I know of depression. I know all too well about addiction. And I know that secrets grow darker when they are buried and hidden.
This week marks the three-year anniversary of the death of someone very close to me. I loved this person. We will call him The Colonel. He was my best friend and I talked to him every day.
The Colonel and I didn't grow up together, but we had shared history, we confided in each other and understood each other in a way any old common friendship would not allow.
The Colonel confessed to me on more than one occasion his deepening depression, his desire to be healed, and his struggle with self-medicating.
He talked to me about the Hole, the hollowness, the darkness he first recognized at the young age of nine. He talked of a desperation, an urgent need to fill the Hole. And, left in a troubled home, how at that tender age he first began experimenting with alcohol.
I had known for years about his adolescent dalliances with drugs and alcohol. His cigarette smoking at the age of 12 couldn't be hidden and was, therefore, common knowledge.
But he beat all that. He gave up drugs, alcohol and tobacco at the age of 20. That's when we began to grow close. He became a beloved member of our family.
Sure, I knew there were still issues. Too much cold medicine on occasion. Constant complaints about a back injury. An obsession with watching Cops and Intervention, shows of that sort. Sometimes his behavior was erratic, his laughter too loud, his moods strangely intense. But most of the time he was lovable, kind, the life of the party. And that's what we all choose to remember.
But I feel the need to tell more, to tell the truth.
The truth is, he later confessed to me, the Hole never went away. The truth was he'd never truly given up his dependency. I listened to him confess his feelings. A legitimate back injury had led to the use and later abuse of prescription medications. Before long he was doing ANYTHING to get more. I talked to him about treatment options, presenting him with any information I could find. He turned it all down stating he'd tried it all before and it never helped. I cheered him on as he attempted a 12-step program, only to quit with only four weeks left. I prayed for him and with him and stuck by his side as his depression began to spiral out of control.
Then the bomb dropped. I got a call from an old friend and neighbor who informed me that The Colonel had been caught breaking into a neighboring house in search of narcotics.
"What should we do?" she asked. "You know him and his family best."
I wasted no time, not a second of hesitation. "Call the police."
Can you see why this has been kept in the dark? Can you understand why we've been asked not to talk about this? He was a father, a scout leader, active in his community. Think of the shame.
The police came, took him down to the station, did all the stuff they do there with first-time offenders, and let him go back home.
I confronted him the next day. Again I presented him and his wife with treatment options, real solutions I felt. They were rejected. Again, they "wouldn't help."
So I did the only other thing I thought I had in my power--I severed my relationship with The Colonel, telling him that if he couldn't accept help, I couldn't continue to support him. What followed was a month of mental anguish. Had I done the right thing? Would my "shunning" help him in any way? It was a long, quiet month with no contact with someone I'd previously seen or talked to every day.
One morning I received a phone call from The Colonel's bishop (LDS clergy leader) asking me if I knew where The Colonel was. Why on earth would I know where he was? I hadn't spoken to him in a month.
Turns out The Colonel was in jail. His wife posted bail later that morning and he returned home with future court dates on schedule. He'd done it again, broken into a house in search of ANYTHING to fill the Hole. Seems my "shunning" hadn't done a thing. I was heart broken. A sick feeling blew up in my gut. This wasn't good. "This doesn't end well," became a common expression for those of us who loved The Colonel. Still, I kept my distance, determined that I would hold out my support until he accepted the help he needed. Though my heart ached badly and I missed our daily interactions, I felt I was doing the right thing.
All the pleading by that point was over. There was no begging him back from the ledge he was standing on. We didn't know it so much as we felt it. That night together, standing around in the kitchen, my family said goodbye. Of course not in so many words. We said instead, "We love you. We want you happy and well. We want to continue to see the best side of you. We want The Colonel in our lives."
Three weeks went by and I didn't talk to him. He didn't call me. I didn't call him. I prayed daily for change. I'm sure he did too. But those prayers fly up easily but only come to fruition through sincere, hard work. As it was, days and weeks passed and I'm not sure any real effort was made.
On a humid summer day I passed through the automated doors into the cool air-conditioning of Super Target. I was shopping for printer ink cartridges, of all the mundane things, when my cell phone rang. It was him, his number anyway. His name popped up on the screen and I thrilled thinking how long it had been since he'd reached out to me for anything. I quickly answered the phone.
Fiauna? Something's wrong with my dad.
It wasn't The Colonel, but his pre-teen daughter.
He's all purple and blue. You need to come here fast.
And that's how it happens. That's how your world comes to a crashing halt, how time comes to a standstill.
The rest of that day and night are all an awful blur. It was heroin, the poison that killed him. Later, the detective assigned to the case explained that it's all too common. What begins as a pain-pill addiction spirals out of control. Heroin is commonly the next--sometimes last--step.
I don't write this as a warning about heroin, addiction, drug abuse, whatever. I write this so others might recognize patterns. Recognizing patterns of depression (a.k.a. the Hole) and addiction might just be the key to saving someone's life. At the end of the day, we will never be sure if it was truly heroin that killed The Colonel, or suicide. We suspect he used the former to induce the latter. It doesn't matter now. What matters is knowing that we did all we could, all that came to mind, to save him. We fought for him when he would not, could not, fight for himself.
Was shunning him the right thing to do? I've been told yes and no. I feel confident that one cannot be forced into a true rehabilitation. True change can't be forced but must be fostered.
Later, on a old blog of mine, I wrote:
Things I've learned in the last two weeks:
Your best days can quickly become your worst nightmare.
Sometimes strength is overrated and tears are the order of the day.
Sometimes tears make matters worse.
Children are amazingly resilient.
Children need and deserve a mother and a father.
In times of test, the family is best.
We need prayers even when we've passed through this life.
Honesty, complete and total, is the best policy.
Secrets grow darker when they are buried and hidden.
Never, NEVER fail to let your loved ones know exactly how you feel.
God's love and atonement are infinite and never-ending.
I still stand by every word of it.
Now, what you can do for me is this: If you know someone suffering from depression, please, I ask of you, love them. Comfort them, support them. If you know someone suffering through addiction, again, love them, find local resources for help like Al-Anon. And never, ever, believe you are somehow to blame for their situation.
There is help, there is hope, and there is a joy still to be had. On the darkest days the sky still radiates sunshine.
© 2014 Fiauna Lund