Have you ever noticed when someone is addicted to something people will often say things like, “Oh, once they hit rock bottom they’ll really figure it out.” “Once they hit rock bottom they’ll open their eyes and want to get clean.” What exactly is “rock bottom” though? At what level does a person have to be at for others to feel the pressure to intervene or for the addict to understand something has to change? There are varying degrees of how to ruin your life.
I know all too well an addict has to want to change for change to happen. There’s a fine line between enabling someone and wanting to be there for them, letting them know at the very least they have someone in their life that cares, but that line is blurred and often wavering. I’ve struggled with understanding that line my whole life with my addicted siblings.
My brother died last year from a drug overdose. He died alone at the age of 37 and was found a week later. Whether it was an accidental drug overdose or a suicide, no one can be certain. There were a lot of events leading up to his death and there are strong indications either could have happened.
Only a couple years prior to my brother’s death he had been a successful restaurant owner. He was a warm, loveable, and funny guy who loved making art, visiting the Caribbean Islands, and John Grisham novels. He had struggled with drug abuse his entire life. From the time he started using drugs when he was 13 until his death he had used and abused nearly every drug available but crack, coke, and prescription pills were what he always went back to.
When my brother died he was living in a condemned house with no water, no electricity, and no heat. He had been sleeping on a lawn chair in his living room because junkies kept breaking into his house and stealing whatever remnants of a life he had, beating him up when he was too high to defend himself, leaving him with a broken nose and ribs on Christmas two years ago. He had bought a gun but couldn’t bring himself to use it on someone. He adopted a big dog but someone took her.
So what does rock bottom look like? For my brother, this was his. For others, their rock bottom is much less severe, maybe even easier to come back from. Regardless, his struggles were apparent and yet, still, no one intervened to help him, to get him out of that house. Everyone thought he’ll figure it out. He’ll get clean on his own. But he had no resources to really do so. He was alone in a city with no family and no friends. A week before he died I had just moved into a new 2 bedroom apartment and considered calling him and asking him to come live with me. But life happened and I put it off and put it off, asking myself if I really wanted to deal with “that” – “that” meaning the drugs, the addiction, the repair of someone who had become lost and broken. I’ll never know if it would have made any difference.
Three months before his death I was heading out on a backpacking trip throughout South America and wanted to see him and our sister one last time before I left. My sister, who has also dealt with addiction for most of her life, agreed we should all meet at her house and spend the night hanging out and catching up. But ‘catching up’ to her doesn’t ever mean what it usually means to most people. For her and my brother it meant buying crack, smoking it in the bathroom, and drinking until blacking out.
Like a million other similar situations I had been in with my siblings I felt stuck. I could either just deal with what was going on or not have any relationship with them. There was, and never has been, any in-between. I’m not sure if there any right answers with addiction. Sometimes when you feel like you’re buying time with people’s lives, knowing that their addictions will be the very thing that eventually consumes them, you just feel lucky to have these moments with them, as fucked up and ugly as they can get.
The next morning I took them out to breakfast and somehow, I had this feeling this would be the last time I would ever see my brother. His eyes had changed. They were sullen and…I don’t know…just not his. He looked like a different person. I called my mom up after I dropped them off and I told her, “Kevin will be dead or in prison within a year.” I never really thought I would be right.
Since my siblings are 10 and 15 years older than me and had been experimenting with drugs from the time I can remember I’m not sure if I’ve ever really known them. You know, the real them; the people they were before their vices took over their lives. Because of who they became I wanted nothing to do with drugs and always controlled my drinking. I still get freaked out when I’m around people who exhibit extremes of behavior caused by their drug or alcohol use because it just brings me back to every shitty night I’ve had with one of my siblings.
It’s so easy to wash your hands of someone, hope they get better, and then move on with your own life. But too often they don’t get better and we let them slip through the cracks. We knowingly ignore the fact someone we love is destroying their lives because we think; hey, if they wanted to get better they would just stop what they’re doing or go to rehab and if they die or end up in prison they did it to themselves.
People who have addicts in their lives struggle between feeling guilty over not helping the addicted person more and being pissed off this person is killing themselves and ruining their relationships with their dependence. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out which side of the line I’m on. Again, there are no right answers.