Addiction is something that is easy to fall into but very difficult to break. It destroys people and kills at random. I’ve been unfortunate enough to have had friends who’ve lost their lives, and lucky enough to have escaped with mine. Until recently I carried the guilt for that. The words that set me free from that guilt came only two years ago.
In 1988-89 I lived with my closest friend and another really good friend from our circle. We were addicts by personality default, using two or three times a week. We all worked 5 full days a week. My closest friend Steve and I also worked together. We weren’t bad kids, we just did stupid things. We thought we were invincible.
Steve overdosed when we were 18. So did our other close friend, but he was thankfully revived. I remained conscious. The smallest of the three of us…how?? After seeing Steve’s blue lips, the next thing I remember is stumbling through the pub. I know I knocked over a couple of bar stools on my way to the public phone to call 000. Bawling, I couldn’t see clearly through my tears, or my intoxication.
I think adrenaline kicked in after getting back home and seeing what I saw. Time seemed to stand still. And each second held two lives in its hands. I could hear lots of sirens, but none of them were coming to us so went and waited on the road for the ambulance. We lived in a little lane way – I started thinking they might not find it.
Paramedics were clear in their instructions to me while equally unimpressed and blunt once they arrived. They worked intensively on Steve while I gave my other friend mouth to mouth until the other ambulance got there. After a shot of narcan all 6ft4 or more of him was ferociously back on his feet. Confused and disorientated he lashed out at paramedics. Once calmed, an ambulance left with him, alive and well.
The stretcher with Steve couldn’t fit back down our narrow, angled staircase however. The fire brigade had to come and cut off the narrow french door grill upstairs. He was then winched down in the stretcher and taken to hospital. I was taken to the morgue, which left a hazy image of a body with a toe tag that I won’t ever forget. I’m still confused though as to whether it was Steve on that table I was shown or not. It was all so shocking and surreal. Plus my heart was shattered.
A life support machine kept Steve ‘alive’ for 5 days. We went in every day and sat with him. With 2% brain function left, his quality of life would have been non-existent. He would have been worse off than the other young guy in the ward who had killed enough of his brain to leave him a complete vegetable. That young kid lived in that ward. Tube fed, with tubing to get rid of his waste was how he lived. Devastating…
Steve’s parents called us in to the hospital not long after they made the heartbreaking decision to turn off life support for Steve. This time when we saw him, he was no longer attached to any noisy machinery. All tubes were gone. He was just Steve. Although he hadn’t gotten any real colour back, his face was even paler and bluish. He was blue lipped again. His skin was now cold and clammy. But he looked at complete peace. It was a comfort. I talked to him, I cried. I kissed him on the forehead and said goodbye. I’m hoping I don’t ever again feel how I did walking out of the hospital that day.
That is what addiction does. It kills and takes people you love. It takes brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends – and soul mates. Parents have to bury their kids. And if they haven’t yet, they live with the fear of having to. Addiction doesn’t just affect the addict, it affects a whole myriad of people. Some for life.
“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”
– John Donne