There’s a part of me—a big part—who is terrified to write this. I’m uncertain you will ever read these words, and even less certain that if you do, they will sound like anything more than whining and finger-pointing. Just another litany of excuses. I know I’ve given you more than enough reason to expect that.
So the first request I have to make of you is a leap of faith. I’m not trying to concoct more excuses or lies. I’m not trying to manipulate you, even if it hurts less to think of this as a manipulation. I’m really, actually trying to tell you something meaningful. Please hear that.
I want you to know that on those mornings I woke up with my stomach feeling like it was burning with poison—because once you’re addicted, it’s withdrawal that feels like the poison, not drugs—I hadn’t forgotten the little kid with all that promise. She’s always been here, even while stitched into the body of a quivering, sick person. I still had all my dreams. I still wanted to accomplish big things—to make you proud. I just needed to stop feeling sick first.
Do you know what my friends and I talked about most, after we got high together? What we’d do when we got off drugs. We couldn’t wait. It felt so close—as close as tomorrow—when we’d write that bestseller, or win awards for costuming Hollywood stars, or open a home for at-risk youth. We held those dreams as dear as we did when we were kids, back when you believed us. We had no idea what recovery would really be like. When we were high, recovery seemed like it would be easy.
When I was at my ugliest—lips flopped open, head lolling, eyelids drooping over eyeballs that rolled around like pinballs in their sockets—I wished you would hold me. Instead, you walked away. I don’t blame you. It’s a repulsive sight, I know. Maybe it would have helped if I could have found a way to tell you I was in hiding. That when I was in that dark, soft place behind the ugly face, I felt quiet, and safe, and untouchable.
In her investigative analysis of the relative success Portugal has had in stemming opioid-related deaths, Susana Ferriera writes that the country’s progress can be attributed to a few basic factors, one of which is a social acknowledgement “that an individual’s unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves.”