As a person in recovery who also works as an addiction counselor, I can confidently tell those who are struggling to get sober that things will get better. The cravings will dissipate, the feeling that you’ve lost your best friend will wane, and some sense of joy and happiness will eventually find you again. Early in my own recovery it was crucial that I come to believe that the crippling fear and anxiety I experienced on a daily basis would give way to moments of relative calm and peace. The first six months after treatment I felt like my IQ had dropped twenty points. I would become tongue-tied at the drive-thru, the bank, or even answering a phone call. To hear from other recovering people that things would get better was a huge relief, but to believe it was life changing.
But there is one thing that’s never gotten any better. Losing beautiful people to the disease of addiction hurts as much today as it did twenty years ago. When I was younger I thought I had become numb to friends and family that were lost to addiction, often telling people that I was used to it. I realize this was just wishful thinking, a way I tried to cope with the severity of grief and the realization that people I cared about would continue to have their lives cut short on a regular basis. Today, I know that unacknowledged emotion feels like numbness but is in fact a form of dissociation.
Not long ago, I was processing with my own therapist about another person I counseled who had succumbed to the disease of addiction. She asked me how many people I have worked with over the years who have died from addiction or mental illness. I told her it was too many to count, but that if I had to guess it would be between 100-150. Shocked, she told me that in her twenty-five years of practice she knew of one client who had died prematurely due to a mental health crisis.
I am more skilled at dealing with grief today. I talk to people, I surround myself with people who understand addiction, I accept my feelings, I practice my spirituality. In that sense, I suppose it does get better. But each time I get a text that tells me to call NOW because it’s an emergency, the surge of fear that shoots up my spine is always the same. I’m faced with the reality that another father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, friend or companion has been lost forever.
Despite what most believe, we don’t die from addiction because of a failing. We die because the illness has overtaken us, overwhelmed us, and because we have lost the ability to fight it any longer. But for every person that is lost to the disease of addiction, I can tell you about ten people who have turned their life around in miraculous ways. I hold those people close to my heart.