The phone rang after midnight, just a couple of hours ago, a rare occurrence in our home – and I ran to answer it, wondering who the hell would be calling at that hour, irritated but worried that something unfortunate had befallen a family member.
I recognized the name on my iPhone immediately. It was the name of a friend of mine I’d met in recovery, someone who had more clean time that I did when I began my own getting-sober process. When I met this man, he scared me a little, but not in a bad way. Rather, his energy and enthusiasm made me nervous, mostly that he’d notice me and I’d be forced to actually speak at my recovery meetings. Early on, staying silent in the back of the room was my modus operandi.
This man, quite a bit younger than myself, eventually became my friend. As I gained confidence in myself, I began to participate more at meetings, I’d eventually introduced myself to him and confessed that I had been put off by his wide smile and almost frenetic friendliness. We became friends fairly quickly, and I started to get to know this man in the way that only people getting honest in the rooms of recovery can.
Then, suddenly, he disappeared.
I’d heard he’d “gone out,” the recovery parlance for relapse, and I worried about him.
But he returned soon after the holidays, a little worse for the wear, skinnier by far, but still as friendly as always.
It didn’t last. A month later, he was gone again.
He’d come back, go back out, come back. Each time looking more emaciated, his eyes sad but still trying to cover up his personal wreckage with jokes and smiles, even while he’d relate sad tales of suicide attempts, conflicts with the police, or other drug-fueled behaviors that I just couldn’t bring myself to join him in laughter over.
At one point, he stopped his goof-ball routine and looked me in the eyes, perplexed.
“Are you crying?”
“Yes, I’m crying,” I said, probably too harshly.
“Why?” he asked, his too-thin face looking puzzled.
“Because I’m afraid you’re going to die,” I snapped at him. “I’m afraid you’re going to die and all you want to do is laugh and make jokes about it. I love you, and It’s not fucking funny.”
He seemed touched by my concern, but per usual, tried to put me at ease with more jokes about his fucked-up behaviors outside of recovery.
After having disappeared once again, after more legal run-ins and another suicide attempt, he showed up at a meeting last week, and I was happy to see him, but approached him tentatively, having finally decided that I needed to protect myself from his instability and the way it was making me feel.
Selfish? probably. What I have to do to take care of myself and my sobriety? Abso-fucking-lutely.
Yet, I answered the phone tonight, despite it being after midnight and despite the almost certain knowledge that what I’d hear on the line was going to be crazy talk. And of course, it was.
He sounded scared, told me he was at his boyfriend’s house, told me that he was hiding. I asked to speak to the boyfriend…who I also know… but he told me he couldn’t do that right now.
“Things went wrong,” he said, “really bad things happened.” I immediately imagined a horrible Sid and Nancy scenario, the boyfriend dead in another room and my tweaked-out friend talking to me with one hand on his iPhone and the other with a gun to his own head.
My stomach knotted up, I started to sweat.
“Put _______ on the phone,” I asked gently. “Please.”
“I can’t,” he replied, his voice going from frantic to flat calm in a heartbeat. That calm was actually more terrifying than the panic, for some reason.
“Things went really, really wrong,” he said, with a note of sadness creeping into his steady inflection. “I need you to call the police, or an ambulance.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Give me the address,” I said, and he gave it to me.
Before I could say another word, we were disconnected.
I called 911, only to learn that an ambulance had already been dispatched to the address. I hung up, my heart racing and sweat beading on my brow.
I called a mutual friend, who reassured me that I did the right thing, and that there is only so much I can do for this person. I told him that I was feeling shaken up, how hearing our friend’s voice had scared the shit out of me and left my stomach knotted..
My friend, who is extremely wise, and has many more years of recovery than myself, replied “You know why that is, don’t you?”
“Because I’m afraid he’s going to die?” I answered, tentatively.
“It’s because that’s what YOU used to sound like, Andy.”
And, of course, he was right. It IS what I used to sound like on the telephone when I was delusional and paranoid for so many years. The way Patrick heard me when I’d call from some dark place, scared out of my wits about some imaginary monster. The way my very dear (and at the time very pregnant) friend Cynthia heard me when I called her at 4 AM, holed up in the West Hollywood Ramada and convinced people were scaling the outside wall and trying to break into my room. When I made those phone calls, I didn’t give a shit about the terror and confusion I was causing others..I was out of my mind, too caught up in my own meth-induced terror to even think about things like other people’s nerves or the possibility of causing a miscarriage (there was no miscarriage, thank Jesus.)
The part of me that still wants to punish myself for my years of horrible behavior wants to label this incident as payback. But the part of me that is desperately seeking to heal myself is choosing to view it as a window into the damage I caused others, and as a tool to measure and finally understand the depth of despair and heartache all my freaked-out, drug-induced late night calls caused them.
I can’t help my friend, just as no one could really help me until I decided to get serious about my recovery. I’m still scared he’s going to die. I’m not even sure if he’ll still be alive when I post this.
But just as I’m powerless over alcohol and crystal meth, I’m powerless to save this beautiful boy who, like myself not too long ago, is caught in the quicksand of addiction, turning this way and that, fighting recovery, causing himself to be sucked deeper still into the muck.
I’m going to pray now for this man. I’m going to pray that he finds the strength to get serious about rooting out his demons and getting them to submit to recovery, to sobriety, to sanity.
I can’t save him, but I can pray for him.
And I can cry for him, too.
I want my friend back.