A Low Point (part 2 of 2)

He told me he wanted to stop. And I told him he had my support.

He started meeting with a counselor at school. And our confrontational conversation was a big relief for him. For about six weeks he appeared to be doing much better. He was staying at home a lot more, keeping a regular schedule, seeing a therapist weekly, going to anonymous support group meetings and focusing on his work.

Then, in October, he started disappearing again. The first time it happened I was worried. The second time I was angry. By the third time I knew what he was doing and my predominant emotion at that point was just a deep, quiet, mournful sadness.

Towards the end of October I witnessed an episode where he was hysterical, an emotional wreck, suffering from paranoia. He thought cars might be following him when he walked down the street. I wasn’t sure if he was self-medicating due to the early signs of schizophrenia or the onset of some other mental illness, or if it was simply a symptom of too much drug use.

But I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to worry about my own safety.

During one of the days when he was gone, I packed up all my stuff and moved into a spare room at my parents’.

My own personal low point came a couple weeks later. On top of all this stuff, I had been laid off at the beginning of October. I was forced to live with my parents. I had to commute to school in Boston from New Hampshire. And I had no idea how things were going to work out. I was in my car, driving home from the train station at night, in the rain, when one of the tie-rods on my car suddenly failed. I lost the ability to steer. Thankfully I was only going about 30mph at the time and somehow managed to come to a controlled stop on the side of the road. Ever in good spirits, always counting my blessings, I was ready to meet this challenge too. I had a flashlight in the glove compartment that I had put in there, unopened, for just such an occasion. I pulled it out, opened it from the plastic, put in the brand new batteries and stepped out of the car, into the pouring rain, to figure out just what had happened. As I came around the front of the car, I turned on the flashlight to inspect the tire. It flickered, and went out. You’ve got to be kidding me. This thing was BRAND NEW! Well that was it.

That. Was. It.

What an absolute piece of shit flashlight. I hated it. I bashed it against the pavement with every tired muscle in my body. Over and over and over. – Rain pouring down. Then I hurled it a mile into the woods with a string of obscenities.

I lost the ability to steer??? Really!?!?! What is this some kind of metaphoric cosmic fucking joke??? I had never felt such rage. God damn that flashlight.

When I finally ran out of energy I just stood in the rain on the side of the dark, empty road. -Beat down, quiet, defeated.

I’d never felt that low.

But I was glad it was raining. It felt good on my face. It was nice to just focus on something that felt good. I looked up, and let the water run down my temples, like a baptism.


Josh somehow managed to keep up his status at school. It turns out grad school is a great place to be a drug addict. The schedule is erratic, you can skip classes with impunity, and he was able to do well on exams without studying too hard anyway. Plus he had a generous stipend so he never had financial trouble.

Him coming home to an empty apartment was a big wake-up call for him. I was hoping it would push him closer to rock bottom. We kept in touch and would have lunch a couple of times a week. I kept pushing him to get more help and offering to help him do it. By December he was seeing a psychiatrist who had prescribed him some medicine. The therapist thought Josh was depressed, which might be the reason he started using in the first place. So a few more months went by and, with the new drugs and therapy, Josh seemed to be doing much better. He was keeping up with school, and told me he hadn’t used meth since November.

In March, he asked me to move back in. Now, during this time I had become an expert myself on drug addiction. In fact, a good friend of mine is a recovering drug addict who finally sobered up, after a lifetime of addiction, in his early 50′s and, after over ten years of sobriety, is now a leader for several AA and other support groups trying to help other addicts. We spent a lot of time discussing Josh. I met lots of addicts and their family members and talked over my own situation with them. I read books and studies.

I knew the chances of Josh being successfully sober forever were slim to none. And a relapse was almost certain, if he wasn’t already lying to me about his use.

But after thinking on it. I decided I’d rather give him one last chance, than go a lifetime wondering if I should have.

So in March I moved back in. Things were good. But by the summer his old patterns of disappearing reemerged and it was clear he was using again. So one afternoon I finally told him I was moving out at the end of the month and that was the end of it. There wasn’t any anger or resentment, just utter sadness.

It’s incredibly hard losing someone to addiction. They stand there before you, a shadow of themselves. You don’t know if you’re seeing Jekyll or Hyde. He would go months being the most loving, supportive person in the world. Then betray me, coldly. Then beg my forgiveness and profess his love again. It’s like he was dying over and over. – Only to be cruelly resurrected. Always offering hope, and then crushing it.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

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  1. Posted March 14, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    a wrenching story to read and I’m sure far more to live thru.

    my daughter turns 20 in a few short weeks and has her feet firmly on a great path. Only one thing concerns me at this point: her getting romantically involved with the ‘wrong’ guy.

    I’m a bit of a hard ass on this subject, and always have been. some people are poison and need to be kept at a distance.

    If they can be helped, a big if in my jaded view, it won’t be by someone emotionally close to them.

    Let Josh go. Don’t let his pain be yours. Count your blessings. Move on. You deserve better.

    I’ll be rooting for ya.

  2. Posted March 15, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks J.

    A couple of years have passed now and we haven’t spoken. I can only assume he’s stumbling his way through school, in and out of sobriety.

    The whole experience has helped me to relate to how difficult addiction can be to deal with, particularly for the family of the addict. Especially when I see parents enabling their kids, even though everyone is telling them, including me, that it’s the wrong thing to do. I understand a little better how difficult it is for them not to.

    Fortunately, I was pretty well-educated about addiction and its various ‘treatment’ methods. So I was realistic about my expectations with the whole thing. And I knew the best thing to do was probably going to be to just leave.

    I’m just glad this happened with a boyfriend. Where, though it was difficult, I had the option to just end the relationship and be done with it. I can see how things would be a lot tougher if this were a child or parent.

  3. jennypenny
    Posted March 15, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Addiction is so much like mental illness. You stare at this hurtful, destructive person and *know* that the person you love is inside them somewhere. You cling to the times you see glimpses of the person they used to be. It’s hard to forget who they were and just see them as they are now.

    I think it’s hard for the addict too in a relationship. They know you’re waiting to see them go back to being who they were. They know they’re disappointing you (even when they’re clean) because they are not that person anymore. It’s a lot of pressure to deal with while fighting an addiction.

    The addiction is almost like an accident–maybe they were partly to blame, maybe mostly, doesn’t matter–the result of which is that they have changed for good. Sometimes leaving is the best thing for both people.

    So sad for you, and Josh.

  4. Posted March 20, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink


    I think you’re right that, in a personal circumstance dealing with addiction, figuring out what the balance is between mental illness and personal responsibility doesn’t really help anything. I do have opinions about the disease model of addiction vs. a personal responsibility/behavioral economic model. And that’s useful for making passionless arguments about how our public policy around drugs and addiction ought to be shaped. But useless when looking into the eyes of a suffering human being.

    I’m sure you’re right that, as hard as it was for me, it was/is probably even harder for Josh. I was losing someone I loved. Difficult enough, but he was losing himself. – An even more despairing prospect.

  5. jennypenny
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    “I do have opinions about the disease model of addiction vs. a personal responsibility/behavioral economic model.” The problem with models is that they all apply in some circumstances. Some addictions are the result of poor choices. Some addictions stem from a person’s attempts to self-medicate an illness. Some people are more prone than others (two friends can experiment with the same drug—one walks away and the other is drawn down the rabbit hole). Regardless of the genesis of the addiction, the results are similar and treatments are similar.

    I’m not trying to minimize your pain. I understand the anger and sadness. You were a victim of the addiction regardless of Josh’s intent or culpability. Even if Josh’s actions resulted from a medical issue, it wouldn’t change what happened to you. I just thought it might bring you some peace to understand it’s hard for Josh too. He will forever look into the mirror and see two people. He can never walk away from the addict like you did.