Twenty-three days ago I found my roommate, Patrick, dead on the floor of his bedroom. Patrick was 25-years-old. A really great guy: Amazing athlete, prom king, hard worker, unabashed twerker and great roommate. He was also a heroin addict.
Patrick had put together some good, quality clean time – or so I thought. Since his death I have learned that some of his friends in recovery knew he had relapsed. In fact, they knew he had relapsed before he moved into my house at the beginning of March but didn’t think I needed to know.
Apparently, they didn’t see anything wrong with letting their friend Patrick – a relapsed heroin addict – move in with me – a recovered alcoholic. I have since learned that some of them threatened Patrick by telling him that if he did not stop using, they would tell me that he had relapsed. Patrick said he would stop using. He didn’t.
I don’t know what they thought I would do if I had learned Patrick had relapsed. In hindsight, I wish they had carried through with the threat because I sure as hell would have done something.
I keep asking myself: Why didn’t these other addicts and alcoholics try to help him? Why didn’t anyone take him to detox? Why didn’t anyone call his parents? Why didn’t they pull together and confront him in a sort of addict intervention?
I have only come up with one answer: Because addicts and alcoholics don’t treat their disease like a disease.
If Patrick had had lupus, pancreatitis or diverticulitis and had a flare up, they would have been all over him, trying to get him help. They would have taken him to a walk-in clinic, hospital or even called 911. They would have called his family and explained that Patrick was sick and they were trying to help him.
They would not have threatened to tell his roommate that his disease was raging and then left him – still sick – to care for himself.
Addicts know that addiction is a real disease. We’re quick to pull out that fun-fact whenever someone tells us that addiction is a moral failing and that if we really wanted to quit, we would.
We gossip about fellow addicts who have relapsed but offer no help. Sober homes – halfway houses – immediately kick relapsed addicts into the street, leaving them homeless and penniless. Why do WE do this to each other?
Yes, there is a legitimate concern that we, too, could relapse if we are not careful in our dealings with those who have relapsed. That’s why you ALWAYS take at least one other recovered addict with you on a 12th Step call – a visit aimed at finding the addict help – not a companion to use with. Addiction is not contagious but we – those of us in recovery – must always be mindful of the allure of drugs and those who use them.
Still, how can we possibly expect “normies” – the non-addicts of the world – to respect addiction as a disease if we ourselves don’t treat it like a disease?
Stigma is real. Every addict has felt it. But we encourage stigma every time we treat one of our own who has relapsed like a leper rather than a person with a chronic, life-threatening disease.
We need to stop whining about how the rest of the world doesn’t respect addiction as a disease and start treating it – and each other – with respect.