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I was 15 years old when my best friend committed suicide.
The night before, we were in my bed talking about how we were going to get matching tattoos: cherries. That was going to be my first tattoo. We had plans. I was excited for her to see my driving and show her how much I kicked ass at learning how to drive. I couldn't stop obsessing over my 16th birthday. We talked about what we were going to do. Recently, before she had just come home from being away for a while, I came home from school one day and she left notes all over my room with compliments and funny shit. At least five of them said how much she loved me. We talked and laughed so much during the days after she got back. It's hard to think that it can all stop one day. The thing that nobody knew was that I felt responsible for her death and, at the time, I really couldn’t tell you why. Did she get enough help? Could I have prevented it? Why did she do it? It affected me more than I expressed.
I am turning 20 years old next month and it just now finally hit me as I was sitting on the floor sobbing...my mom was never coming back. It hit me that I did everything right as a loving daughter, but also that I had nothing to do with her death. She was sick. She was an addict.
Most people view addiction as a choice. As I can agree to an extent, it's not. The initial decision to use a drug is voluntary, but what most people don’t understand is that it develops into a disease. A brain disease, to be exact. A mental illness. Individuals diagnosed with addiction experience extensive amounts of compulsion and, in numerous cases, relapses. To be clear, that isn’t voluntary. With that being said, there’s a lack of education and a lot of stigma around addiction. I’ve seen vulgar comments across the internet that addicts deserve to die, that they aren’t good people, that they should be put down like dogs. Many people also admitted to just leaving their sick family members out on their own because they felt that these individuals had nothing left to live for. The problem with perspectives like this is that most addicts don’t get the opportunity to receive proper help, mainly because they aren’t treated as ill individuals. This ties to the concept of addiction being a mental illness. Addicts need compassion, not hate. They need to be supported, not abandoned. When it comes to addiction cases, we as communities tend to think these people are simply burnout junkies. What isn’t thought about is how many of these addicts already have ongoing illnesses. More than 50 percent of addicts also suffer from other psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. Many of these people turn to addiction to relieve the pain they’re already feeling. I believe that this is very important to understand because a copious number of these individuals are easily struggling to live their lives. But how can they do better when everyone around them judges them and isn’t willing to lend a hand? How can they do better when, instead of being placed in rehabilitation centers, they’re being sentenced up to five years in prison? Those with addiction shouldn’t be seen as bad people, they should be seen as normal, everyday people who just need help and support.
My mom suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, and she also suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. I don’t know why she committed suicide, and I really wish I knew. But when I think about it, maybe if she hadn’t spent more time being judged and thrown in prison, compared to an affordable rehab center where she would have received the proper help along with support, my best friend—my mom—would still be here.
If you know anybody suffering from addiction, talk with them. Find out their passions. Support them. Tell them you love them. You have no idea how much you can help someone.