Pubdate: Wed, 12 Jul 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Corin Bellomia


Chris and I were texting Dec. 11, 2016, when at 3:50 p.m. he went

I assumed it was because we were arguing. We were always arguing, ever
since his addiction had taken over his life. The signs were there: The
man who would write beautiful songs on his guitar became sluggish and
angry. He wouldn't spend time with the people who lifted him up and
instead sneaked out to see those who enabled his addiction. He stopped
going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and group therapy.

"NA doesn't help me," he'd say. "I can handle it on my own."

At meetings for family members of addicts, I was told that addicts
have to want recovery for themselves.

"Let go and let God," they'd say in those meetings.

It was later that December day that I found my fiance unconscious in
his car in South Philadelphia. As I watched my father and the
paramedic pull Chris' body out of the car, "Let go and let God" felt
very real - and very unfair. Two hours later, seated in a small white
room, the ER doctor informed Chris' family and me that staff had done
everything they could do, but that Chris didn't make it.

Chris never felt powerless over his addiction, and, to me, that's what
facilitated his relapse and ultimately his death. He thought he still
had control, so who needed rehab? In the meantime, to support his
recovery, we had already canceled our wedding and moved away from our
apartment in South Philadelphia. Leaving our old life behind to make
new friends, experience new surroundings, and a create a new life -
that was supposed to help his recovery, too.

"Now should we move again?" I asked myself as the latest plea or
threat failed to shake him from his drug use. "What can I do to make
sure he recovers?"

I had once interned as an addictions counselor and could not believe
that my Chris, the man who called his mom weekly to check in, who
wrote me love letters regularly, whose compassion led him to a
successful career helping others as a nonprofit fund-raising
coordinator, was now directly affected by the heroin epidemic. I did
with Chris everything I was taught to do with clients: support and
encourage him to leave his old life behind. But I felt so out of
control. I had the tools to save him, but it felt like everything I
was doing was wrong.

It is my experience that when it comes to addiction, people - myself
included - cite the narrative in which "bad things happen to bad
people." Addicts are called junkies, blamed for lacking "will power"
or the ability to "just stop" using drugs. People even have an idea of
what a drug addict should look or be like.

However, drug addiction does not discriminate. Anyone can dissolve
into a powerless shell of one's former self.

As Chris deteriorated, I, too, became addicted - to saving him.

If you love an addict, you will become familiar with the need to
follow his every move, second-guess every word, beg from across the
kitchen table to please just tell the truth, listen at the bathroom
door to make sure he is not using, overnight drug tests to a lab in
California for a final read, because you will still see glimpses of
who he once was, and there is nothing you want more than to have back
the kind and beautiful person behind the addiction.

When I lost Chris, my entire world shattered. People would say, "But
he was an addict."

He was. He also was the man I loved, the future that we had planned
together, my soulmate. Heroin robbed him of his future. He will never
play another show with his band. He will never get to be a husband or
father to our children. He will never grow old. He will never again
experience the day-to-day mundanes: treating himself to a doughnut in
the morning before work and eating it while waiting for the bus in the

I have had difficult days - days where I feel a sense of
accomplishment if I can manage to get out of bed. I have screamed into
my pillow, "Why?" I've also had productive days, and even good days. I
have cried tears of sadness and joy, I have laughed with family over a
meal, I have lost friends and gained new ones.

I have forced myself to go to new places and have new experiences.
This spring, I faced my fears of traveling alone by going hiking in
South Africa. I drove through the country and walked along the edge of
a rocky cliff with only a fraying rope separating me from the waves
crashing below. I didn't hesitate as I looked past the sign telling me
not to continue. And as I scaled the shadowed rocks to reach the
summit, I felt a sense of peace. It was the first time I had done
something for myself, and with myself, in a long time.

I then descended to the desolate beach below and settled on the sand,
accomplished. As I gazed onward to the Indian Ocean, I wondered in
that moment what Chris would have said if he were there.

If only I could ever know.
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