The thing that everyone is aware of. Everyone knows about. On occasion it is discussed, however, only in the most superficial terms. It warrants discussion of course. More than that it warrants action, even resolution, but that will not come anytime soon. It is too sensitive a subject to discuss as deeply as it needs to be. So many layers of pain, resentment, guilt, powerlessness, anger. No—don’t go too deep or you may be forced to face an awful truth.
Heroin. It has been a part of our lives for about six years now, my life anyway. For my husband and my stepson, a few years more than that. My stepson is 27 years old. Lives on the streets and has for the last five years or so. No job, no place to call home, no plans for the future and seemingly no real desire for any of those things. It is a lousy way to exist. I am not even certain it counts as actual existence.
He has siblings. Two. Both grown and with families of their own. They know their brother is an addict. If you were to ask either of them, they would probably say they "live with addiction" in their lives. He has a mother too. She would say the same thing. There are moments of frustration when I could literally belly laugh at those folks making that statement. They do not LIVE with addiction. They are aware of it. They know that someone dear to them lives the life of a homeless junkie. They do not deal with the in’s and out’s of it in their lives. They have not had their jewelry stolen, they have not found drugs and syringes in a room where he stayed. They have not sat in the living room pretending to watch television while a heroin addict is slumped over nearly folded in half on the other side of the couch out of it for several hours. I almost envy them sometimes.
He has step siblings. Four boys and two girls. All grown and living their lives with families and responsibilities of their own. They are a bit closer to "living with addiction" by exposure only. Because of family dynamics etc., they are exposed more, see more, hear more and comment and offer more opinions. They also really don’t live with addiction.
My husband, my mother, and I—we live with addiction. All of us in the same house. A house we purchased together 2 years ago when mom needed the help due to age and health concerns. It lives here with us. Heroin addiction. It comes to call once a month or so in the form of a phone call. A request for food. A request for a ride. A place to stay for a couple of days. It arrives for the holidays after 3 days of my husband driving around a lousy part of town looking for his son, so he can be with family during Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Arrives with duffle bags of clothes, bicycles and bags of random "things." The things he cannot leave anywhere and must travel with him. The trappings of a homeless young man and his girlfriend who is also a heroin addict. They arrive, sleep, eat, sleep, use their drugs in the shed in the backyard so as not to withdraw. They do not interact with the family. The family that "lives with addiction." Conversations are strained. There is nothing really to talk about. Even small talk is awkward, forced. There is no common ground. These visits are important to my husband. They represent some type of hope. Maybe false hope. Hope that the family gatherings, the new babies, the glimpses of what life could be, should be will motivate the addict to want more. Want change. Want life.
It isn’t happening.
What is happening is erosion. The systematic destruction that fear, anger, and resentment causes. The fraying of nerves, loss of patience and sense of where does it all stop building to what can only be destruction. Relationships—mine and my husbands, my husband and mother, my mother and myself, are strained. Not one of us knows the answer. Not one of us has the courage to use the old "tough love" routine. To say no, you cannot come here. You are not welcome here while you continue this path. Who on this earth wants to carry that burden if heaven forbid it all goes bad? Who will assume the role of "It had to be this way" and stand by that when the call comes from the morgue?
Living with addiction.
I truly believe that not even the addict does that. It is the rest of us. The ones who stay up nights, cry ourselves to sleep, lose friendships and marriages in the blind defense of one who chooses that life. We are the ones who truly live with addiction.