Experiencing the death of a loved one is usually pretty difficult for most people, but for the recovering addict of any kind, it’s often far harder, as has been the case for me with the recent death of one of my oldest and closest friends.
When I found out a few weeks ago that my friend Keith had taken a sudden turn for the worse from his long bout of health issues, something inside me began to close up. It wasn’t my heart though, because that remained quite opened with many profuse tears, as I accepted this might be the end of the line for him in this life. When his sister called me a few days later and let me know he actually did pass away, I did like most people would. I struggled to believe he was gone for good, at least from this life.
During my brief conversation with her, I offered my condolences and talked about how much her brother meant to be and how much he’d be missed. I pondered the thought that maybe I should have gone to see him months prior, even though he and I had agreed together to wait for his 60th birthday later this year, which sadly would now never arrive. I felt anger over that and even questioned why God didn’t take my life force to let him live, given how much I’ve grown weary of fighting to keep going with my own health circumstances. I honestly think Keith wanted to live much more than I have as of late. Regardless, as soon as the melancholy call ended, depression and sadness swiftly descended upon me.
Yes, I began experiencing those normal stages of grief right away like most probably would, but with an added twist. Being an addict who’s succumbed to far too many addictions in this life and has had to fight doubly hard to remain clean and sober from all of them, and having lost so many people to tragic deaths in this life starting with my parents, addiction to something was always my go to temporary fix for when death came-a-knocking around me to those I loved.
Addiction truly was always my cure, even if it was momentary at best, to deal with those extreme tragedies in my life when people I loved died far too soon from tragic circumstances. Yet, I’ve fought hard against my addict life and by the grace of God been able to remain clean and sober through so much pain and loss. But in light of all the personal pain and suffering I’ve been enduring from my ongoing health-stricken life, this death has been far harder to deal with.
With the loss of Keith, someone who’s been in my life for 21 years, someone I considered a brother and member of my family, and someone I loved immensely, I feel absolutely crushed, so crushed, that my mind has been nudging me to numb the pain with something. That’s probably why I have found myself overly flirting, making innuendos, wanting to look at racy pictures on the Internet, taking longing glances at alcohol in the stores I passed, looking at cigarettes like they were potential candy, and indulging in tons of dark chocolate and other desserts. While none of them have broken any of my sobriety, it frankly has felt at times like I’ve been teetering on the brink of losing to addiction all over again.
I’ve seen this pattern before in plenty of other recovering addicts, when a death of someone they loved dearly hits them so hard, they can’t take sobriety anymore and look for something or someone to take their pain away. Movies and TV shows often depict how grieving involves quick sexual hook-ups or drowning sorrows in alcohol or taking pain or sleeping pills or simply overeating until one feels quite sick to the stomach. I don’t want any of that, as none of those ways are healthy ways to grieve. And I know that Keith, who always believed in me, wouldn’t want any of that for me either. So, I fight, I fight to keep going through the stages of grief…but sober.
You see, that’s why death is such a challenge to an addict, because having numbed ourselves from everything painful with some form of an addiction for so long, when things like death come along with someone so dam close to us, our first thought is to want the pain to go away immediately…the pain of the loss, the pain of the abandonment, the pain of now feeling more alone, it’s all so hard to endure in our minds.
So, I write these words today, not because I plan on relapsing over the loss of my dear friend Keith. I write them to show how the life of an addict plays itself out in our minds when things like death come along our way. And I write to remind myself, that I am an addict who’s continuing to recover every single day, and someone who will continue to recover, by choosing to remain clean and sober, even through a tragic death of someone like Keith, a friend I miss so very dearly…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson