loving an addict

by ck on July 30, 2009

Before my Nanny died she’d had several strokes which rendered her unable to move or communicate. All she could do was stare. I forced myself to visit her in the nursing home because I loved her, but every moment of it was upsetting. The geriatric screams down the hall. The smell of cleaning products and urine.

But the part I struggled with the most was watching her eyes.

They didn’t dart around as if she were frightened or confused. They rested on each person in the room for several minutes before moving to the next. Her mind still registered, but it was trapped inside of a body that stopped working. Sometimes I wondered if she felt claustrophobic, or if she wanted to scream. But there was nothing I could do but sit there with her and watch her die.

Loving an addict is similar.

One of my best friends (not my husband) has been a drug addict for more years than not. In the ten years that we’ve been friends, he’s battled the addictions valiantly and lived a relatively normal life.

But over the last year he’s slipped back in and has left me wondering who I really am.

When he binges I worry. I spend most of that time thinking of him and praying for him. Every time the phone rings I’m sure it’s someone calling to tell me he’s dead. The girls are off-limits and so far they accept that he’s “sick” without questioning. I guard over them fiercer than usual because I’m obsessing over things I shouldn’t touch, like what would happen if they saw him? How would they process it? And what if this was them and not him?

And then a week or two later I get a text or an email from him with some question that doesn’t require a real answer. Just a little stab to let me know he’s back and wants to jump back into life again. Which fills me with such rage that I want to break things. I never thought myself capable of feeling this way. So it takes every ounce of control left to curb it. And so I pace. And ruminate. And completely isolate myself. And let the girls watch extra TV because I can’t be trusted to speak.

And the shame of it is suffocating. No one wants to talk about it, so I don’t. Understandably the family is trying to deal with it themselves, but because they’re silent, they’re also alone. And because I’m trying to respect their desire for silence, I’m alone too. Which infuriates me even more because I see the way his addiction is eating a hole into the core of his family. Their insides are splintering. And because I love them I find myself trying to pick up those pieces in an attempt to help them stand again.

I willingly take his family on as my own, and maybe I shouldn’t. But I know if I don’t, no one will. And the people he hurts will hurt even more. But it makes me so angry at him it takes several weeks before I can even look at him. And forget about opening my mouth. I’ve said my peace but it doesn’t matter. An addict hears what he hears and perhaps lets it sting. And then gets high again.

So strong is this addiction I wonder how he went a decade without binging the way he has this year. It has absolutely consumed him to the point where he’s no longer thinking clearly.

Somewhere in his eyes I can still see him. But it’s fleeting.

I know he’s claustrophobic. I know he wants to scream.

He’s trapped inside of a body that is killing him.

And because he refuses any treatment,

I’m left to watch him die.

And pick up the pieces.





Futureblackmail July 30, 2009 at 8:57 am

This is a heart-wrenching post.

A good friend of mine (also not my husband) ended up in a halfway house trying to clean his life up, then had to go back to one when he got out and couldn’t stay off drugs/alcohol.

Then I feel bad because everytime we talk, I feel like he has to “report” back to me that he is still clean. It’s all consuming in every aspect of life.

I wish they realized that what they do has an effect on everyone around them. Everyone is in a constant state of worry and concern for them and it’s so completely draining.

Good luck to you and your friend!

beyondtheendoftheroad July 30, 2009 at 9:18 am

Thank you for you perspective and your post.

Tiffany July 30, 2009 at 9:39 am

That is very rough to handle. You are a good friend for sticking with him through it atll.

jenn July 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

This is heartbreaking. I don’t know what to say except that I feel for you and your family and hope you continue to find strength.

Twila July 30, 2009 at 10:38 am

I know where you are coming from. I’m dealing with it right now but my friends family/friends actually approve of it. That’s what prescriptions do, give you the approval to mess up your life just because some doctor is too lazy to say “no”.

No matter how hard you want to break up and just go on with your life, your heart says to stay.

Sindy July 30, 2009 at 10:52 am

Addiction is simply heartbreaking. No matter how angry one gets at the addict, he is even more angry at himself. Problem is that he gets to get high and forget for a while – you do not. So I wonder, who truly suffers more?

TheKitchenWitch July 30, 2009 at 11:05 am

Ck, this situation is unbearable and I’m so sorry. My sister is an alcoholic and a meth addict; I have not seen her in 10 years and she has never (nor never will) had contact with the girls.

She is 43 years old, has no teeth, no job and blames the world for her condition.

She got “clean” from the meth 2 years ago; however, she still drinks. My parents see her once a week but I refuse. You are right to protect your girls.

I realize that you feel protective of his family and want to help him. Just make sure that doing so doesn’t damage YOU so much that your mind/family life/health is compromised. Relationships with an addict can suck the life out of you.

If you ever want to talk, I’m here. It’s a sticky, awful, sick thing you are dealing with. If I can help in any way, let me know.

GoonieMomma July 30, 2009 at 11:24 am

This proves what I had been thinking: you have an amazing spirit. Love the sinner and not the sin… easier said than done. You have to believe that ‘the real him’ is still in there, and though the disease may not allow him to recognize all you do, the real him still loves you.


And the girls will see and remember THAT part of this. And that your heart loves so much that it’s vulnerable. You’re building mighty women, CK, all by example.

Mira July 30, 2009 at 11:44 am

The rage is so justified and normal but it’s so hard to handle. You are doing great protecting your kids but you sound like you need to protect yourself more.

I know you hate awards or don’t like them but I gave you one anyway because I read you every day. Take it or leave it, but come check out my blog if you have time.

KathyB! July 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

This is really tough. It’s no help whtsoever for me to tell you that he and his family are lucky to have you and that you are a good person and wise to protect your girls.

I was engaged to another person before DH, and he spiraled into a meth addiction. He tried to fix himself until eventually I left. I have no idea how his friends and family handles things after I was gone, because I didn’t (couldn’t) look back. I hope he had someone like you in his corner. Someone that cared that much.

momto3 July 30, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Even though I don’t personally know you I know who you are. A really great human being, with a heart big enough to see through the scum to the person you know he is/was inside. Addiction is imho is one of the worst possible things you can watch a family member or close friend go through. It’s painful, heartwrenching, lonely. It makes you feel helpless and like you said shameful, like its somehow your fault. Your right no one ever wants to talk about it, maybe because the helplessness takes over and it’s to much to handle/deal with, and it’s better to pretend like it’s not happening? Being there for support when/if he pieces his life back together is the biggest gift you can give, not everyone is strong enough for that, but you need to let him know the boundries, that you love him and care but you don’t care for the lifestyle he has choosen. You’re right about the girls, kids are smart and they will know somethings wrong. This is an incredible post, thanks for sharing what most wouldn’t.

Tina July 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Wow. This sounds like my ex-husband. I wish I could keep my girls away from him, but they have to go every other weekend. He still drinks and drives with them and puts them in danger because he likes to camp and doesn’t think about stuff like food or blankets as long as he has beer and cigarettes! It’s infuriating.

Kay July 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I feel your anger and heartbreak from here – my 26yo brother has been an alcoholic for years, but in the past 3 years or so has added Oxy to his addiction. To watch it is horrifying – yes, he has legitimate, severe pain. But if he didn’t abuse the painkillers (and his body) they would work. So I struggle between sympathy for both his disease (I’ve been clean since the age of 14, after a long stint in rehab) and the injury that causes him such horrible pain, and RAGE that makes it hard to see straight.
I’ve backed off, like you – I can only watch so much before it breaks me, and I have a family to worry about. Then I have to explain to my 15yo why he can’t see his beloved uncle. And explain to my brother (who lies so well he believes himself) why he can’t come to my house, or see his nephews. Now? He’s in danger of losing it all – his house, his car, his job, his freedom, because he’s dealing (though he denies it) to support his addiction.
I think we just have to watch ourselves, and see what levels of interaction we’re comfortable with for us and our families. I hate that my heart has become so hardened to him, but I don’t know how else to handle it. I just can’t watch him self destruct anymore.

Faith July 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm

CK, you are so important. I heart you.

Julia July 30, 2009 at 1:25 pm

You need to watch Intervention on A&E. I watch it weekly and it gives such insight into the mind of an addict. The pain and suffering they cause doesn’t register with them when they are ready for their next hit.

One of my favorite quotes……..” Do not confuse love with enabling.”

Love the friend…..but do not enable his addiction. He is sick….as in disease.

My cousin is addicted to pain pills and doctor shops. He has been verbally abusive to his family for years…including me….and I had to totally remove myself from him. It’s hard not to take it personally….but my cousin is sick, sick, sick.

Anonymous July 30, 2009 at 2:18 pm

You’ll rarely find an addict without a healthy dose of enablers around them.

All of your feelings of rage and helplessness are justified. The complete unfairness of not being able to quit on someone you love even though they’ve quit on themselves and are doing serious damage to you is hard to put into words. The sad truth is there isn’t a whole lot you’ll be able to do. They’ll be an addict until they lose enough of the things and people that are important to them or until something comes into their life that makes such an impact they can’t go on the same. Hopefully one of these occurs before they kill themselves or render their minds useless. Either way, protect those close to you, and keep on loving…even if it is the tough kind.

Ink July 30, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Oh, this is such a sad situation. Feeling for you, CK.

faemom July 30, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Great post. In CA, we were surrounded by addicts. The Husband is the flame that calls to them. I had a professor who made us study addicts and the twelve step program. It helps to read The Book because it gives you prespective. Since it seems that due to my interaction with addicts and emtionally unstable people, I found myself thinking I may be a codependent. I’m reading Codependent No More, which may help reaffirm everything you’re doing. Because you are doing the right things, but I also know that in the face of addiction, the right things may not feel so right. Good luck. I’m always here if you need someone to talk to.

Gibby July 30, 2009 at 7:24 pm

You are such a great person, CK. First to protect your girls like that and second to try your hardest remain a friend. I cannot say I know what you are going through, because luckily none of my family or close loved ones have fallen to this monster. I wondered, though, what I would do if either of my girls fell into a hole this deep, so I read the book Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, who writes about his son spiraling into addiction. I sort of wish I hadn’t read it, because I weeped like a baby afterwards. Drugs suck. Hugs to you and your fam.

Three Bay B Chicks July 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm

I am humbled by this post, CK. Your words amaze me.

I have never had someone in my life with an addiction. Maybe that makes me lucky, maybe sheltered. I don’t know. I can’t pretend to know or even begin to understand what you are going through.

I just hope to be an ear willing to listen.


Kim` July 30, 2009 at 9:17 pm

This is very sad both for him and for those that love him. I pray he can dig deep within himself and find the courage to seek help.

We have a gas grill. :0)

Casey July 30, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Oh God, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend and that you’re stuck on the roller coaster and can’t do much about it. Also, my gram died the same way and it was horrible to know that she was still in there. I spent every single available second in the nursing home and it was terrible.

kay July 30, 2009 at 11:28 pm

i haven’t had to deal with any addicts in my life yet, but i imagine one day i will. thanks for your story, and for being a good friend to someone who probably has none left!

LJ July 31, 2009 at 2:26 am

I am praying for you as you deal with your friend and all your feelings, anger, love, helplessness. You are an amazing woman and I know that God will honour all you do! Being a friend to an addict and his family is not easy. Keep the faith!

qk2dlvr August 1, 2009 at 4:32 pm

thank you for your words, rage and love, Ck. That they hurt so much, hopefully there is hope yet, for me and my family’s love for me, and yours.

Ginger October 28, 2009 at 12:28 am

i know how this is my best friend for year started using just after his 10th grade year and now 6 years later he still struggles with it. one day im hanging out with him and hes great hasnt used in monthes starting to gain weight again and then the next day hes gone no calls dont stop by and just drops off the map for monthes last time was 2 years and i found him through another friend of ours she called him and had him come over and it was so had to even look at him i looked him dead in the eye and said ” when your using it hurt everyone not just you and i cant even stand to see you right now” and i just turn around and walked away 2 monthes later he shows up on my door step with my ex (a guy im actually good friends with still) and he is relativly healthy looking and after that hes good for a few monthes then he lost his job with the recession and started using again i saw him a few time after chewed his *butt* and then he dissappered been 6 monthes now and i wish i knew how he was hes just gone and it drives me nuts. so yeah i know where your coming from.

ps my husband is an ex addict and has gotten past all that and i love him everyday for it. just wish i could say the same for my best friend where ever he is.

restless January 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I am all too familiar w/the world of addiction/alcoholism. It’s extremely painful, frustrating, maddening, and feels absolutely hopeless. You’re wonderful for being there for the family – they are so lucky to have you. But, be careful…
I’ve felt powerless and have been dealing with it pretty much my whole life, growing up with, having my own issues with it, most of my past relationships and friends – I finally not only got far away from it, I had to learn to “let go” of the people still involved with it.
My ex is now a paraplegic bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life due to an accident involving his extreme intoxication. I can’t imagine what my life would be like today if I hadn’t “let go” so long ago. I’m still preoccupied with his condition & he’s not even in my life! It’s heartbreaking, but I have to say, so much easier to deal with being away from it. I had to take care of myself as I knew I wouldn’t have been able to change him & change how his mother was enabling the whole situation and not taking a stand. If I hadn’t, I would’ve gone down with him and taken my parents down with me.
It’s just so hard. Addiction/alcoholism sucks the life out of the addict, the people who love them and the people who love the people who love them.

Beautiful post.

Kim February 5, 2011 at 3:05 am

It’s a tough situation to watch your friend that you love dearly go through all that…and you with them… I certainly understand. It’s a frustrating, draining and wretched rollercoaster of emotions. A childhood friend of mine was a hardcore heroin addict for several years. She almost died several times from ODing, but people were praying for her and I’m convinced that each time she survived was a miracle. She then fell off the radar for about 3 years or so, and I didn’t know if she was dead or alive…but I kept on praying. Long story short, we got back in touch about 2 years ago, and it turns out through a series of events that she got clean and has been clean for the past 5 years. She’s been rebuilding the pieces of her life back together and doing well. All this to say…there is hope. I pray your friend “wakes up” one day and gets clean for good. And I pray for peace for you…because I know the pain and cost of loving an addict, too. Hold on to Hope…

(P.S. just wondering if there was any positive update on your friend? I know this post was written in 2009…)

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