The story of his addiction isn’t mine to tell.
The sordid details of his worst nights (and days), though both haunting and heartbreaking, aren’t worthy of being re-lived, re-questioned, or rehashed.
Ten years of saying the same things (I want to help), ten years of worrying and wondering how bad it really is (It must not be that bad). Ten years of trusting and believing a change was coming (He sounded good today!). Ten years of feeling like a fool.
No, the story of his addiction isn’t mine to tell, but the story of how his addiction has affected me is. Because that’s the funny thing about addiction: It isn’t contained by the boundaries of marriage, or family. It doesn’t follow the lines of friendship, or proximity, even. It spreads effortlessly and unstoppably, like fog, creeping over mountains, pouring into valleys, settling heavily on everything it touches. Weighing on them, but subtly. Dragging them down, but so slowly it’s nearly imperceptible in the beginning.
And there’s always a beginning.
Before he was an alcoholic, he was a friend. Kind, smart, and loving, we bonded after he gave me a driving lesson in his Civic. I felt so cool driving around our small town in his new car, while he explained to me the physics behind acceleration and curves.
He introduced me to new music, and new food. We went to concerts and camped. We sang songs over long holiday visits. We played soccer and talked about my pathetic choice in boyfriends. We drank beer and ate barbeque and painted the kitchen somewhat spontaneously after being caught in a terrible ice storm.
But somewhere in there, between the beginning and the end, he started to drink. Somewhere in there, he lost his ability to stop drinking.
When it happened, I can’t say, as the shift was so subtle. A light imperceptibly dimmed. A change in his tone. A vacancy in his eye. In hindsight, I’m sure the clues were there, but at the time it was all chalked up to life. A busy job. A busy family. Everybody is tired at this age.
Worry started to build, but was matched equally by fear of an unfair accusation. As time went on, occasionally the topic would be broached. He’d agree, and say he was going to change. For a little while the heaviness in my heart would let up, but it would always come back, and each time it settled back in, it was just a hair heavier.
And then it became a burden. Worry now shared the company of fear, anger, sadness, and desperation. With no room to spare, trust and patience were forced out.
Conversations were had, but the message was never received. Questions were left unanswered. Excuses always made. Offers of help declined. You are killing yourself. You are dying. Why can’t you see it?
How do you help someone who doesn’t want help? How much does one give in an effort to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? When is it okay to give up?
As I pondered these things, I continued to try to keep a friendship there. I turned a blind eye to things that should have never been ignored. I stopped asking questions, and let him isolate himself and his family. Instead of bringing up my concerns with him, I spewed my toxic confusion on my own family, peppering them with my worries and frustrations. He and his drinking problem became something my husband and I talked about with staggering frequency. What do we do? How can we fix this? Feelings of helplessness further crowded my heart, only complicating my path of how I extricated myself from this mess.
And then one day he was gone. Not in a physical sense, but in every other way someone occupies your life and your heart. Just as there was a beginning to his drinking, there was an end for which I would tolerate it. A line was crossed, and overnight the path was clear: His addiction is killing him, but it won’t take anyone else with it.
There comes a point when enough is enough. When there have been enough chances, enough broken promises, and enough lies. When effort put into healing is buried under effort being put into achieving a fix. As much as we want to help, there comes a point when it becomes clear that without their acceptance of help, we are helpless.
It’s an unsettling feeling, severing ties with someone so desperately in need of connection, and the decision wasn’t come to lightly. Instead, it was done as a last ditch effort to try to get the message across: Your addiction is killing you. Something has to change.
Since walking away, I can’t say I feel much better, and thinking about what his future likely holds is enough to make me nauseous. I mourn the loss of my friend, and continue to worry about him daily. But by cutting him loose, I’ve been able to empty my heart of the anger, frustration, and desperation that once ate at it.
His sickness was making me sick, and while his recovery is not my responsibility, my own is.
With time, I hope to no longer think of him as the drunken mess of a man he’s become, but rather as my old friend. The one who walked me down the aisle, and who glowed with happiness upon meeting my daughter for the first time. The one who was an incredible cook, and insisted on Christmas music starting on Thanksgiving night. I’m not sure if he’s still in there, but with distance and newfound space in my heart, I now have hope.
I cannot fix him, but understanding this has allowed me to continue to love the pieces of him that remain in my heart.