real life

What it's like being the survivor of a drug addiction when your best friend doesn't make it.

By: Jen Boyd

It has been said that there are only two certainties in life. One is that you are born. The other is that you will die.

Most people would agree, there aren’t too many life events more profound than having a baby or burying a loved one.

Early last year, I gave birth to my first child at the age of thirty nine, after years of battling mental health and addiction issues and declarations that I would NEVER have children.

Earlier this year, my high school best friend, who had walked the same path of self-annihilation as me, died at the age of forty.

Lou* and I both hit our treacherous paths while still in our teens and attending a respected Melbourne all girls private school together. By the time we had both left school, our addictions were free to reign and a parasitic lifestyle had firmly taken root.

Our lives would continue to merge and divert over the years until finally, we lost complete contact. I never stopped feeling a connection to her or wondering where she was at, which is remarkable in itself when one is consumed by heroin. Never has a more potent drug, overflowing with numbing and narcissistic qualities existed . With no evidence to the contrary, and in spite of the lives we were living, I felt strongly that she was still alive.

birth and death
Image via iStock.

But I started to wonder if in hanging onto hope for Lou’s survival, I was also actually fighting for my own. And once I completed a ten month stint in a residential rehab, I was certain of nothing any more except that the earth had kept spinning whilst I had played out my Sleeping Beauty fantasy. That it was now a different world. I wondered for a while if oblivion was the better option, because how do you resurface from below and begin breathing the air of land mammals again?

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About a year later, Lou managed to track my parents down and inform them that she too, was finally clean and doing well. She called me and we spoke like we used to as teenagers, with the passion and intensity that exists between best friends, as if no time had lapsed at all. We caught up, we laughed, we sobbed, we reflected and we regretted.

Life as two still-recovering and still-emerging adults (despite being in our thirties) got in the way at times but we both understood the complexities of our situation never negated our friendship. I knew Lou was still smoking bongs and occasionally racking up some lines of Charlie. I had been around long enough to have discovered that everybody has their own course to plot in recovery and that there is much subjectivity as to what constitutes a recovered addict. I also knew that I struggled to be around any of the chaos associated with drug taking, and slowly our contact waned again.

Image Via iStock.

Soon after, I began treatment for the hepatitis C I had contracted years earlier. Thankfully, it was successful, but it was a particularly gruelling regime that took its greatest toll on my mental health, and three months into the six month treatment, I relapsed with my heroin usage. Lou had been supporting me through this difficult time, but as I spiralled further into my relapse, I called her less and she phoned me less, until there was nothing.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was almost as bad as I’d ever been. If it hadn’t been for a couple of fortuitous events, including discovering I was pregnant, then I’d wager a bet that nothing would have changed. But my intense desire to actually grab this opportunity has seen me, and my baby, not only survive, but thrive.

Naturally, my thoughts returned to Lou throughout the remainder of my pregnancy. I wondered if she was doing okay, if she married the guy she had been with and if they had been able to have the baby she had longed for. What if she hadn’t? How would she feel about my situation, given I’d always been vocal about never wanting children? I had changed my mobile number so it was always going to be me making the first call. But I put it off, blissfully ignorant in my confidence that we would always just “be”.

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My son’s first birthday rolled around and I decided that the time was ripe for reconnection. Lou’s birthday was a few months away and it was as good as reason as any to arrange a visit. Before I could do any of this, her sister Jane* called my parent’s house one night. As it turns out, Lou had been having a wonderful life for the past year, revelling in her work, a new relationship and travel. She was beginning to realise her dreams.

Image via iStock.

Then she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, from which no amount of treatment could save her. She was dead within ten weeks. I had missed my chance to say hello again and I’d ruined my chance to be a supportive friend…to say goodbye.

Jane invited me to the funeral, where I embraced, and was embraced, by her beautiful family. And they met my baby boy. Lou had not realised her dream of giving birth herself but she had been a second mother to Jane’s baby. And she married her boyfriend in hospital in the weeks before her death. I couldn’t haven’t imagined a more sorrowful, heartbreaking occasion but her sister told me, and the photos attested to this, of it being the best day in Lou’s life.

Life is not fair or equitable. Was this Lou’s pre-determined fate? Or was it chance? Why not me? No matter what you believe, no matter the answer, never put off ‘til tomorrow what can be done today.

And remember the wise words of Ludwig Wittgenstein… “I won’t say ‘see you tomorrow’ because that would be like predicting the future. And I’m pretty sure I can’t do that.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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