Sometimes, the dark wins

Yesterday was International Overdose Awareness Day. A candlelight vigil had been planned, here in New Milford, to honor those who didn’t make it. I thought it might be something good to do, a solidarity kind of thing. As it turned out, it just pissed me off. There was no honoring the dead, except for a moment of silence. It was yet another version of Al-anon, people scrambling to do everything by the 12 steps that are going to save their child, their loved one. Platitudes and stories of recovery after heroin addiction. Heartfelt and desperate and relief sharpened to an edge so sharp it glistened.

Can you tell I’m bitter?

A young man got up and spoke. He’s been clean almost two years. I wanted to say, “Oh, child. It’s not over yet.” Then came the mother and her daughter. Mom spoke tearfully. Our experiences were similar. I heard myself, my life in her words. Then Daughter spoke, and she could have been Chris. She was actually the same age. They probably knew one another in High School. She’s been clean almost three years, and again I wanted to say, “Oh, child. It’s not over yet.”

Because heroin is the symptom, not the disease.

Chris battled and won his fight, too. Three years, heroin free. I won’t claim he didn’t do other stupid things in his never-ending attempt to quiet his demons, but heroin? No. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it every day of my life–He fought for happiness. Every. Single. Day. It’s not as if he spent every day of his life in abject misery. It was simply that the that darkness was always waiting in the wings, and he knew it.

I understand that these groups mean well, that they help some people hold it together, let them know they’re not alone. What bugs the shit out of me is that they do the same things, over and over, as if one of those times it’s going to take. And sometimes it does. Those who make it are the shining examples, the hope for us all, the proof we cling to that YES, this really works! And it makes families like mine failures. The pitiful ones who didn’t stick to the rules, and because they didn’t, failed. It breeds a mentality that allows the falls to keep happening.

Because heroin is the symptom, not the disease. 

I watched these people last night, I listened to their stories, and know down to my bones that their stories aren’t done. In the three years between Chris’ last roll with addiction to the day I found him on his bed, a needle on the mattress beside him, I thought we were one of those families who walked the dark road, and came out into the light. I smugly decried rehabs and AA, because we took the scientific path, and our way worked!

But, sometimes, the darkness wins anyway, no matter what path you take. It’ll keep winning until we stop rehashing the same platitudes and the “solutions,” convincing ourselves that our loved one will be the one in three (according to AA’s statistics) or one in fifteen (according to most other statistics) who will make it through.

We tread a different path, and didn’t save Chris. I’m fully aware. But it was a new path, one that bears exploring. A path that doesn’t treat addiction as the disease, but the symptom of something far more insidious, more deeply embedded; something that keeps taking the people we love because it has no name, no identity. A bogeyman no one wants to believe in. Because it’s the harder path, one with lots of monsters hiding in the fringes. Because there is no one answer that’s going to solve it all no matter how hard we cling to the desperate hope that it is.




Filed under Family, Life's honest moments

18 responses to “Sometimes, the dark wins

  1. Wow, Terri, this is so incredible powerful, and so true. I’ve got nothing to add, except to say thank you, again, for having the courage to say what’s real. Hugs and blessings.


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thanks, Karin. I don’t want to upset people, or make them angry, but, as Jennifer (Dollbaby) said on my FB wall, we don’t have the answers. We have to stop pretending we do, and keep searching.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lise-Marie

    beautiful, honest words. thank you


  3. Mark Nelson

    This hits square in many different ways. Hugs, first and always. I think you touch on part of our national malaise. Folk look for easy answers and take satisfaction or solace perhaps too quickly. I always warn my students to avoid rushing to closure. Let the essay be as long as it needs to be. The same must hold true for processing trial and grief. Work is the way. Peace.


  4. You are so right, Terri. Heroin is the symptom of so much more going on with someone. I suspect all those people with all their stories kind of know that, too. I also suspect that–deep down–they worry their stories aren’t over yet either. Anybody who has lived with addiction knows it’s more complicated than a quick fix, so perhaps they rehash the good stories to simply maintain hope. It could be all they have.
    I can only hope the alternative treatments you tried are being made available to others.


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      (The other one from the pearls of writing wisdom posted as well so I just deleted it for you. 🙂 )
      Yes, sometimes Hope is all you have. It just bothers me when that hope blinds people to the fact that they’re not actually doing anything but the same old same old. We have to find a new way, or were just going to keep losing them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The first word I thought of after reading was POWERFUL and I noticed that others felt the same. We know as storytellers how important the story is and to tell his story, you help others and keep his light shining. You speak truths that are hard to hear yet essential.
    Keep telling the story!


  6. Dian Munoz Stewart

    An important piece. I see commercials all the time that separate people from their recovery. Fighting the disease becomes the objective, not treating the individual.


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      It’s set up for failure. I abhor the 12 step programs. They work for certain individuals, individuals of a certain mindset, and not necessarily forever. Such individuals are constantly told, “You’re one fix away from falling,” day in and day out. It keeps people on that edge, in the anxiety of that impending doom. Does a dog with a shock collar obey? Absolutely, but it lives with its tail between its legs, anticipating that next jolt.

      What bugs me the most is the way it makes people like me feel–those of us whose loved one didn’t make it. “If you’d only stuck to the rules…” is the unspoken credo. It’s an unconscious, elitist mentality that only has room for precious few.

      I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but it doesn’t benefit those making the most money on the current system to change it. Treating symptoms is always more profitable than finding a cure.

      That’s not to say people don’t go into treating others for profit. There are a good many (most) who go into all aspects of the field altruistically, but that bottom line is always the greatest impetus driving far too much of it, whether they’re aware of it or not. And most are. They’re just trying their best to work within a broken system.


      • Dian Munoz Stewart

        All of this. Yes and yes. Keeping people in fear. Telling them they are broken and must rely on them. The system is built on keeping addicts down, keeping them in need. And if the person follows these rules, if the person submits, does the person in recovery–the ones that never feel whole, always feel like there is something wrong with them, always feel separate from their own families–do these people ever live in peace? Chris didn’t want to carry that label, feel broken like that. He didn’t want it for himself. He made the choice. There are others who make that choice too. Pioneers of a different way. They risk more. But they brave a new path for others to follow.


      • Terri-Lynne DeFino

        I agree, Diana. 100%, though the people who truly believe in this method don’t believe so. This is where I feel there needs to be some kind of evolution in the system that brands its devotees as forever flawed. It is, very basically, the same mindset taught in the bible–we are all sinners, and only through god can we be cleansed. Some can give it all over to god and be content. Many can’t. And there goes that cycle again–if you only played by our rules, you’d have been okay!


  7. So beautifully written, Terri, and so heartbreaking to live and to read. Many hugs to you.


  8. Janis Wohlschlaeger



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