Rhonda Bye died too young. Drug addiction and life on the streets killed this once—beautiful and talented computer expert/fashion model, leading to kidney failure at the age of 39. Noting the coverage by Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle, AT editor Thomas Lifson commented on the tragic failure of liberalism's voluntary drug treatment/social service outreach to save this once—promising life.
I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I have been sober now for 13.5 years. I started drinking at a very early age and kept it up until I was in my mid 30's. My father died when I was 9, he was 33. My mother was an active alcoholic until the day she died. So were her mother and virtually all of my mother's friends. We tend to live in very small, tight 'social' circles; there is too much pain involved in seeing how 'normals' live so we stick to our own for comfort and support.
There was abuse growing up, mostly psychological, a little physical, about what you would expect in a very dysfunctional home in the 60's and 70's. Alcoholism was still a very taboo subject then and even more so for the female alcoholic, so the problem was rarely addressed. Society let individuals and families isolate themselves from the world without much complaint. Why work on a difficult problem if you don't have to? Not that I'm bitter, mind you...
I too, like Rhonda, had a lot going for me. I was very involved with music and had been accepted at a good school in Boston as a music major. I graduated high school early with a New York State Regents diploma too, not an easy feat in 4 years let alone 3. By the time I was 19, I had played on numerous recordings, had been invited to try out with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band, and auditioned for several major symphony orchestras.
Things were going well. I met a lovely young lady and we decided to get married. I realized that I couldn't really support her on a young musician's income so I needed to find a way to get a good skill quickly. I of course joined the Army. That's where I was introduced to heroin.
I was finally tossed out of the Army after about 18 months or so for obvious reasons. I wound up doing lots of different, low skill jobs for quite a few years, rarely lasting more than 6 months. All the while I was drinking and drugging everything away. I lost contact with what little family I had, but that really didn't matter too much to me, even now. It was the friends that I hurt and lost that bothered me most. But once they were gone, save one, it became easier and easier to forget and keep doing what I was doing without regard for anyone or anything, including me. Actually, most of all me.
I would from time to time try to stop. I could go a few days, sometimes as much as a month without drinking. But while I physically felt better I just could not take the emptiness inside. The emotional, spiritual pain was so intense and nothing, absolutely nothing would ease it. The memories of all the things that had happened to me and that I had done would all come flooding in unabated and coupled with the 'black holehell' that was at the center of me would always drive me to get a bottle and then I'd be off again.
From this point on is where Rhonda and I seem to part company. From what I read in the SF article and yours I can pretty safely say that you could take her life and mine and many, many other addicts lives and exchange them without much loss in specifics. I don't know why I have been given all the second chances at life and happiness, I certainly haven't earned them. But there they were, and are, and by design or by chance I seem to have been one of the 100 or so who actually got sober. This is one of the hardest things to accept for people who are not addicts. Not everyone will get sober. It is estimated that of 100 active drunks, 1 will try. Out of 100 who try, 1 will stay clean for a year. And out of 100 who stay sober for a year about 1 will make to 5 years. It's probably the main reason we live by 'One Day At A Time'. Any other outlook is just too damn depressing.
The short version of how I came to recovery is that I tried once to save a relationship, I thought she'd stay if I cleaned up. That lasted 5 weeks and she was gone. (Good for her and she is doing well today too. Probably one of the best things that came out of a horrible time in my life.) I tried again to save a job that I thought was going to be a 20 year career and retirement so I could then start drinking again. That lasted 5 months and I lost the job. The last time I went into the hospital was because I was caught with a gun in my hand pointed at my head. I was dead inside and all I needed to do was finish the job. I couldn't, I was arrested and placed in rehab. I was pretty much in a walking catatonic state.
I detoxed over the course of 2 weeks and was released to an emergency shelter for homeless men. It took some time to 'get into the system' but eventually I was placed in a treatment program and in a halfway house. It was at this time I was also diagnosed with long standing depression and that treatment began. Over the next 4 years I was pretty much in individual and group therapy, attended meetings, met people and formed bonds, began to laugh again and suffered loss like I had never before, with out the aid of drink and drug. Of the people I was in the halfway house (17 of them), I know that 2 have been since murdered and al least one other has died of 'natural' causes. As natural as you can get when you start drinking again I guess. At least foul play wasn't involved.
Rhonda had those same chances that I have had. For some reason we will never know, she couldn't or wouldn't take advantage of them. And I am sure that with each one she encountered she had the best of intentions and worked very hard. But the sad fact of addiction is that most of us won't make it. I have had quite a few 'wake ups' without a drink but it means nothing. I could always end today with a drink in my hand. As we say in the rooms, the person who is sober the longest is the person who first woke up today and he had better well make some coffee. The point is this; addiction is more than the physical act of ingestion. You can clean up in a couple weeks. The real disease is what's left after you clean up and that is part of my soul. Most of us in recovery look at her story and see our own and are grateful for what we have been given. And we are sorry that those who don't make will never know the joy that life is.
Rhonda didn't make it. She suffered greatly. My friend Kathy didn't make it. She was abused and raped by her father and uncle and left to raise her daughter by one of those 2 fucks. She was murdered by a dealer when she was trying to get high again because her lesbian lover left her. Alan was murdered because he was selling again and was ripped off. So many friends I have met in the program have died; sober, but due to long standing complications from all the years of drinking and drugging.
So about now I bet you're wondering where the consolation is that I mentioned in my first message. Well, it's this. I made it. Jim made it and has for more than 21 years. New people come into the program every day and night and some of them will make it. The consolation is this: Hope lives. It lives in all of us but it really seems to come out at the most surprising times from those most unable to afford giving it.
The next time you see 2 bums helping each other down the street, it may just be they are helping each other to a shelter and this time it will work, not to help each other to the liquor store for a bottle of MD2020. They're holding on to each other because they're scared and their feet hurt and they can't make it there by themselves but together they can do it. It's hope and with it the miracles can and do happen, everyday, all around us. They happen in small almost insignificant ways to anyone who is not directly affected by them. But if they are or if you choose to pay attention they are very powerful and can move mountains. One of my favorite quotes that has helped me in so many ways is this:
'Believe more deeply. Hold your face up to the Light, even though for the moment you do not see'
I wake up in the morning with the curtains open and the sunlight makes me squint like crazy and I then start my day with a smile because I am immediately reminded of this quote. I then pray and see what the world has to offer me and what I can offer it.
I hope this helps a little. Please don't be disheartened because an addict died. She had courage and while it wasn't pretty she did try to do her best. Her burden was a heavy one, one that she didn't know how to handle. She reached out for companionship and found some asshole that helped guide her into more misery. But look again at the pictures, especially the last one. She's smiling and I would venture a guess that it's because she is once again sure that if she tries just a little harder it'll all work out. She had hope.
And one last little nit—picky thing about the San Francisco Chronicle article. The quote is
"She is an Exhibit A on what heroin and crack does to someone who is unbelievably beautiful, has the sweetest personality in the world, and is even smart...." [Emphasis mine]
It has been my experience that most addicts are actually very smart. They are also very compassionate and sensitive. I think that it is this combination of qualities that also makes us such a risk for addiction. We ARE smart enough to know what we are doing and we are smart enough to cover it up and smart enough to survive all of it. We are also sensitive enough to know how this is affecting us and others around us and it's this combination of brains and pain and guilt that makes it necessary to cover the intense feelings with drink and drug. At least until we find another way.
Thank you for the article you wrote, it got me thinking seriously once again about my disease. I can never take it for granted, if I do then it's very likely to slip away and I don't know if I have another recovery in me.