There is a quote by French artist Vincent Van Gogh that’s always been stored in the back of my mind since the first time I laid eyes upon it. It reads, “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”
Infamously, Van Gogh never thought of his work as anything special. He never thought that anyone would appreciate his view on the world, and it was only after he had died that people came out of the woodwork praising his paintings as if they were handcrafted by the lord himself. It makes me wonder if that is the beauty of life as a whole.
Why is it that you only truly appreciate something, or someone, after they are long gone? Why do people feel as if they are often “too far gone” to change a situation?
As I reflect upon my past experiences, this quote relates to many things that I have been through during the course of my life, whether that be struggling to fit in with my peers during my school years, or thinking back on situations where I should have been the bigger person. However, one of the most prominent lessons I have learned over the past 20 years has to do with my grandmother’s drug addiction and separating her as a person from the monster that her addiction made her out to be, further accepting the idea that one can water the flowers in their garden and allow them to bloom.
It is never too late to forgive and redeem someone, even after the entire flower bed has turned to weeds.
My fondest memories with my grandmother involve going out to her garden and planting tulips. From planting the seeds, to going outside to watch the flowers bloom, there was nothing more exciting than when they would open up and turn the lightest shade of pink. I prefer to think of my grandmother in those moments, baking cookies and listening to her hum country songs that admittedly I hated as a child. I would go back and do anything to hear them again, as opposed to the darker memories that transpired as I grew up and drug addiction took over. It wasn’t until I turned sixteen that things took a turn for the worse, and I ended up hating who my grandmother’s addiction made her out to be.
Throughout the course of my lifetime, my grandmother had a series of mental health issues, but she kept them to herself. As I grew older I have realized that there is nothing more concerning than silence. I strongly believe that my grandmother’s Oxycontin addiction spoke louder than any words she could have ever said in order to fight her demons.
After years of battling her addiction alone, she decided to move in with my mother and myself for a fresh start. At first things were great, but suffering in silence proved to be detrimental, and her addiction became harder to ignore for everyone around her. Long gone were the days spent bird watching, or watching television, as they were now replaced with chaos stemming directly from prescription drug misuse.
Every day was a struggle. Instead of feeling the love I was accustomed to, I felt beat up and run by something bigger than myself. When you’re a child, you’re always afraid of the monsters under your bed, and you need an adult to chase them away so you can crawl back under your covers and feel safe again.
However for me, the monster of addiction never went away and there was no adult to calm my fears.
When my peers were going to school dances, or going out on dates, I would be up with my grandmother, making sure that the withdrawal effects associated with her drug misuse weren’t making her too sick. I would come home from school each day, hoping things would be better; but they never were.
At times, I felt as if her addiction was my own.
I was the one giving her extra medication even though I did my best to try and hide it from her. But, her addiction always seemed to win at the sick game of hide and seek, demanding the drugs. At her worst state, she would be passed out blue on the couch and I would have to call the ambulance, as I hoped and prayed that I could try my best to find another solution to get rid of the monster that was overtaking my grandmother.
It wasn’t until after she died that I came to the conclusion that addiction is a disease, and addicts are people too. My grandmother’s drug addiction ended up taking everything from her. In the last year of her life she ended up living in a special care home and developed dementia, stemming from her years as an addict. I remember hoping that she would forget me, as I hated her and not for whom she was, but who the addiction made her out to be.
I did not realize that there were two separate entities, one being the woman that helped raise me, who I thought so highly of, and her drug addiction—something she tried her best to hide but eventually came undone. I can only count the number of times that I visited my grandmother in the special care home on one hand throughout the entire year she was placed there, and that is not something I am proud of in retrospect.
Although it took me until she was on her death bed to forgive her, I can now say that I view drug addicts as people, not burdens to society. One could say that my grandmother died a drug addict as the complications from drug misuse ended her life prematurely, but I would like to think instead that her addictions died when she did. I find comfort in the idea that she is no longer struggling with depression, or conflicting thoughts that caused her to mask to pain with drugs. Instead, I now believe that she is living in an afterlife where she does not have to be high to happy.
I believe that it is no longer fair to remember her in a negative light, as her drug addiction did not solely define her as a person. Admittedly, I forgave my grandmother far later than I should have, but I learned a valuable lesson: that flowers can and will grow through the cracks of the pavement no matter how hard it seems, contrary to what Van Gogh had stated.
I used to think that addicts were nothing but weeds buried deep in the depths of society’s garden, but it wasn’t until I experienced it firsthand that I realized there is much more to a person than what meets the eye.
To this day, the most important lesson that I learned is that everyone needs help watering and planting their flowers, even if it seems as if they are unable to be salvaged, and that forgiveness and redemption is the perfect foundation to any garden.