When there is a drug addict in a family, one can almost feel the community built with decades beginning to crack, even at its strongest point. Drug abuse isn’t merely the problem of the individual using. It also becomes the problem of the parents, spouse, partner, siblings, children, even broader, cousins, grandparents etc…
Hiding and being discovered
Try as you might, drug use can’t be hidden or masked because at a given moment someone will notice. Despite the abounding physical evidence, the user will still try to deny it and the people around will continue to find explanation in coincidences, misinterpretation of signs etc. Who on earth would admit that someone so close, someone we love and without whom we can’t imagine our life would do something like that?
We were taught about heavy drug use in schools, we watched the movies, watched someone else’s demise. Vrcak’s music video of “Povtorno sam” terrified us, our hands trembled while reading “We Children from Bahnhof Zoo” by Christiane F. and had nightmares for weeks after watching “Requiem for a Dream”.
You wander why him/her? Aren’t they aware of the consequences? Don’t they know what could happen? Nobody can hide forever, or hope that no one would notice.
The denial stage
At one point, someone in the family will notice that something is wrong. Money would be missing from wallets, there would be outbursts of strange behaviour, body odour will change, stains all over the clothes, and daily activities will take on an unorthodox schedule. And yet, finding excuses will be easy.
The smell – he was at someone else’s home, perhaps it was the house. Money – perhaps I spent it and don’t remember. Time – people change, habits too… However, the symptoms would become more obvious and the evidence ample. And that evidence would lead to the realization we had been denying for months, that someone we love is already heavily addicted and choses no means, words, or actions to hurt.
The worst part is knowing they don’t take pure drugs. Often drugs are mixed with other medicine to such a degree, in order to enhance the effects, that we can only pray we will at least be able to establish control over the situation. It would be difficult, though. The addict is not aware of the number of substances they have become addicted to.
Resistance, acceptance, reconciliation
The individual will try to fight back, despite all the physical evidence at hand. Their defence will rely on illogical explanations, which will only further hurt the family. Parents would wonder what they did wrong. Brothers and sisters would also be unfairly stuck in the situation, and find their mental health wavering. A paralyzing fear prevails when the user is absent from home, or even using the toilet. We can never be sure of their wellbeing, and every time the phone rings the worst comes to our mind.
At one point the addict will surrender. They will admit to the whole story. Even express the desire to heal, fight the addiction to a varying degree, then beg for drugs again, suffer withdrawal crisis, all this accompanied with a lot of tears, fury, anger by all concerned parties. Everyone will feel hurt, deceived, abused, despite the fact that the whole family is actually a victim in this vortex.
Some will have the fortune to end the story successfully, while others will lose someone they loved forever.
Fact is, regardless of the outcome – none of them will ever be the same. Neglected entirely, since the spotlight in the whole process is on the drug user.
How did I escape the vicious circle?
Finally, I would like to share that I wrote these previous lines in one breath, with my hands shaking and throat tingling, because my family and I experienced the very same situation. Our story had a happy ending, and the family member has been “clean” for five years now.
However, there are some of us who have lost a close person due to drug use.
Finding a way out of the situation was gruesome. I was the one who found the evidence, who was afraid to be in the same room with the addict, who checked every night whether they were breathing or are in the room at all, or they would escape from the house at 3 a.m. and never return.
As the sister of a cured addict, one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make was to distance myself from my family. Admitting that I was the collateral damage in that chaos has always been difficult. The sacrifices were immense, all just to allow my parents to devote their attention where it was needed, and moments like failing at faculty, first employment, psychotherapies, breaking up a long relationship, losing my job and friends was something I had to go through alone.
Sometimes, my conscience troubles me, times when I regret claiming my independence too soon to even know how to be independent. And yet, the psychological burden of being in the same community was too big of a sacrifice that my age refused to accept. I decided I had to live my life even though I spent each night shedding tears, and looking back now I have no regrets. I know I helped plenty, more than a young person in their 20s can handle. I was fortunate enough to meet the right people at the right time and save my mental health when at the edge of a nervous breakdown.
I find myself without any wisdom to share for those in similar circumstances. Every story is different. I can only wish they have even half of the desire for treatment “our” addict had because it makes things a lot easier.