I would rather be an addict than love one, Part 1

Opinion August 17, 2012 0 Comments

I have always relied on the kindness of strangers. (Photo by Hugh Gilmore)

by  Hugh Gilmore

I would rather be an addict than love one. I would rather climb in a sea-going boat and set it on fire than stand on shore and watch my child be adrift. I would rather steal from my parents than love a child who stole from me.

As painful as it is to be an addict, it is heartbreakingly unbearable to love one. Or be dependent on one. Or feel hope for one.

I’m stimulated to write this week because of the death of Garrett Reid, son of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid. Garrett was a drug addict and possibly died from a drug overdose. That is not known for sure yet. But it is certain that over the past dozen years of his life he caused himself and his family a great deal of pain and public shame. My heart goes out to his parents.

I have not been a fan of Mr. Reid’s. I especially did not like his choosing animal abuser Michael Vick to be the team’s quarterback. Until this week, when his son died at 29, I assumed Reid’s motive for backing Vick was sheer greed for a championship at any moral cost.

Now, seeing the terrible pain that Reid and his wife, Tammy, have endured this week, and sensing the pain their son subjected them to for the past ten years at least, I wonder if Reid had another motive where Vick was concerned. Drug and alcohol addictions are notoriously hard to change. Maybe Reid’s need to help a troubled young man was so strong he projected his feelings about his son onto Michael Vick.

Perhaps he felt he could lift a fallen youth and help him to a better life through a show of faith. That might help lighten the burden of feeling powerless to help his child. Lord knows, the people who love addicts are capable of heroic faith. For a while.

I am a grown man to the world that brushes past me every day. But inside I am still the son of an addicted man. From his early teen years during the Great Depression, my father, like all the boys on his West Philly corner, carried a flask. Unlike the others, or most of them, he never stopped carrying his.

His good looks and manly charm got him a pretty wife, six kids, and a job almost guaranteed for life by the union. But his drinking inclination became a leaning. And then a tilt. And then a great fall. Most of his youth and adult life were made sad and desperate by his addiction. And, needless to say, so were the lives of his wife and children.

There were no intervention clinics in those days. No Oprah show. No help anywhere, other than prayer and sympathy – the only medicine available for victims and witnesses then.

Poverty can be overcome, at least economically, but the taste never leaves. Terror can be muted by moving away from the source – though decades later the heart can still jump when a neighbor’s door slams or a gate clangs. But worst of all, by far indeed, is the crushing of faith and hope.

The addict is a sad person who often sits with his loved ones – just before or after the crest of a “high” – and vows to quit his addiction. Tears flow. Repentance is expressed. Promises are made. His or her parents, children, spouses, friends, employers all hold hands with the addict and smile towards a better tomorrow, their hearts at last light and gay.

Until the morning. Or evening. Next week, even. Then the next round starts. And so it goes – on and on. For the loving supporters, doubt eventually replaces faith. Worse: the very ability to have faith dies. And with that death, there too goes hope. With faith and hope gone, charity is the last bare bones offering possible. But without a belief system, with just memories and nostalgia available to prompt the addicts’ friends, even charity becomes a begrudged grace.

If ever a term was invented by smug psychologists to rub caring people’s noses in the dirt, it is “enabling.” In their imagery: there lies the addict on the tufted velvet divan, jaws agape, as demanding as Alex in “Clockwork Orange.” And from across the room and over the windowsills and up through the transoms comes a servile retinue of “enabler’s.” All of them willfully dumb, only too happy to peel a grape or unwrap a chocolate or massage the feet of the addict they serve.

Yes, the vaporous notion of free will says, “Throw him out.” Says, “Leave her.” Says, “Don’t help them.” If you so much as say hello you’re as guilty as the addict himself/herself. Leave, to go where? Throw ‘em out, to go where? Do children have free will? Tough love is tougher on the giver than the receiver. Few people are heroes. Most people just want peace, at least for today. We’ll fight the big battle tomorrow. We’ve worked hard enough today.

Next week, in Part Two of this article, I’ll discuss a half-dozen excellent memoirs of addiction written by addicts. For a number of reasons I find them easier to bear than the memoirs of the people who love(d) them. If you want the list ahead of time, email me at hughmore@yahoo.com.

Hugh Gilmore is the author of a noir crime novel, “Malcolm’s Wine,” set in the old and rare book world. He also wrote the story collection “Scenes from a Bookshop.” Both are available in paperback and e-book formats from bookshops and Amazon.com.

I would rather be an addict than love one, Part 1

I would rather be an addict than love one. I would rather climb in a sea-going boat and set it on fire than stand on shore and watch my child be adrift. I would rather steal from my parents than love a child who stole from me.

As painful as it is to be an addict, it is heartbreakingly unbearable to love one. Or be dependent on one. Or feel hope for one.

I’m stimulated to write this week because of the death of Garrett Reid, son of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid. Garrett was a drug addict and possibly died from a drug overdose. That is not known for sure yet. But it is certain that over the past dozen years of his life he caused himself and his family a great deal of pain and public shame. My heart goes out to his parents.

I have not been a fan of Mr. Reid’s. I especially did not like his choosing animal abuser Michael Vick to be the team’s quarterback. Until this week, when his son died at 29, I assumed Reid’s motive for backing Vick was sheer greed for a championship at any moral cost.

Now, seeing the terrible pain that Reid and his wife, Tammy, have endured this week, and sensing the pain their son subjected them to for the past ten years at least, I wonder if Reid had another motive where Vick was concerned. Drug and alcohol addictions are notoriously hard to change. Maybe Reid’s need to help a troubled young man was so strong he projected his feelings about his son onto Michael Vick.

Perhaps he felt he could lift a fallen youth and help him to a better life through a show of faith. That might help lighten the burden of feeling powerless to help his child. Lord knows, the people who love addicts are capable of heroic faith. For a while.

I am a grown man to the world that brushes past me every day. But inside I am still the son of an addicted man. From his early teen years during the Great Depression, my father, like all the boys on his West Philly corner, carried a flask. Unlike the others, or most of them, he never stopped carrying his.

His good looks and manly charm got him a pretty wife, six kids, and a job almost guaranteed for life by the union. But his drinking inclination became a leaning. And then a tilt. And then a great fall. Most of his youth and adult life were made sad and desperate by his addiction. And, needless to say, so were the lives of his wife and children.

There were no intervention clinics in those days. No Oprah show. No help anywhere, other than prayer and sympathy – the only medicine available for victims and witnesses then.

Poverty can be overcome, at least economically, but the taste never leaves. Terror can be muted by moving away from the source – though decades later the heart can still jump when a neighbor’s door slams or a gate clangs. But worst of all, by far indeed, is the crushing of faith and hope.

The addict is a sad person who often sits with his loved ones – just before or after the crest of a “high” – and vows to quit his addiction. Tears flow. Repentance is expressed. Promises are made. His or her parents, children, spouses, friends, employers all hold hands with the addict and smile towards a better tomorrow, their hearts at last light and gay.

Until the morning. Or evening. Next week, even. Then the next round starts. And so it goes – on and on. For the loving supporters, doubt eventually replaces faith. Worse: the very ability to have faith dies. And with that death, there too goes hope. With faith and hope gone, charity is the last bare bones offering possible. But without a belief system, with just memories and nostalgia available to prompt the addicts’ friends, even charity becomes a begrudged grace.

If ever a term was invented by smug psychologists to rub caring people’s noses in the dirt, it is “enabling.” In their imagery: there lies the addict on the tufted velvet divan, jaws agape, as demanding as Alex in “Clockwork Orange.” And from across the room and over the windowsills and up through the transoms comes a servile retinue of “enabler’s.” All of them willfully dumb, only too happy to peel a grape or unwrap a chocolate or massage the feet of the addict they serve.

Yes, the vaporous notion of free will says, “Throw him out.” Says, “Leave her.” Says, “Don’t help them.” If you so much as say hello you’re as guilty as the addict himself/herself. Leave, to go where? Throw ‘em out, to go where? Do children have free will? Tough love is tougher on the giver than the receiver. Few people are heroes. Most people just want peace, at least for today. We’ll fight the big battle tomorrow. We’ve worked hard enough today.

Next week, in Part Two of this article, I’ll discuss a half-dozen excellent memoirs of addiction written by addicts. For a number of reasons I find them easier to bear than the memoirs of the people who love(d) them. If you want the list ahead of time, email me at hughmore@yahoo.com.

Hugh Gilmore is the author of a noir crime novel, “Malcolm’s Wine,” set in the old and rare book world. He also wrote the story collection “Scenes from a Bookshop.” Both are available in paperback and e-book formats from bookshops and Amazon.com.

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