Opioids weren’t really a thing when I was growing up. They were there, but you didn’t hear about people dying from them like you do today. During my childhood (the 80’s and early 90’s) everything was crack, crack, crack. That was the big drug on the streets and chances were you knew someone who was addicted. For me, it was my mom.
It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I was looped into the world of prescription narcotics. I met a guy (isn’t this how most stories start?!) and after dating for all of 30 minutes it was clear we were better off as friends. Sure, he had a car, but he also had a boyfriend so I didn’t think things would work out well in the end. What started off as an awkward encounter turned into a friendship that would last a lifetime.
I was only 14 when I met Ryan and the world wasn’t as clear to me as it is now. Even though I had a craptastic childhood and was exposed to an endless supply of drugs, alcohol, and abuse, I never realized they extended outside of my walls. I was clueless to other people’s addictions so I was taken aback the first time I met Ryan’s mom.
One of the first things she asked me for was pain pills. I had never taken anything stronger than Tylenol so the words Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin meant nothing to me. I wasn’t sure why she would even ask me for this stuff.
Was there a vibe coming from me that screamed: “I’ve got drugs, ask me how you can get them!”? I guess the look on my face said it all and she quickly laughed it off as a joke. Only I knew she was serious, the signs of addictions were there and I was all too familiar with them.
The next time I went to Ryan’s house the atmosphere was completely different. His mom wasn’t anxious or en guard like the first time I met her, in fact, she was hyper and bubbly; like an entirely different person.
She sat down on the couch and pulled the coffee table towards her. She rolled up a dollar bill and set a mirror on the table. She dumped a handful of pills from her pocket onto the mirror and crushed them. She cut out these lines of powder that looked like lines of cocaine.
She used the rolled up bill to snort the crushed pills and then extended the bill to me. I politely declined as she shrugged and handed it over to Ryan, who proceeded to snort 2 lines of pills, tilt his head back and pinch his nose.
I was uncomfortable but curious at the same time. Ryan offered the bill to me again as he said “It’s just a few Vicodin. You’ll love it.” Then his mom got angry, “What are you, a narc?”. I felt the pressure I learned about in DARE class.
Then I gave in. I didn’t want to lose my friend, and at this point in my life, anything that promised to make the world suck less was appealing.
I mimicked the motions of Ryan and his mom, not wanting them to know this was the first time I’d done anything like that. Once it was done I just looked around, eagerly seeking approval.
There was no “Attagirl” or “Good Job”, it was just Ryan’s mom reaching out for the rolled up dollar bill.
I felt fine at first, and slowly but surely the consequences started to creep in. My head started spinning and I had to sit down. Then a sudden rush of nausea washed over me as I ran to the bathroom. I must have sat there, hugging the porcelain throne, for 2 hours. It was the worst I had ever felt and my curiosity only grew from there. Why the hell would anyone want to feel like this?
When I started to feel better I asked Ryan to take me home. On the ride he told me to not worry, it gets better. “You’ll get used to it“, he said. But I didn’t want to get used to it. I never wanted to do that again and I told him that. He laughed and said, “More for me!”.
Ryan and I stayed friends until 2010. We had some rocky roads as with most friendships. He fell deeper and deeper into his addiction, more so after the disease took his mother. I watched him go through withdrawals, lie and steal to come up with money to buy pills, and finally move on to nonprescription drugs like crack and heroin.
But, as with most addicts, my pleas fell on deaf ears. I knew if he didn’t want it it would never happen. I knew because I watched my mom spend every cent on drugs during my childhood, regardless of how much I begged her to stop. I watched her go to rehab after rehab only to come home and get back in the same routine.
It wasn’t until February 12, 2010, that Ryan’s battle with addiction finally came to an end. I called his house that morning hoping to patch things up. We had a falling out a few days before over the choices he was making. I felt like I was wasting my breath, offering help that was never taken. I didn’t want to spend time on someone who didn’t want that effort. But I woke up that morning realizing that, as a friend, I needed to be there no matter what.
So I called and thought about what I was going to say while the phone rang. Once. Twice. Three rings. Maybe he wasn’t awake yet.
It was the fourth ring that I finally got an answer. But it wasn’t Ryan. It was his grandmother. I asked her if Ryan was awake and wasn’t even remotely prepared for what happened next.
“No, Amber, Ryan’s gone. I found him this morning. He’s gone.”
He hung himself in the closet without leaving a note or any warning. He was gone and I felt even more guilt knowing I wasn’t there for him. I don’t know if there was something I could have said or done beyond what I had tried.
I’ll never know.
I do know that addiction played a huge role in his decision. It played a role in everything he did, and in the lives of anyone struggling with addiction.
I’ve watched so many loved ones lose out to the battle of addiction. Ryan was my first loss, but not my last. I’ve missed out on saying goodbye to so many people I care about because their lives were ruled by drugs.
And, with each loss, I can’t help but wonder if there was something I could have done or said. Could I have called someone or took them somewhere? Should I have locked them up in a room and forced them to get clean? Where is the line when your outside looking in?
The holidays coming makes it harder every year. I see people who will never have another holiday with their loved ones because they lost them to addiction. I want to reach out and console them, but there is no consolation for their loss.
There is no answer and there is no way to ease their pain. Only time can do that and how long it takes varies. It’s a cruel and heartless thing, addiction.
It takes anyone it can and twists and warps them into someone you barely recognize. It changes everything and everyone.
But how do you stop it? I still don’t know. I wish, more than anything, I could help ease the pain that those affected are feeling. I wish I could make everything better, but only the addict can change. And unfortunately, there’s no forcing that.