The Redefined Addict

25 Jul

The day after Amy Winehouse’s death became international news, a client of mine emailed me. He works at a long-term rehabilitation facility for addicts and alcoholics in Texas called Burning Tree. He wanted a 300-500 word article about the Grammy award-winning singer’s drug addiction and chronic relapse. I wrote it immediately.

While I enjoyed some of her songs, it wasn’t my appreciation of her talents that motivated me to start writing so quickly. Her death reminded me of an addict who spent years in my life, providing some of the worst experiences I remember in two cities: Albany, New York and Houston, Texas. One of the Albany incidents involved discovering him unconscious in his bedroom and struggling to open the door because his body was blocking it. I remember rushing to the phone to call 9-1-1. A 5 am phone call alerted me to an incident a couple years later in Houston. During an apparent drug deal, he had been beaten badly and was in the hospital.

At times, I felt like I hated him. He once “borrowed” some of my clothes and left them at a girlfriend’s apartment. She broke up with him and threw out “his stuff” one day, including a pair of slacks and leather shoes that he took from me.

At times, he inspired me. He often made gourmet meals for my wife and I, entrees I felt compelled to take photos of because they looked so lovely. And he would make these delicious dishes using whatever we already had in the refrigerator and cupboards.

Like Amy Winehouse, his life was like a rollercoaster ride through those years. In addition to taking him to detox, rehab, AA meetings, I accompanied him to court and visited him in jail. He eventually got out, left town, came back, left again, came back, and finally left for good.

If he had been a friend, the relationship with a chronic relapser would have ended a long time ago. But he was my brother-in-law. His sister spent years trying to save him, and finally accepted that he wasn’t willing to save himself. He’s still alive, and although I don’t keep tabs on his arrests and jail time anymore, there is a part of me that is still very concerned. That part of me is my daughter. As her uncle, he will always be part of her family story.

He’s still an addict. He will always be an addict. Yet knowing that my daughter would benefit from seeing her uncle clean and sober helps me redefine him and the experiences I had that were created by his substance abuse and dependence. Even the most difficult moments become stories I can share with Aidan in the coming years, and provide lessons from which to learn.

Meantime, his own life continues somewhere several hundred miles away. I hope he’s okay. I hope he figures it all out. 28 days were not enough. Jail time only helped while he was behind bars. Perhaps finding the means (and funds) to commit to a long-term rehab would have provided a solution years ago. It may still be his only hope.

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