Monday, January 3, 2011

blogspiration: congratulations kat, or how to be friends with a junkie

Proving you don't have to use substances to have a ridiculous amount of fun. (Although neither of us is really over our cheese addiction).

This morning I groggily complained about having to crawl out of bed on a Monday.

Only halfway through the day did I realize that it was January 3rd, the day I'm annually reminded how lucky I am that my best friend, Kathleen, is still crawling out of bed herself.

Today is her fourth anniversary of sobriety. I have written about her before and truly I could not be more proud of her. She is my biggest cheerleader, my spiritual guide, and my court jester. I love her more than anyone else on the planet (since Jon Hamm took out that restraining order on me -- kidding!) and I'm so glad that she is on the path to health and happiness.

It's funny that many of my Midwestern friends view Portland as this utopia. True, there isn't the segregation, the extreme poverty, or the horrible winters (sarcasm) that Milwaukee has, but Oregon has its own set of social ills. Drug abuse is a HUGE one. Drugs are seemingly divided down socioeconomic lines, and if you live in Portland and haven't been acquainted with someone who is a junkie or tweaker, you're probably blissfully unaware of your surroundings.

That's why I am so proud of Kathleen for blogging all day today about her journey through addiction. I have sobbed tears of sadness and of joy reading these posts that make A Million Little Pieces seem like Eat, Pray, Love (read: disingenuous, oversimplified).

She is brutally honest:
I've heard so many times, "You have to WANT recovery!" and that's bullshit. I wanted to get high, planned to get high, and was very pleased that my tolerance would be lower. Since I was going to leave in better condition, I could go out to bars again with my friends and escape into a whirlwind social life where I still felt alone, but not after I drank enough.

She is admirably unashamed:
Please understand- I'm not writing any of this so that you feel any kind of pity for me. When people find out my past, they often say, "Heroin? That was stupid." I'm hoping that you'll see what kind of pain drives someone to take such a heavy painkiller.
She is spiritually wise and simultaneously adorable:
And who says animals don't go to "heaven"? There were animals in eden, right? There will be animals in paradise- mark my words!
And stay tuned to her story, because she is beyond triumphant.

I want to evangelize her gospel, because I feel more people need to be prepared to support the addicts in their lives. And trust me, you know one. (Could even be the same person as your gay "confirmed bachelor" cousin...who knows!)

Addiction happens in Milwaukee too, but the reaction of people here is different then the West Coast - perhaps because people keep these things "behind closed doors." I also think it's because people tend to associate really bad addictions with poverty. Or they just *wish* they stuck on those lines. Maybe it's just because this is a city of functioning alcoholics that drugs get overlooked, but I digress.

One problem with our DARE-focused society is that we stigmatize users so much, that when we inevitably encounter them, we don't know how to react.

When Kat confessed her relapse to me, I was fucking angry. But she was my best friend and I was going to stay on her to get help. No matter what. While it was hard leaving her to deal with recovery alone, it was possibly a blessing for me to not have to watch her go through all that. Also, it was only within a week's vacation that I found out how bad it was, walked through the recovery gameplan with her, and got on a plane to go back to my life. I got the periodic check in, putting my faith in the universe that it would all work out.

Thank God it did.

Isn't it funny how the universe works though? Because it was damn convenient that I had a recovering addict on speed dial (ooh, bad pun...unintended) when a couple of years later I went through witnessing the entire spiral of addiction -- from watching a dear friend who "liked to party" become the friend who never showed up to our movie date because he was in detox after his friends left him for dead on a curb after an OD.

About two years ago this Milwaukee friend was struggling with heroin and other addictions and the reaction of most of our mutual friends was to choose one of two routes 1) just ignore it or 2) just drop him completely.

Neither of those sounded like a fair shake for me. I knew his behavior wasn't him, it was his drug cocktail du jour. The misconception about junkies is that they're constantly zombies, ready to eat your brains or steal your wallet. However, in moments of clarity, you still can converse with the friends you knew before the drugs. You have to shift through the haze, the fog, and find them in there, but their light is there -- the connection between the two of you. I could still see this in my friend, event though I often wanted to punch him in the face to get him back to reality. With Kathleen's help, I was able to maintain my friendship with this person and she gave me the best advice. I made no secret when I hung out with him about my distain for his addiction, but unlike others I *acknowledged* that he had one (even when he didn't). I'd make sure to ask him what he was on each time we hung out ("I just want to be prepared if you're going to pass out on me (heroin) or run around like a flipping idiot (coke)"). I offered him the opportunity to talk to Kathleen. (He never did, but they finally met in person this summer). Finally, with the support of his family, he did get help. I'm very pleased that this person is now clean for almost 18 months.

There's no way I could have had the strength to handle this if it weren't for Kathleen. No way.

Something else I learned for Kat though is to not take someone's drug-free streak for granted. I make sure to ask him how "that" is doing each time we hang out and to tell him how proud I am of him. I can't imagine overcoming something like that (losing weight was hard enough!) -- it's really damn impressive to suppress a psychological and physiological dependency. For Kathleen to have done this for FOUR YEARS, she's like an ultra-marathoner.

When Kat and I were 18, she decided to get an elaborate, multicolored tattoo. My fear of needles prevented me from desiring one, but I sat through the several hour ordeal with her, cracking jokes and holding her hand, because that's what best friends do. The process was painful, but the result was a beautiful work of art. When were were 26, and she was resolved to finally go to detox/rehab, I took her a final bottle of wine, a pint of ice cream, and watched TV while she went and shot up (something my fear of needles had always kept off the table), then I hugged her until I couldn't any longer, because that's what best friends do. The process was painful, but four years later, the result is a beautiful work of art, a living example of God's love, and my best friend, who still struggles, but whose warmth envelopes all who are privileged to know her.

I love you Kat. Congratulations.

1 comment:

  1. i just started reading Kat's story--this. is. AWESOME.

    thank you. :)

    (ps - Michelle sent me your link. a thank you goes to her, as well. :) )


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