First of all, how is it already the middle of December?! Second, I went back and forth on whether or not to post this blog. After discussing it with the hubby, I said I would write it all out and decide afterward. Because it is something that is actively affecting me so I need to get it out of me and down on paper (or the computer screen rather) whether I decided to actually post it or not. So here goes.
Out of the most broken, hopeless, dirty, disgusting places, beautiful things can blossom. When I was in jail a little over four years ago, I met a girl, who, for the sake of this blog, we’ll call Anna*. You know when you meet someone and you just click? That’s what this was. There was no real rhyme or reason as to why. It just worked.
Anna spent the first three days in what we called a pickle suit. Essentially it is a green smock that has Velcro straps so that the person wearing it cannot fashion a rope out of it and cause harm to herself. She was absolutely devastated to be in jail and could not stop crying so they had her on suicide watch. When she finally made it up to the pod, her and I had an instant connection. We were both there on drug related charges, we both had been exposed to 12 step fellowships, though never truly participated in them, we both knew we didn’t want to live that life anymore but didn’t know how to stop. In jail, you’re surrounded by drama, war stories and euphoric recall. Everyone is talking about how big and bad they are, what they did that brought them to jail, and what they were going to do when they got out. And none of it was productive. It was a breeding ground for negativity and ugliness. Not to say that we’re perfect, but we tried not to fall into everyone else’s mess. We tried to talk about what we wanted to do differently when we got out of jail and how we were not like everyone else that was doing their time. Not that we didn’t deserve to be there, but that we just didn’t belong there. We were capable of much more than rotting away in and out of jail cells the rest of our lives.
But most of all – we bonded over the fact that we had family support like none of the other girls in jail. See, our mothers met much the way we did, but in the waiting room before being able to come in and see us on days we were allowed to have visits through a glass window. They came every week without fail. They wrote us letters. They put money on our books.
Depending on who you have rooting for you on the outside, mail call is easily the best or the worst part of your day. My mom knew this so she sent a card every day. Literally. Every. Single. Day. They were always bright and sparkly and happy and encouraging. That’s something I’ll never forget. I also think that cards and small gestures, just to let someone know I care, are so important to me today for this very reason. I know how much it meant to me during such a dark time in my life. Anna also loved the sparkly cards I would get from my Mom and I remember telling her that when I got out of jail, I would write her. I don’t think she believed me. So when I got settled into Women’s Recovery Center – the treatment center that saved my life, I sent her a card. I don’t remember what it said, but I remember what it looked like. It was blue with pink sparkles and sequins all over it. I still have one just like it, among many others from my Mom, that I saved in a box to remind me on the tough days who always has my back.
Periodiocally I thought of Anna, but I never heard from her. I graduated treatment, lived in a halfway house, started going to meetings, got a job, moved out of the halfway house and into an apartment on my own when randomly almost a year later, Anna showed up in my newsfeed on Facebook. I immediately direct messaged her, she gave me her number, and we made plans to go to a meeting the following Tuesday. She had a few months clean, had just graduated treamtment in AZ and moved back home to take care of some legal issues. We met up at the meeting that next week and it was like seeing an old friend. I was so happy that she was doing well and was in the solution and participating in her own life. We started going to meetings together, fellowshipping after meetings, hanging out outside of meetings, and talking about things other than just recovery. Even having been in the program for a little bit of time – Anna was my first real friend clean.
I remember when Anna got a year clean and she asked me to present her with her medallion at a meeting. What an honor. To have the priviledge of seeing someone at her lowest and watching her blossom. It doesn’t have to be but sometimes relapse is a part of recovery. Anna relapsed. I was the first person she told and I tried my best to help from a distance. I wanted to protect myself but also be available for when she was ready to come back to the rooms. We kept in contact and I would occasionally ask her to go to meetings with me. One day, she finally took me up on it. I remember the date because it was a big day for me, my two years clean, September 17, 2015. Little did I know just how pivotal of a day it would truly be, it was also the day I met my future husband for the first time.
Eventually Anna realized that using wasn’t working anymore and I sat by her in a meeting, watched her pick up a white key tag, and my heart filled with hope for her future. This time she was ready to do something different. She worked steps thoroughly, she called her sponsor and regularly attended meetings, started sponsoring other women and giving back to NA by doing servicework for others. She was steadily working and enrolled in school. She was keeping up on her mental health, going to her doctor and taking her Manic Depressive/Bipolar medications. I’ve never seen a change in someone like I had in Anna over the course of the next year and a half. She was a true hope shot.
Then slowly, things started to change. She started missing doses of medication, then meetings, then schoool and work. She would sleep for days on end and ignore any calls or texts. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from her for weeks at a time and of course, would start to worry. Her boyfriend would reach out to her sponsor and me every once in a while and say, “She won’t stop crying, I don’t know what to do. Can you please call her?” It was anyone’s guess if she would answer but every time we talked, she would apologize for going on and on about herself and her problems and ask what’s going on with me. I had hope that things would get better. During this time, I got engaged and she was thrilled for me! I’m pretty sure she was hurt because, and as much as I would have loved to have Anna as a bridesmaid in our wedding, I didn’t trust that she would be responsible enough to follow through with commitments and her erratic behavior didn’t help. We had also originally asked her and her boyfriend to stay at our house and puppysit while we were on vacation but her lack of an ablity to consistenly communicate made us rethink it. I was afraid she would sleep all day and something bad would happen either to her or the dogs and we would be halfway across the world unable to do anything about it. My marriage to Jeffrey isn’t just about us, but all the important people that are a part of our lives, and it didn’t feel good not being able to share such a special day with her. She did come to our wedding, but we both, Anna and I, deserved her presence in a much bigger way.
We’ve hung out a few times since the wedding, but nothing changed. I could see the isolation taking over a long time ago, and so could she, but she continued to let it win. A few weeks ago, after me reaching out to her with no response for about a week, she finally answered the phone, got honest and told me she started drinking and smoking weed again. And again, I was the first person she told. Almost every day since, I reached out to just say, “Hey, I’m thinking of you,” or to invite her to a meeting. She always had an excuse as to why she couldn’t go which usually involved her having just smoked a blunt and not wanting to go to a meeting high. But, there’s no better place for an addict to be. Especially a using addict. This was someone that had over two years clean. It can happen to any of us.
Which brings me to last Monday. I woke up to two missed calls and a text from her boyfriend that he sent the night before and it said, “Anna* did a bunch of dope. It was a couple hours ago but she is lightweight falling out unless I keep her up. Do we know anyone with narcan? I’m freaking out and she refuses to go to the hospital. Like she seems fine then just passes out.”
I immediately text and call them both but they don’t answer. Of course. So, I called her sponsor and reached out to her sister and mom via Facebook. When her mom called me, I told her everything. The fear I heard in her voice was devestating. She went to where Anna was and made sure she was okay but could not talk any sense into her. As soon as she left, I got a text from Anna saying, “SO UNNECESSARY TO CALL MY PARENTS. I can’t with you. Put yourself in my shoes. You are not my friend, and you are not my friend and you haven’t been for a long time.” The repetition of not being her friend led me to believe she was either high when she text me or she just really hates me. We talk about anonymity in our 12 step followship, but once you start using, there’s no such thing as anonymnity. I will do whatever I have to do to expose the disease. I will make it as hard as possible for someone to continue using, even if that means telling on her. Being labeled a “snitch” is something we fear in our old way of life. But once we get clean, it’s no longer snitching because we don’t live by the rules of the streets anymore. To keep someone’s secret is to enable.
I text her again later that day and said, “Love you. It’s not too late to come back.” She responded, “I literally don’t want to talk to you, AT ALL. No reason to call my parents. I wish you knew just a tiny fucking bit how crazy and irrational they are. I don’t want to be your friend. You really haven’t been in a long time.” The reality is that what’s crazy and irrational is sticking a needle full of dope in your arm and not expecting any consequences. While I don’t regret telling her parents, it does hurt to know she’s so angry at me. I’ve stuck by her side through so much but I’m a bad friend. I care more about her life than she cares about her own life, but I’m a bad friend. I care enough to continually reach out and let her know I’m here, but I’m a bad friend. I set healthy boundaries for myself, but I’m a bad friend. I offer her help to save her own life, but I’m a bad friend.
I’m hurt and I’m angry. Angry at the disease. Angry that her boyfriend thought his best course of action was to text me rather than just call an ambulance. She could have died.
I know plenty of people that have decided to pick up again and while it always makes me sad, nothing prepared me for how I would feel when Anna went back out. I took what she said personally. I cried. For myself and for her. I had to reach out to a lot of people to process my feelings, even put it out as a topic at a meeting, and they all reminded me that it’s her disease talking. Of course she’s mad at me. She’s using and she got caught. But it’s all her disease. They tell me that one day she’ll thank me, and if not thank me, she’ll at least understand. But, I just hope that she makes it through this alive. I don’t care I she ever thanks me. I just want her to not die.
Two days after all this happened, the Just For Today reading reminded me of my powerlessness. If I’m powerless over my own disease, I’m certainly powerless over someone else’s disease.
“There is only one requirement for membership, the desire to stop using.”
Basic Text, p. 9
We all know people who could benefit from Narcotics Anonymous. Many people we encounter from all walks of life—our family members, old friends, and coworkers—could really use a program of recovery in their lives. Sadly, those who need us don’t always find their way to our rooms.
NA is a program of attraction, not promotion. We are only members when we say we are. We can bring our friends and loved ones to a meeting if they are willing, but we cannot force them to embrace the way of life that has given us freedom from active addiction.
Membership in Narcotics Anonymous is a highly personal decision. The choice to become a member is made in the heart of each individual addict. In the long run, coerced meeting attendance doesn’t keep too many addicts in our rooms. Only addicts who are still suffering, if given the opportunity, can decide if they are powerless over their addiction. We can carry the message, but we can’t carry the addict.
Just for today: I am grateful for my decision to become a member of Narcotics Anonymous.
So, it took me a few days to finish writing and as you can possibly see, I struggled with whether I wanted to share this blog, as it may or may not be my story to tell. But, I have to remember, that MY story is always mine to tell. And this is my story about my experience. An experience not just with any another person, or some random addict, but a friend that has greatly affected my life.
I’m sad for the beautiful life I know she’s capable of living, the life she deserves to have but doesn’t see for herself. She won’t respond to my texts anymore. She told her sponsor that she put me on “phantom mode” so that she doesn’t even see my calls and texts. But, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. I’ll keep letting her know I care. Hopefully if and when she takes me off phantom mode, the love will all come rushing at her. I hope she’ll remember that no matter what, she can come to me for help, that I won’t judge, and I’ll show up for her in whatever way she needs. I hope she’ll realize that her actions affect those around her, that she leaves a bigger imprint on our hearts than she’s able to see right now. So many people have invested in her and want to see her flourish, but we can’t do more than she’s willing to do. As a recovering addict, it’s my job to continue to fight the disease and to give away hope. We can carry the message, but we can’t carry the addict.