by Hugh Gilmore

In 2012, I wrote a two-part column for the Local that began: “I would rather be an addict than love one. I would rather climb in a sea-going boat and set it afire than stand on shore and watch my child die. I would rather steal from my parents than love a child who stole from me. As painful as it is to be an addict, it is heartbreakingly unbearable to love one. Or be dependent on one. Or feel hope for one.”

Those words were written from a parent’s perspective. There are others too. Sisters, brothers, grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, teachers and employers. There are boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, lovers and just friends. It is painful to know someone who has fallen into that trap. Especially when the preventive cure is so obvious and oft-stated: Don’t go there. Don’t start.

My belated review of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” by Sam Quinones, two weeks ago, was of a work that describes how, when, where and why the current national epidemic of opioid addiction began. I don’t often read panoramic books like that, however. I would rather read a dozen small-scope books than one “big picture” book. I’m pulled more toward birds than I am to vertebrates as a general category. And I’m more drawn to blue jays than birds as a category. Where our topic is concerned, I’m more drawn to know specific persons – the who of journalism – than the general topic of abusers.

But how? I’m not a reporter, social worker, law officer or medical worker. I’m not a hanger-on, a friend or an undercover eavesdropper. I wouldn’t know where or how to find someone who has fallen down that well of selfishness. And if I did, that would be just one person, living in one neighborhood, in one region of the world. I’m sure I’d have my ears opened, but I wouldn’t learn enough.

There is another way: hearing their stories by reading their memoirs. Tales written by persons who’ve been there, and as they say, done that. In the past few years, I’ve read dozens of memoirs written by people who have been through addiction and the devolution of character caused by their love affair with self destruction. I’ve learned a lot, even though it’s rather virginal compared to hanging out or being there.

On the other hand, there are things one learns by hearing a certain kind of story told many times by many people. You start to see some things they have in common with one another that even they don’t realize.

Who are these people? They were warned, but they started anyway. Why? How? Were they abused and seeking relief? Were they too cocky or brainless to listen? How did they acquire the drugs and learn to use them? Many were able to continue normal married or working lives for a while before they fell apart. Others fell almost at once into the the drug-addicted subculture. Most walked the difficult road in between – for a while. All eventually lied, cheated and stole. All betrayed and abused their families and even (despite the myths that linger) abused and cheated their fellow addicts.

The addict is a sad person who often sits with his or her loved ones – just before or after the crest of a “high” – and vows to quit this addiction. Tears flow. Repentance is expressed. Promises are made. The addict’s parents, children, spouses, friends and/or employers all hold hands and smile towards a better tomorrow, their hearts at last lightened.

Until the morning. Or evening. Next week, even. Then the next round starts. And so it goes. On and on. For the supporters, doubt eventually succeeds faith. Worse: faith dies. And then hope. Only charity remains. Eventually, however, charity becomes a begrudged grace.

If ever a term was invented to rub caring people’s noses in the dirt, it is “enabling.” There lies the addict, according to that label, on the tufted velvet divan, jaws expectantly agape, like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange,” waiting to be pampered by a servile retinue of “enablers” happy to unwrap a chocolate or massage the feet of the addict they serve.

Yes, the vaporous notion of free will says, “Throw him out.” It says, “Leave her” or “don’t help them.” Enablers are told they’re as guilty as the addict. Leave? To go where? Throw ’em out? To go where? Do children have free will? Tough love is tougher on the giver than the receiver. Few people are heroic enough to harden their hearts in the name of righteousness. Most people just want peace, at least for today. We’ll fight the big battle tomorrow.

Next week, in Part Two of this article, I’ll discuss some memoirs of addiction your might want to read. Hard as they are on the nerves, they’re easier to bear than the memoirs of the people who love(d) them.

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