felt you. I am so sorry. 

I have a personal perspective on addiction– maybe you do, too? I was the addict – alcoholism.

I behaved appallingly, hurting those I loved, repeatedly. I was unreliable, mercurial, and often mean. I manipulated and lied. And, my drug was easily obtainable and did not require criminal activities to procure or engage in. I imagine it gets much worse with criminal elements added in.

As painful as it was to experience my addiction, I now know the horrible truth. 

There is no pain that compares to loving an addict. It is complex and insidious in its torture. 

To love an addict is to be intimately included in the addiction; to have lies, disappointments, criminal behaviors, and the erosion of the person you once knew become a normal part of your life. 

Feeling the constant worry, the need to help, to save and rescue while having no control or even influence to do so.

To hope.

This hope is the deepest suffering with loving an addict. We are held prisoner by this hope. Hope keeps us tethered to our loved one, impotent and suffering with them.

During the event, I was flooded with everyone's pain, anger, resentment, and sorrow. 

There were deep wells of guilt and helplessness as her loved ones tried to remember the best parts of her to celebrate. It had been 10 years of active deterioration with multiple attempts to get and stay clean. Remorse, regret, and guilt colored most conversations - wishing for it to be anything other than what it was.

The hope and disappointment roller coaster was too much for many and they had been forced to draw their line – to choose themselves over the addiction. As these thoughts were shared, shame was also present. 

The swirling emotions throughout the event were powerful. So much anger and blame - for leaving her children, for causing so much harm and sadnesses for them during the last years of her life; for choosing drugs over them all. Most of this was unsaid - merely hinted at or suggested, though it was palpable energetically. 

As I was swept up in the swirling, it became clear what I needed to do, to say.  I had lost my connection to G's spirit but I knew how to help her release her loved ones. 

See, what I instantly felt was that the addiction, her addiction, was still alive and active. It was greedily devouring them all, still feeding on their despair, their pain, and sadness. 

She was free of it but they were not. The girl who loved them all so deeply could not have forgiven that. 

So, with every family member and friend who let me, I offered my gift – her gift – the one she gave them in death. Release. 

I lovingly suggested they could heal, now.  While forever changed by this beautifully complex woman and the addiction she caught them up in, they no longer need to participate in it. They could live. They could move on.

So easy for me to say, right? I did not live with it. I was not lied to, manipulated, or betrayed. I was not let down or hurt by the addiction’s behaviors. I was an outsider in this.

You're right. I was in no place to judge - so I didn't.

I did not judge them for their feelings - blame, anger, loss, guilt, and resentment are totally normal and expected with their experiences. I did not judge their decisions or actions towards her as they were valid, they all experienced trauma from it, but I could also see a way out for them. 

I am a servant, at heart, and because I did not experience G in her addiction, I had a perspective they did not, could not access. So I served. 

There were many moments of silence as they let G's gift settle in, then gratitude for it as the awareness that the torture was over and some relief was felt. I shared the grief of a life too short and too filled with suffering. I did my part to release them from the addiction’s grip. 

All these people were part of the addiction - its beginning, its middle, and its end. Nobody was unscathed. Nobody was innocent. 

G was, and is, my family. It breaks my heart that she suffered so much. And it is devastating to see how much harm her addiction caused her loved ones. 

I walked away feeling deep gratitude that my own path with addiction led me out of it. That my family and friends were spared the depths of that long road.

My reflections today are for those of us who have been touched by addiction. Whether you were the addict or loved an addict, I am so sorry. 

My husband said it best a few years into my recovery — when someone gets nabbed by addiction, there is no coming back. Even if they get clean and sober, the addict is forever part of the equation, now. Who we were before is gone and the only real way of saving ourselves is to let go. Let go of what we ‘lost’ and look to loving who is standing before us. 

Even if loving who is in front of us demands we walk away to protect ourselves. 

My own joy and love returned as I woke today, though I am tending to and nurturing my emotional and energetic hangover, for sure. 

I can see all these beautiful lights of G’s family shining brighter than ever. They will heal. They will laugh and love. They will live. 

The best of her will live on in them. And her worst will be forgiven. 

In love and light, this is written with deep reverence for the humanity in us all.