How do you help a talented and attractive addict?
This is the first time I really devoted considerable time to your website—because it’s the first time I ever needed close-to-home advice on the topic of addiction. I invited a young guy (28) who is a longtime friend of one son to live in my home as he is getting his life together after some years (on and off) being addicted to heroin. He was, for a short time before coming here, living with his parents and having problems getting along with his dad, who asked him to leave following an argument, and when I heard about it via my son, I didn’t want him backsliding into addiction. So I let it be known that he was welcome to live here. Also, for a time when my younger son was in high school, he lived with my family, about eight or nine years ago. This guy—we’ll call him P.M.—has not only not lived with his own (well-educated; dad’s a lawyer, mom’s a professional) family since he was 14, he grew up an only child virtually untended to, much on his own and fending for himself (and essentially answering to no one) since he was about 8.
In the two months since he has been living here now, he has detoxed from methadone, during the painful early days of which time he quit a (not horrible but deteriorating) job he had held for six months, and is now looking for a job in the same line of work (editorial). He is extremely bright and good-looking, extremely well-read and knowledgeable though he never finished college (barely started, in fact). He spent a year in jail somewhere along the way. He is remarkably nondefensive about his drug, jail, and life experience, blames no one for his addiction, does not buy into the disease model of addiction, and is uncomfortable with the NA/AA approach of defining himself by his addiction. I provide a loving home, a close family (the son he is close to lives around the corner), and function as a strong, involved parent/friend figure. I have a fabulous relationship with my sons, and we can talk about anything, and the same is true for me and P.M. I regard our sometimes long talks as a bank of positive experiences he can draw on when confronted with agonies of choice. But I am under no illusion that a web of connectivity alone will be a suitable match for the heroin cravings when they come. Besides seeing that P.M. has a job that holds his attention, seeing that he doesn’t withdraw too much, and letting him know at every turn that I care, and that being cared about entails some responsibilites to people (he is beginning to get it), what can I do to help this dear dear son-like friend get his life moving forward (besides giving him your web address).
Although P.M. has been addicted to heroin on and off for about 6 out of the past 10 years (the past year on methadone), he has spent considerable time drug-free too. A year on a fishing boat in Alaska, for example. So he does have some success as a non-addict (damn, I hate summing up someone’s existence with the label “addict”—let’s just regard it as shorthand). I have a long history with P.M. As I said, about 10 years of friendship with my son in a house where he was always welcome and spent much time, ate many dinners and had many conversations. P.M. has many many positive associations with my home and the warm universe I have constructed here. (He told me that, once, when I was away for a weekend, he did use heroin here, although my sons do not know, and that is not his association with my home.) I have always liked P.M. My husband and I, completely of our own initiative, wrote a letter to the judge who was sentencing him to jail several years ago; we felt there was great injustice in that he was being unfairly blamed for the drug use of his then-girlfriend, whose parents tried to influence the judge against him (instead of tending to their own well-to-do but neglected daughter). P.M. has been a steady friend of my sons. Sadly, this past May, my husband died, and P.M. was not only at the funeral but of his own initiative got up and spoke very memorably about how he had been helped when he had “gotten into trouble.” So we have ties to each other that run very deep. Please advise me how I can best help in this situation.
* Please note, Stanton does not like being called “Stan,” especially by people who know him.
I think you are doing an excellent thing, and your whole involvement with this man is life affirming. Your grasp of the issues is exemplary (e.g., if he has been drug-free for substantial periods of time, then obviously he can function drug free—it’s no mystery or impossibility for him.)
Your young friend does suggest a higher level of functioning—and thus deeper issues—than the average street addict, who needs instruction in basic, functional life skills. For P.M., my question would be, “What are you living for?” With talent, good looks, friends, and family background (albeit a little mixed), he has the options to do much. It seems he has not done so. Does he feel this way, or does he believe he is pursuing a worthwhile path? When you can chose to use or not (you have the resouces to survive either way), and find some appeal in a drug, you need some answer to the question, “Why should I stay clean; for what purpose; in order to do what?”
Your supportiveness, as I said, is exemplary. But someone needs to communicate to him, “Buddy, do you have a plan? I love you and I wish to be entirely supportive. But, I think you would agree, supporting a person just to stay off drugs is a goal we ought to get beyond. Do you agree? Help me think about this, please.”
In addition, P.M. may need to deal with the “everydays.” Perhaps as a talented and attractive man, he never has had to toe all those marks that most people progress through on their way through life. Getting through college is one such example—what percentage of successful editors do you know have not completed college? Also, you don’t mention intimate relationships. Has he had many with women? Perhaps I spoke too quickly when I said P.M. is at such a high level of functioning that he doesn’t need to practice basic skills. Here are some: setting goals, practicing relationships/intimacy, study/school skills.