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Recovery Sucks

Not dogma, just what I'm learning and thinking about right now.
Comments and feedback are welcome on Mastodon.

"If you're thinking without writing, then you just think you're thinking."
Leslie Lamport

For anyone not paying attention, the scourge of drug abuse continues to ravage and plague our nation. As a child of the eighties who watched the inferno we called “crack” rise up and burn through an entire generation, I wish I could open my mind to the younger generations and urge them caution from the memories of my childhood.

I would let them feel the sensation of walking to school over the crunch of thousands of empty crack vials under my feet. I would share the image of a friend’s mother, who I watched shrivel from drug use–and then one day literally disappear. A sick, real-life version of Lemony Snicket’s so called “Unfortunate Events.” Except Lemony Snicket never attempted to portray the brutal reality of CPS intervention and the gulag of group homes that swallowed the children of users. I would sear into their vision the image of girls I knew in grade school transformed into street walking zombie prostitutes before we even reached graduation. And many boys as well.

Such sharing of memories is not possible, and any words I put here will never do them justice. The truths I learned from hard experience are received with skepticism or outright rejection by my children. Each of them is sure that he or she is the exception, that everyone before was weak or stupid. These children of the nineties and their younger siblings have no knowledge of the needle junkies my generation thought they left behind in the 70s, and so a fresh generation of needle junkies is born: from stolen pills, to snorting heroin, to heaven in a needle. Chemical slavery in three short steps.

Of course this is just the human drama played out over and over again. We can teach. We can caution. But each generation must do and learn for themselves all over again. We are left only to pick up the pieces–if we’re lucky enough to have pieces left to gather. With these drugs, the tale ends in only one of two ways: recovery or death.

For the loved ones of addicts, picking up the pieces means cautiously reaching out in support of those we have watched morph into liars and thieves and worse, hoping against hope that this time “it” will truly work. Recovery is a journey of fits and false starts. By definition it lasts a lifetime, the trick is to get the lifetime to last as long as possible.

As family and loved ones, the most frustrating part of the recovery journey is our almost total exclusion from it. Having watched our friend or child or partner isolate themselves with drug use and all of the toxic personality changes it brings, we are then excluded from the recovery process itself. Sure, we can attend “Alanon” meetings to learn about what recovery entails, what we can expect, and what they are trying to do, but as “non-addicts” we are universally excluded from “the rooms” themselves, where the battles are actually fought. Not being addicts means we are not fit for the front lines of defense and support. We just “don’t understand.”

Having been walled off previously by the thicket of lies and addict behaviors of active users, we find ourselves pushed away now by the scrum of their “support group.” Having watched their personality warp and writhe through their addiction, we can only helplessly watch it bend and change again through recovery.

It is not a zero sum process. The person that rises will most certainly not be the same one you watched descend, though their shell might seem the same. In the furnace of recovery, the mettle is changed. The process is, by necessity, transformative. Affections can be lost or transferred. This is the hardest reality to face: that you yourself may be lost in the process, your relationship a casualty of recovery, as it were.

As I watch this process play out mostly helpless from the sidelines, I struggle to extract the lessons that I know I will need to pass on to my younger children. How to even describe the countless casualties of this disease? I flinch from the burden of tallying the cost of broken vows and lost promise that addiction has visited upon me, my family, and so many that I love. I can feel the effects ripple through my life, see them echo into my future, and I don’t even know where to begin.