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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
I write you because I’m stuck. I’m stuck and you give good advice to people who are stuck. And you’re an addict. And I need help with one.
I’m sorry, it’s long, it’s kind of all over the place. There’s just so much.
A little over a month ago, I found heroin in my boyfriend’s jeans pockets. At that point, we had been together for almost three years, living together for 1.5. We were planning to get married. We plotted our future together. We had mutual hopes and dreams. We had something.
But he’d been weird lately. We’d been, I suppose, going through a rough patch. Things were hard but I couldn’t exactly figure out why. I had recently graduated from law school, passed the bar and started working as an attorney in our city. He had just started graduate school, which will take him 2 to 2.5 years to complete. I thought, maybe, this is just a patch. Yes, I was having doubts. Yes, I was feeling a bit trapped (we had both wanted to leave the city after I graduated but he didn’t get into the grad schools he wanted and then I got a job offer here, which was hard to pass up in this field and in this economy).
As I look back on things now, I can start to put certain things together that should have, had I considered them more fully and been paying attention to him a bit more, may have tipped me off to at least confront him a bit more directly about what was going on. His beard smelled weird. He would take the dog on long, really long walks at night, when he never did before. He was erasing text messages on his phone. He never had any money. He wasn’t motivated to get a job (long story, I’ll explain). He would fall asleep sitting up with me while we were watching TV and eating dinner. He always appeared stoned (and, yes, he was a heavy weed smoker so I assumed, stupid me, he just WAS stoned).
A few months ago, when we were at his mother’s house, she found a tiny Altoid tin filled with heroin in her bathroom. She assumed it was my boyfriend’s. I did too — for an instant. But he lied so well. He explained it away. It wasn’t his, obviously. Look at how functional he was! Getting good grades in school, etc., etc., etc.
I must say, too, that I have a very awful history, stemming from severe harassment and bullying in high school, with respect to betrayal and lying. I don’t take betrayal lightly, I see it everywhere, and I don’t forgive it. And needless to say, this situation has brought all those old feelings, and new ones too, to roost. And I feel hopeless and utterly fucking depressed, miserable and devastated.
After I initially found it — and I know you’ll appreciate this as a recovering addict yourself — he lied to me about it. He lied, he said it was coke. He said it was for his brother. Then he said he was just selling it to make some money. I stared at him, as tears ran down my face, and finally he said, It’s mine. I need help. I want to get help.
Which is great, right? Everyone’s always so fucking pleased with the addict when he decides he wants to recover. Peachy. Wonderful. But what of the rest of us whose lives they’ve completely devastated with their addiction? What about us?
So, needless to say, I kicked him out of our apartment, which we have until July. JULY. Which is so excruciating for me, because I’m a leaver. Pain? I’ll run away from you forever. I’ll keep going, no matter how many times I uproot my life, no matter who gets in my way. I’m gone. And so staying here, while I finish things out at my job, while we figure out what we’re doing with our relationship, and while I plan my escape route, is all but unbearable for me.
He currently lives with his grandparents, who live not far from here. He commutes in to school. I see him approximately once a week. We talk via email or text or phone almost every day. He’s apologetic. I just don’t know if it’s enough for me. He doesn’t seem to be trying that hard to get me back. I’m saying, “Yo, I’m walking out the door. I’m moving away. You won’t hear from me again.” And he responds with something meager like, “I wish you wouldn’t do that.” Huh. That doesn’t seem like someone who cares all that much.
Eventually, on the night I found it, I got it out of him that he started taking opiate pain pills about nine months prior to me finding the heroin. I knew he was buying the pills, but I’m such an idiot, I believed him when he said he was buying them in bulk to sell them. I guess when he couldn’t afford pills anymore, his junkie friends from his hometown started him doing heroin with them. Luckily he wasn’t using intravenously, only snorting. I know IV use comes with its own mess of problems, so I feel blessed at least we don’t have those troubles on our plate.
But soon after he started with the pills, he started with the heroin. He was using during my law school graduation, during my summer studying for the bar, during his brother’s bachelor party, during our first international vacation together to Central America, when he started going to graduate school, while he told me he loved me, while we planned our lives out together, while he came to my family’s Christmas celebration on the West Coast. This whole time, behind my back, he’s been lying to me and using heroin. Locking himself in our bathroom and using heroin. Taking the dog for a walk and using heroin. Going back “home” to visit his family, meeting up with his junkie friends, and using heroin.
And I don’t know what to do with myself. I am so angry with him, with the world, with life, I can barely make it through my days. I shake uncontrollably when I hear from him or when we’re together. All I do is say awful hurtful things to him. I feel broken. I just feel fucking broken. I cry at work all the time. I just feel stuck, and strapped, and hopeless. And incomprehensibly out of control.
And OK, so I’m in therapy. It’s helping, it’s nice. He’s in therapy. He’s in group. He’s taking the prescriptions he needs to to taper his withdrawal. We are trying to work through this. But it doesn’t seem to be … working. It feels as awful as ever. I want to escape just as much. My rage at him isn’t subsiding.
So I write to see if you can give me some insight, as a recovered addict, into what the fuck he could have been thinking, turning to heroin. Developing an addiction. I’m hoping maybe you can help me understand why me, our relationship, our life together, wasn’t enough to either make him 1) not do heroin in the first place, or 2) tell me, be honest with me, after it had obviously reached a place where he was getting worse and worse. Instead he did neither, took the coward’s way out and let me find it, in our bedroom, and then begged me to stay with him because he “wants help.”
You should know, too, that I’ve kind of given him an ultimatum. It’s not even really one I believe in, it’s just really a test. I plan on moving back to the West Coast where my family is, starting anew out there, doing what I need to do to rebuild my shattered fucking self. And I told him if he doesn’t come with me it’s over. I can’t be with him in this place. His family is toxic; his friends are toxic. This area is permeated by our hopes, by our memories, and by all the things we did together when he wasn’t even really there with me, because he was using. So I have to leave. And I need him to say he’ll come with me. I feel like he should be trying to win me back. I feel like this is a way he can show me he cares for me above all else.
He says … eh, kind of, not really, maybe? What will we do? How will I have money? Where will I work? (He’s almost halfway through grad school and just landed a pretty sweet job in his field, here, in this city. So I’m basically asking him to leave all that.) But his reluctance makes me even angrier. After all that he has put me through, and here I am saying, I will work with you on this, I will try to forgive you, but you just have to come with me away from here — isn’t that reasonable? It makes me just want to drop off the face of the earth as far as it concerns him. And I think I would have, if it weren’t for that stupid apartment (which we renewed while he knew he was already in heroin addiction — which is another source of anger).
I wonder, do you think there’s hope for our relationship? I worry there isn’t. It scares me to death. I really want there to be. But I’m afraid, based on what’s happened, his personality and mine, that we can’t work. I’m afraid I won’t be able to forgive him. I’m afraid I will never really be able to let my guard down with him again. And I’m also afraid, if I give him another chance, he’ll relapse. When we have kids, a mortgage, a marriage. And that, I really think, would literally kill me. It’s just impossible for me to see whether he’s worth the risk.
I’d really appreciate any advice you could give me. I’m wandering lost through this disease.
Dear Hopelessly Betrayed,
This is indeed a long story. I enjoyed reading it.
My suggestion to you, on the other hand, is brief and to the point: Cease communication with your ex-boyfriend, cancel any plans for a future together, and go back to the West Coast.
That is the prudent and reasonable thing to do. That will get you unstuck.
People do change. No one believes more in the possibility of change than I do. But this change is not something we can order up to our specifications. Nor can we depend upon it to work the same way every time.
Addicts reach critical moments. They have realizations. Characterize them however you wish — as sudden insights, emotional breakthroughs or spiritual experiences. Addicts do undergo life-changing experiences that allow them to stop using drugs forever. Sometimes they do it as a result of years of work in rehab and counseling and the 12 steps and sometimes they do it walking to the grocery store or waking up on a stairwell.
It happens. But there is no timetable for it. There are no guarantees. And no matter how one changes, one retains the personality, the impulses, the tendencies one had before the change. This makes relationships with sober addicts difficult whether one is still using or not. Add to that the awful weight of his betrayal and I can see only one reasonable path for you. Let him go. Let go of any talk of a future with him. Go to the West Coast. Start over.
You know the parable of the scorpion and the turtle (or frog), right? And, by the way, isn’t this a great illustration? As the Snopes site says, one moral of the story is that “Some creatures just are what they are. It matters not how gently they are treated; their innate nature will cause them to unleash grievous harm even upon those who have lavished loving kindness upon them.”
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)