Once again, here I am, laying in bed while my brain is scrambling thoughts one hundred miles per minute. She has a tendency to switch from happy, sleepy thoughts to stressful, scary thoughts… but not until after I spend fifteen minutes trying to squeeze into a corner, without waking my big-headed dog. I finally find half of a pillow, rest my head, and (lucky for me) I am now stressed out and overwhelmed. As a college graduate living in a college town, my biggest worry is usually something like, “Should I have bought that dress earlier? Maybe I should go back. Well, no, honestly what shoes would I even wear with it.” Although, every once in awhile, a brief thought about the fears of moving back to Des Moines, transferring jobs, leaving friends, paying off student loans, and other boring, stress-free nonsense will pop into mind as well. I usually try to drop that stuff as quickly as possible and move on to the important things in life, i.e. Grey’s Anatomy season 12. Tonight, however, was different. I haven’t posted on this page for an embarrassing amount of time; but, for whatever reason, I just really felt like I needed to post tonight and forget all about Derek and Meredith’s long-distance relationship, when Karev is going to propose, and where in the world Dr. Yang is at now. I sluggishly grabbed my laptop, signed into WordPress, and I actually had one notification!! Ironically, my one single notification read, “Happy Anniversary! You registered 2 years ago today!”
Two years have gone by, but the memories haven’t faded one bit. The memories of the day I found out she was gone, the memories of our last car ride together, the memories of our last nap with her tiny leg thrown across the entire bed… Every single memory is still perfectly intact. It feels like we were laughing together just last week, but it also feels like ten million years have passed by since I heard “Anna died” through my phone. When I think of her being gone, I have no idea how I have held my self together for so incredibly long. When I think of the last time I was with Annie, a smile grows across my face and I begin to tell my favorite stories from our time together (for the 37th time that day).
One thing social media is actually good for, is the many, many pictures of Anna’s bench I was able to see on Anna’s ANNA-versary (What a PERFECT name created by Katie and Julia).
I had planned on driving to Des Moines for the Anna-versary, but the second I got behind the wheel of my car with the sun shining… My happy memories with Anna turned into sadness on account of we will never be blaring Y’all Want a Single and screaming the lyrics with the windows down, ever again. I turned around almost immediately, and I ran back into my house to return to the fetal position while snuggling my dog. I stayed like this in bed for over 24 hours… again.
As many of you now know, I was in the exact same fetal position for three months after first hearing of Anna’s passing. Much to my dismay, two years later, I subconsciously returned to the exact same position, searching for her comfort. Although laying in bed did make the day go by faster and was much easier than explaining my puffy red eyes to the 600 people walking campus at any given time, it reminded me of my past that I have worked so hard to get rid of. I was so upset and anxious I couldn’t even drive my car to Des Moines to see the spot where I had spread some of Anna’s own ashes. I spent the entire day hiding from the sadness and pressures of April 4th.
They say things get easier as time passes, but I don’t believe it. Maybe some things are meant to never truly change.
It’s been over a year since I first started this page. Over a year since I was staring at my ceiling, trying to figure out what I am supposed to be doing with my life, and how I am supposed to have a life with such a gaping hole in my heart.
It has been awhile since my last post, but it has not been a second since I have last thought about Anna. It’s not that I stopped posting because I don’t think about her, or because I have nothing else to say- I have plenty to say- but something has been holding me back from writing about it. I would have an idea here and there, but it would quickly disappear. I would try to write down the ideas, but I found that I could no longer recall what it was that had popped into my head less than 45 seconds ago. As usual, I put the blame on ADHD and assumed I would think of it later when I was trying to do 13 tasks at once. People would stop me and ask why I haven’t been writing, tell me I should keep writing, and there were times I felt bad about not writing more often. I brushed the disappointment to the side, and just kept moving forward. I never really thought about why the ideas never came back.
What was it that was holding me back? I could’ve sat at my computer, forced myself to keep going and ranting and writing and writing and writing.. But where would I be now if I had spent the last six months only writing and not talking to anyone about Anna’s death, staring at pictures of us together and creating a false reality of us still being together? It is possible that I would be exactly where I am today, but it is also possible that I would be stuck in the same place I was six months ago. I would be idle in my life with no direction, no happiness, no sadness, and no real emotions to get me back into the real world. Anna was always the one telling me to “get over it, life is too short,” and to, “live a little.”
And I have.
In the past six months, I have been doing things I had never done before, doing things I never wanted to do, doing things I have always wanted to do, and have found myself thinking, “Anna would be so proud,” after each new encounter.
Right now, today, is the happiest I have been in the last sixteen months.
I was browsing Facebook today, and I saw the video I made after Anna passed. I played the video, listened to the songs, watched the pictures fade away, and that’s when I realized the last six months of my life were meant to be spent living life. The experiences I have had, the friends I have made, the stories I have heard, have all brought me to the peaceful place I am in now. I am not angry at the entire world anymore, now I want to go out and fix the world. I don’t hate people that make rude, hateful comments about junkies, I simply correct them… Publicly. With facts. In front of their friends. Emphasizing their incompetence and ignorance towards the subject. Okay, I might still hate them. BUT at least I respond using a nonviolent approach, unlike the wishful approach I currently I have developing in my head. 😉 I’m kidding. Sort of.
Moving on, the point is… I am finally in a peaceful place. A place where I can freely, happily, and constructively address Anna’s death. I miss her just the same as I did sixteen months ago, but I am so, so proud to be her best friend. The looks people would give me when I told them my best friend over dosed and died on heroin, used to break my heart. I was so hurt that they were judging such an amazing person based on the manner in which they died.
Now, I love seeing the look on their faces when I tell them how my best friend died. Because the look on their face when I tell them how many people she has saved from overdosing on heroin is priceless.
Author’s note: Congratulations again, Sam, on 9 months clean! I am so proud to call you my friend. Even though Anna is gone, my heart hurts a little less every day knowing that she has been on your mind during your time battling sobriety. I love seeing you around town and seeing your smile explode when you get to tell me you’ve made it another day, week, or month. I can’t wait to see your one year! Life is short, my love! Stay strong.
I have been thinking about my posts, how bluntly open I am about my experiences/knowledge of drugs, and how quickly many adults can be immediately turned off knowing I smoked pot in high school. Well, parents, this is the rest of the story that you don’t understand.
It is no secret that 1960-1970 birth cohort has experienced their fair share of experimentation with drugs. Back then, no one knew the effects of these drugs. So many people were using drugs and smoking cigarettes that the thought of saying “no” hardly even came to mind. My parents were born in the early and late 60’s. To this day, I do not know the extent of their drug experimentations, and to be quite frank, I do not think I should ever know, being as I’m their daughter. I can assume that they joined in on illicit activities with friends, but it is something I will never know for a fact. We never talked about drug use in my home, never mentioned ‘cocaine’ or ‘crack’ or anything like that. The one time the word ‘pot’ was ever used in my home was when I was about 13-years-old and my brother 16-years-old.
My mom sat us down and said, “Are any kids in your grade smoking dope?” With a very, very confused face, I looked at her and said, “What does that mean?”
To me, ‘dope’ was a term used to describe a goofy, outlandish, strange person. (i.e. the “Grandpa is a dope!” notes I left scattered around my Grandparent’s home as a playful prank.) She then corrected herself with more ‘hip’ language and said, “Do kids at school ever smoke pot? Do you know how much a dime bag costs?”
Note to parents: Kids do not say ‘dime bag’ or ‘dope’ anymore. ‘Dope’ is now a term used to describe something awesome, cool, or ‘far out’ as some of you would call it. Also, a ‘dime bag’ is no longer a thing. I found out 2 weeks ago that dime bag means it costs $10, and not the amount of marijuana you receive is the size of a dime. I’m 21.
At age 13, I did not know what a dime bag was, where to get marijuana, and no one I knew openly talked to me about smoking weed. My older brother was more shy in high school, and also looked at my mother like she was crazy and felt very uncomfortable during the entire conversation. It was very apparent that we had no knowledge of ‘dope.’ That was the end of drug conversations in my household.
While writing these blog posts, my parents, as well as all of you strangers, found out for the first time that I had smoked pot in the past. I commented on the how uncomfortable it was telling my parents, and apologized in my post as well. In the same post, I mentioned seeing cocaine in college, and knowing several people who have done that and beyond.
Here’s the kicker, parents. Your kid has too.
You can be as naive as you would like and continue to tell yourself that whatever college your child attends “doesn’t have that problem,” your kid “would never associate with people who do stuff like that,” “he/she doesn’t go to parties where that stuff is present, they would leave.” Ok, let’s put it like this. Kids here at Iowa, snort cocaine in the library. Iowa State, same thing. “Well, he/she has never seen that before.” Ok, let’s move on to the party scene. You have to be 21 to be in a bar, which leave house parties, lots and lots of house parties. House parties do not have security roaming around, do not require an ID or really even an invitation, and do not have people regulating your drinks. House parties make a very great place for drugs. Surprise, surprise. I was at a house party in college when I first saw cocaine. I walked into the bathroom to find two girls with a $100 bill up their nose. I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me, and I have never seen them since. Welcome to college, parents. Your kid has seen drugs.
My major is criminology, so I would say I’m pretty well-versed in the topic of drugs. However, many students are well-curious in the topic of drugs, due to lack of knowledge. The way kids describe drugs, it sounds like a great time. “Take these caps, your body feels so good, and you will have so much fun, just laugh all the time, and hug everybody!” Who wouldn’t want to do that, right? Oh, but you are going to be pounding water like a fish. Oh wait, and don’t drink too much water, a bunch of kids keep over-hydrating themselves causing their brain to swell, and now they’re dead. But you’ll feel so great!!!
I had no clue what the difference between ‘molly’ and ‘ecstasy’ was prior to coming to college. You could show me two pills, one ibuprofen and one ecstasy, and to this day I won’t be able to tell you which one is which. (pictures of drugs are VERY outdated in my textbooks.) Freshman year, I didn’t know girls who were going to the bathroom together, were actually doing lines together. I would have no clue that my friend’s random roommate was stashing blow in her desk drawer. I didn’t know how much a gram cost, or that the group of kids behind me just did a drug deal under the table.
But parents, you do know these things. You know the differences between these drugs, things to look out for, behaviors that are correlated with different drugs. You know what deadly additives can be in cocaine. The bad side effects of a ‘bad trip.’ These are all things your kid doesn’t know and needs to know. How is it that you can sit your kid down, tell them how babies are made and not to have sex, at age 13 when she first gets her period, but you can’t sit your 15-year-old kid down and explain to him the dangerous opportunities every single one of us has experienced? Isn’t that less traumatic; warning your kid about something that they may never even come in contact with, opposed to handing over condoms and praying they don’t use them until after age 30?
I have a very close relationship with my little brother, and am very open with him about how persuasive someone can be when describing drugs, but how dangerous they really are. He knows he can ask me anything about drugs, dangers, etc, and I am more than willing to explain it to him. I will get down to the very last, nitty-gritty detail of what I know about drugs, in an effort to completely diminish his curiosity (and to traumatize him with the idea that simply looking at drugs causes immediate death). Tell your kids whatever it is you think will scare them away from using drugs, ever. I believed that a Christmas elf was writing me letters during his break from making toys until I was 11-years-old, because my parents told me they also had elves visit them when they were kids, so obviously our family was just extra special. Your kid is going to believe whatever it is you have to say, as long as you make it sound legitimate. When other kids say, “No man, that’s not true.” Your child is still going to have that little voice in the back of their head reminding them of their Mom’s friend that overdosed on MDMA her first time and died at age 15. Trust me, disappointing your parent is 100 times worse than being the lame kid at the party. The guilt your child will feel knowing how disappointed you would be if you knew they did Molly will eat away at them enough that they won’t do it again.
Drugs are far too available, unpredictable, and intriguing for you to still think your kid is immune. The least you could do is have a conversation with your child, even if you know for a fact they aren’t using drugs, maybe they know someone who is very curious about drugs and don’t know what to do. The best thing you can do for your child is to be open to their curiosity. Let them ask you questions, otherwise they are going to ask friends’ questions… Next thing you know, they have the pill in their hand.
This semester I’m taking a creative writing class. We are supposed to be writing ‘short stories’ that we will be turning in at the end of the semester. However, I don’t want to write short stories. I don’t want to make stuff up in order to have an affect on people. I want to tell people the harsh reality of life, the way things really are, and how easy all of your lives are compared to the man sitting next to you, and the woman next to him, so on and so forth.
Our assignment today was to read a short story titled Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin. It is a good read, but requires that you have a very strong stomach and a mind open to acceptance. During our conversation about the story, my professor read off some of his favorite quotes. One of them being something about if your writing doesn’t offend someone, than there really is no point to your work, it is more important to have someone absolutely hate your writing, than for them to just put it on the shelf and never remember it. He also mentioned that some of the best works come from authors that talk about the one topic that no one wants to hear about, talk about, or even know about- just as Going to Meet the Man had done. When I was talking about my feelings on the story I had just mentioned how much I felt that the best part of the story was the fact that he was so openly speaking of such a harsh, hidden topic. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, this blog and the responses I have got from people jumped into my head.
I have had people thanking me for writing, appreciative for giving others a different outlook on addicts, and just thanking me for the information they otherwise wouldn’t have known. The information on my blog isn’t new information, I didn’t find these statistics or feelings or create any of this. Everything I am writing are things that have been felt by several other people, statistics that were found by someone else– I am simply putting the information out there since no one else has. If I hadn’t lost Anna, I wouldn’t have learned this statistics. I wouldn’t be able to share this information if my best friend didn’t die. Heroin use was nothing I ever wanted to talk about, know about, and a death by overdose was absolutely something I never wanted to experience in my life. It is not something I would ever wish for any other person to experience in their life, however, it is absolutely something I love writing about. I love writing about it, in hopes that none of you do have to experience it in your life. In hopes that you will all see that pain, hurt, and disaster that is created from this monster. If you can stop one person in your life, if you can give one person any sort of information on how to help their loved one- I have succeeded. Although my posts are kind of all over the place- sad here, happy here, REALLY sad there- all in all, I hope you all can find something to share with another person, one thing that will help one person.
I have had a couple people message me with their personal thoughts on my writing (which I love hearing!! hint, hint), but the messages I have received are amazing. One of the first messages I received, an old high school classmate shared her experience with alcohol and pain killer addiction. First of all, I can only imagine the amount of strength it takes from someone suffering from an addiction to share that with someone who she was never super close with, so I was already impressed. She continued to share her story, and by the end I read, “So thank you for talking about it, and telling people what it’s like. My family won’t even talk to me anymore because of it.” I couldn’t believe it. She just told me some of her most intimate thoughts, and then thanked me?! To me, hearing her story and how she related to my posts was plenty enough. That is all I ever wanted from this, was to effect one person and to help them in their recovery, overcoming their addiction, anything. I just wanted one person to listen.
So you can imagine my reaction when I then received another message from another high school classmate. This time, she thanked me for being friends with Bryant. Thanked me for being friends with Bry, and thanked me for talking about how amazing he was and just telling his story. The next sentence I read, “I don’t know where I would be without that eye opener, so I probably owe him (and you) my life.” Wow. I had to read the message about four times before I could actually process what I was reading, and afterwards, I had no words. I could not believe it. “I probably owe Bryant my life. MY LIFE.” Bryant is gone and he is still here. He saved this persons life. I can’t stop repeating it in my head. I can’t tell you the happiness, the sadness, the joy, and just the overall overwhelming feeling I got from reading that message. I could not have been more proud to be his friend in my life.
Both of these messages I received were things no one wants to talk openly about, most people don’t want to hear about, and the person on the other side absolutely does not (but needs to) speak about. They are very personal, very real, and very hard to tell another person. That’s what makes it so important. That’s why we need to share these things. That’s what makes each and every one of us so important- the stuff that we don’t want to tell people, is the stuff we need to tell people. I never would have thought of myself as ‘a writer.’ I remember in high school, my parents would always get so frustrated that I had a better grade in German than I did in English! “You speak english! How does that happen?!” It was because I hated to read and write! So I have no idea how this blog comes out, I just know that it is important for other to hear it. This is my reality. This is happening. This happened to me. Everyone needs to know, just as much as you need to share your story. You never know who will be effected.
After losing a person you love and care for, you start overthinking things every time anyone else you love gets in a car, on a plane, doesn’t answer and return your phone call within the hour.
I first learned this after Bryant passed away. After seeing news of Bryant’s death on Facebook, but seeing Bryant just 9 hours before, I texted him telling him that it isn’t funny for people to joke about stuff like that and to take it down; That text never got a response. Instead, minutes after I sent the text message, I got a phone call with the worst news a seventeen-year-old, high school senior, preparing to graduate in 6 months wants to hear. Since that day, I have always had a little anxiety when people don’t show up to where they’re supposed to be, don’t call back, etc. Although, it’s one of the things I’m working on, I don’t think it will ever fully go away.
After the second, third, and fourth times of losing people who all hold very special places in my heart, I started to worry twice as often- about the most irrational things! My dad is notorious for showing up a good ten minutes after he said he would. Now, on the ninth minute of him being late the thoughts start racing through my head. “What if he rolled on the gravel, what if someone didn’t see him, what if he hit a deer, what if he had a stroke, oh my gosh- what if it was a heart attack while he was driving, OK- two more minutes and I’m calling him, wait what if he dies in those two minutes, I should call now.” *picks up phone and starts dialing immediately* When my father does answer I usually hear something along the lines of, “Well Princess, I can’t finish up here and get home if you keep calling me. What’s up?” Annnnnd then I’m embarrassed, pretend to ask where the remote to the tv is (even though it’s in my lap) just so my Dad doesn’t think I’m crazy, hang up, and scold myself for worrying so bad when I told myself yesterday I would stop doing this. It’s really just a never ending, embarrassing, and slightly humorous cycle.
My father is very healthy, has been driving since before he was legal, and although sometimes unfortunate for me- has a very good sense of his surroundings and anything unusual happening around him. Even when he’s sleeping… and his daughter snuck out back to chit-chat and hand out free sodas to her friends that were walking home from who knows where after also sneaking out. Moral of the story, it would be a very, very small success rate for one of these crazy thoughts of mine to actually play out.
That’s just the way my brain has become wired. As I prepare for my senior year and changes that are coming my way- I realize that I really can’t prepare for many of these. My whole life has been filled with spur of the moment, unexpected, and one in a million life circumstances. There is no way my whole life is going to change now and become this smooth sailing road for my big, senior year of college. No way God would let me get off that easy! The good news is, however, that now I can recognize it. I no longer expect smooth sailing or the thought of, “Well maybe this month will be better and less stressful.” Yeah, right! Each month and each year has just been a little pretest for me, for God to make sure I can handle whats coming next- even when I think I can’t.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m still very nervous, and stressed to be hoping a loved one will just please get a job in the states instead of sending him off to Canada, putting an end to the best four years of my life and beginning lots of exciting adult years to come, mentally preparing myself to bartend twelve hours a day for a bunch of drunk football fans while trying not to pull out my hair, becoming Auntie Jo and restraining myself from inducing my sister-in-law myself because I’m sick of waiting to see what the little guy will look like, budgeting my money well enough to make it through my year, crossing the I’s and dotting the T’s on my financial aid/bills/mounds of paperwork taking over my desk space, and trying to stay sane the whole time… which is the hardest part!
The difference is- this year, this month, this time, I know there’s something coming that I’m not planning on and when it gets here, I’ll be ready for it! Even if it takes 3 bags of cotton candy!
(Okay, I’m not sure what could ever happen that would require three bags of cotton candy. There is a small chance I’m just using a potentially horrible situation as a way to eventually suppress my current craving for cotton candy, but who are you to judge?!)
I had to share with you a real life example of why the world needs Anna’s Warriors, Anna’s story, and a complete attitude change.
I work two jobs in order to pay for school, rent, and life in general. One of them is a receptionist at a hair salon, and the other is working at one of the better known bars in my college town as a bartender. Part of doing your job well, (without a required uniform) is adjusting yourself so that you ‘fit’ the position you hold. When I go to the salon, I wear conservative clothes, jewelry, cover my tattoos, fresh make up, hair done, and I’m prepared to interact with clients from age two to ninety-two. When I work at the bar, I change into a whole different mold. If I were to show up to the bar the same way I show up to the salon- students would either make fun of me for looking like an old woman, not order anything but water from me for fear that I had no idea what I was doing, or.. my boss would probably just fire me for losing more money than selling. If I were to show up to the salon the same way I show up to the bar, I’m pretty sure Ethel would have a heart attack on sight. Therefore, when I go to the bar, I wear more college-friendly clothes. Dresses (with shorts on underneath because I’m too much of a tomboy to trust myself without), short shorts (not too short, but you understand), crop tops, etc. I have no worries about showing my tattoos, and usually end up getting complimented on my ink. Because I am constantly flipping bottles, scooping ice, running back and forth, grabbing, stacking, and shaking things around with 180 students screaming, sweating out their alcohol consumption, and giving off more body heat than usual- it gets really hot behind the bar, so I always try to wear outfits that are going to keep me as cool as possible in fear of customers running from me because of my sweaty armpit B.O. (hot, I know). One tip for future bar employees: definitely NO full length pants, NO long sleeves, and as much as you hate them- crop tops and high waisted shorts ARE your friend. I cringe just thinking about my first shift while wearing jeans and a cute t-shirt (luckily it was black, so you couldn’t see the pit stains that reached to my waistline). Ugh.
The other night I was waiting for the bar to get busy and I could start working my shift. I usually sit at the bar, so I can still chat with other coworkers and friends around me. I was sitting alone at the time and an old friend walked in and sat next to me with his buddies. We were chatting and eventually he introduced me to one of the friends (we’ll call him Henry). Henry and I were chatting about school, where we are from, just normal, small talk things. He grew up in Texas, but his parents now live in Singapore due to a job transfer, because of this he told me about his envy of me for growing up so close to our college town that many of my childhood friends are still nearby. I chuckled a bit, and he said, “Well I mean, just like you could have childhood friends, I moved a lot so I never really got to have any, but yeah.” I’m assuming he thought I was a huge loser who actually didn’t have friends growing up, but I smiled again and said, “Yeah, I do. A few of my friends study here as well so it’s pretty cool to have people I know so well around, but unfortunately, I’ve had to bury a few of the others. I know they are still with me in spirit though.” His face just froze while he brainstormed an appropriate response. He apologized for my loss, and asked what had happened. I told him my best friend died of a heroin overdose in April, and I’ve had a couple other friends die of suicide. He apologized again, and told me about how he had to watch his father die of cancer when he was 19, so he knows what it’s like to lose someone so close.
As we kept talking, I told him it definitely is a very hard thing to go through, and that I was in a terrible place after Anna’s death. I then explained how I have finally come to find that I can do something good from her death, and I am now interested in DEA or drug rehabilitation counseling, since my degrees are in Criminology and Psychology.
He looked at me, laughed, and said, “You’re wearing a snap-back hat backwards, you have tattoos, you’re wearing that, you work in a bar and you want to be DEA? Ha! How does that work?”
With a little attitude, I promptly and conceitedly replied “Ask me how many times I’ve gone out drinking in the past 8 months. Then ask me how many drugs I’ve done in my life.”
Henry pondered for a bit, “Li- wait, you’re going to say 0 aren’t you?”
“Yep. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been out drinking, I just don’t think it’s very fun anymore. I smoked weed before (sorry Grandma, Mom, and Dad & Elisa), but I don’t like it because I have a very controlling personality and it just wasn’t fun. That’s the only drug I’ve ever done. And my best friend since I was nine still managed to overdose on Heroin. Didn’t expect that did ya?”
Henry was shocked. “Wow,” he said, “I just completely judged you so differently and wrong. I thought you were like a typical college party girl who gets smashed like every night.”
Nope! I’m very far from it. I personally don’t understand the fun in spending an hour to get ready just to go sit in an extremely loud, crowded, dark place where you can’t hear each other, and having people not even look at my hair or face that I just spent an hour beautifying, but instead everywhere below that I haven’t spent twenty minutes on in the past month. That just really does not sound like my idea of a good time, personally.
After I had explained all of this to him, I began to giggle saying, “You know, it’s funny. I had written a blog about this same exact thing a bit ago. Anna’s family started a non-profit for this exact reason. People don’t know about heroin, don’t know who is doing heroin, and judge people by their outer appearance- often being so far from the truth. You just proved to me exactly why I am doing this, to educate people and show them the way their society really does judge people instead of love and listen to people. I told you Anna is with me all the time!”
After getting to spend the last couple weekends home, it’s amazing how much I have learned.. about everything! We were so lucky that Anna’s best friends from Nevada were able to come visit and stay with Carla, and I was able to spend a lot of my time over there catching up with the girls.
We had our share of ups and downs during the trip, but I soon learned it was all part of Anna’s plan. Nancy and Kathryn have been such a help in explaining to me how the mind of an addict and addict in recovery works. They have allowed me to ask nosey questions in order to pick their brains as an attempt to understand. They explained the details of addiction in a ‘dumbed’ down version, so that my (very innocent to addiction) self could better understand what they meant. Everything, good and bad, that happens now seems to always relate back to something Anna said before or some scheme she’s up to in heaven. I, personally, over the last couple weeks have learned a very hands on approach to what addictive behaviors look like. How the behaviors and mind of an addict are truly warped from this world and so far out of their control. After explaining all of the occurrences to Carla, she said to me, “Can you imagine Anna being that way?” That’s when I knew that Anna was trying to show me what it was like for her and how hard she struggled without any control over what she was doing, so that I can share that with you and help you to also understand what goes on.
Not every addict is exactly the same- some steal, some don’t. some manipulate with tears, some manipulate with pity, some feed off the people that love them most, some feed off of the helpful people who don’t know them at all, some are incredibly mean, some overly nice in order to receive care and affection, some push their families and friends away, some keep them close and use them as a crutch. Now matter the form in which the behaviors are being done, they are still doing them one way or another.
For me to really see it hands on was quite the experience! I fell into the trap as quickly as I’m sure most parents and close friends would. When I saw the way people that had previously dealt with addicts could spot these behaviors, their reactions to the behaviors, and observations the could make almost instantly- I was amazed! Even just saying something a different way, would change the behavior of the addict. If I were to say, “Don’t worry, I can lend you $5 for toothpaste and a soda.” The response would be, “Well, I actually need $10 because I really want to stop and get McDonald’s too.” But when someone can spot the behaviors of an addict, their response is, “Let’s go get you what you need, and nothing more. No you’re not going in alone I’m going with you.” and suddenly, that was the end of it. No more manipulation to suck more out of someone. When an addict says, “I’m going to a meeting now.” You can’t just hand them the keys and off they go. The correct behavior is for you to drop them off, walk them in, and pick them up afterwards. (Or have your sneaky friends with connections check up on who is attending the meeting that day.) Many parents have no idea how to respond to the behaviors of an addict. Even when their child is clean for days, weeks, months- the behaviors still tend to come out on occasion. As a friend, I would have no idea how to deal with the behaviors. That is a scary thought to know that we are allowing them to continue these behaviors without making a change, simply because we don’t know how to respond. We don’t want our child/friend to think that we don’t love them, don’t trust them even though they did make such a big life change, or that we don’t want to help them now that they’ve been sober. So what do we do?? When it seems like they are suffering so badly, do we just let them suffer? No, you get them proper help and care. Take them to a professional who knows what they are doing. Unfortunately, many financial means do not allow for everyone to get immediate, professional care. There are resources to help for free! Check out this link for a list of centers around you.
Addiction is truly, truly not something that one can control on their own. Most of the time, the addict doesn’t even realize what they’re doing until someone snaps them out of it. They don’t catch onto their behaviors because everyone is feeding into them and not telling them they are wrong. We don’t want to cause any pain to our loved one, or send them into a place where they are contemplating relapse, so instead we just go along with the behaviors and allow them to treat us poorly. That is not the right thing to do. People who have friends that are addicts or family members that are addicts should have a class or resource for online lessons that will teach them how to cope and behavior with recovering addicts in the home (another one of my personal issues with addiction facilities and treatment centers). Right now, we are sending the addict home from rehab, family thinking they are perfectly healed and can go about business as usual, but that is not the case. The need boundaries. In rehab, they have a set time to wake up, a set time for lunch, group meetings at certain times- a very strict schedule. In order for the recovery process to continue working so well, these things need to continue to be implemented when they leave the center. Giving them a free schedule with plenty of free time allows the addict to pick up old behaviors and friends almost immediately. The recovering addict also cannot be stuck in a little box while trying to figure out how to live life while being clean. It can lead to depression, causing another psychological issue that needs to be treated, and again leading to a relapse.
Living with an addict very closely resembles living with a handicap that can function alone, but needs to be monitored for the half of the day. It is not an easy task. I applaud any family that is willing to take their child back in and give them the help and stability they need because it is not easy for them to do. I can imagine it would be very frustrating having to babysit your thirty-year-old son the same way you did when he was thirteen- but it has to be done for a least the first few months post inpatient rehab. They need to get back on their feet, meet new people that aren’t triggers, and create a schedule for themselves that includes commitments they simply cannot miss (i.e. a close knit AA group that counts on their arrival, exercising with their sponsor who picks them up from home, a concrete work schedule, volunteering in places they enjoy and want to be, etc.) Anything to keep them busy and on track, without suffocating them completely from normal life. I can imagine it would be hard as the addict to do come home and have to do all of these things that they are not accustomed to, and I’m sure they often fight back- causing more stress and tension between family members, but it is so necessary. It’s not as easy as it seems, and people don’t understand the stress and difficulty behind it for the friends and family involved. Families and friends need to be educated on these things; only educating the addict and putting them right back into their trigger city is not going to keep them clean forever- some people, yes, but many young people need more motivation and supervision than only relying on themselves.
Ahh, the big 21st birthday!
Now that I’m 21, I’m obviously much, much older, mature, and smarter- just like every 21 year old out there…. Oh.
Twenty-one doesn’t feel much different than twenty (sorry to spoil it), and twenty-one without your best friend around is even less fun than twenty with her around. Anna and I had been planning our twenty-first birthdays since we were roughly sixteen, and had the best trip to Vegas with all of our high-school girlfriends planned out in our heads. I’m not sure how we thought that trip was going to work out considering we’re all broke college students… No, I take that back- Knowing Anna I’m sure the hotel room would have been charged to Carla’s credit card and Mom would have grounded us for life. On our twenty-first birthdays, Anna and I would obviously meet each other after a long semester of college, go out and show this town how it’s done, and have the greatest night of our lives because we are legally able to drink without our parents taking our cellphones or cars. Anna’s birthday was first, December eleventh, and she was really, I mean reallllly excited to be twenty-one. I’m not exactly sure why thinking back on it now, I suppose just because she could go buy a six-pack whenever she wanted and was no longer terrified of the Kum and Go worker telling her she looked nothing like a 24 year-old Rebecca, with blonde hair like her ID said. That, and the fact that Anna had the height of a sixth grader and would still get ID’d for cigarettes at age twenty, both caused her to be even more excited for her birthday than the average college student. I, who has always looked older than my age (mostly because of my height), was always excited, but never really over-the-top like Anna. At age seventeen, most people assumed I was around twenty-ish and it just went up from there. Luckily, I have remained looking twenty-one for the past couple years, and I’m praying it will stay this way the rest of my life. Wishful thinking. Anyway, Anna had enough excitement for the both of us. She was more excited for my twenty-first birthday than I was. We would set all of these plans, Anna would write out timed itineraries for our celebrations, where we were going to be when, and she was researching our girls weekend in Vegas before we were even out of high-school.
Our twenty-first birthdays were nothing like we planned. The itinerary was bologna. On Anna’s twenty-first birthday, we hadn’t factored in the fact that I was taking a final exam and had three more left to take that week, while her college was already out. We didn’t factor in the fact that Anna was a recovering addict, and couldn’t drink anyway. We didn’t expect Anna to no longer have the jeep that we had spent countless days driving around blaring music in quiet neighborhoods for no reason. We didn’t realize our lives would have made such a sharp turn. That wasn’t the plan. It was all ruined, and I didn’t even get to see Anna on her birthday. All I could do was send her a, “OMGGGG HAPPY 21ST BIRTHDAY BEST FRRRRAN! TAKE A SHOT FOR MEEEE! And call me when you’re drunk later! Lolz. Love you babbbyyy” text at midnight while I was cramming for my exams at the library. That wasn’t the plan.
But, God had a different plan. He needed Anna to come home before my twenty-first birthday even happened.
I spent my twenty-first birthday in Iowa City with some of my dearest friends, all who know what I’m going through, and they showed me the best time I could have asked for! I mean, I got two free meals that day.. they know the key to my heart, what more could a girl ask for?! Well, okay, yes, I could ask for my best friend, and I often do, but that just isn’t going to happen. I did enjoy my birthday, but in the back of my head I kept thinking back to my birthday itinerary and it was all wrong. It’s little things that pop up in my head all the time reminding me of what I think it should be and what God’s plan really is. I still drove over to Anna’s on Sunday, just like my itinerary said, except this time it was just Carla and I. Carla got me a gift, including Anna’s Chapstick egg that she had signed, so I knew Anna was still there, but it just seemed like something was missing.
It will feel that way for all of the days to come, especially the milestones Anna and I had already planned out, but somehow there is always a comfort around me knowing that change happens, Anna is still popping up around me, and it’s up to me to figure out why my life doesn’t match our itinerary- what I’m supposed to do with the life I do still have on Earth, knowing that it’s not going to match the plan I had all along… and that’s okay.
With as much research, books, and articles I have read, I still don’t understand the drug. I don’t understand addiction, because I have not been faced with the disease. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are a completely different addiction than a drug addiction. A drug addiction is completely different from a heroin addiction. From speaking with other addicts, listening to Carla tell me how badly Anna hated her addiction, I have come to understand one thing- heroin is not just a mental addiction. It is a physical addiction. Someone trying to quit smoking after smoking for 15 years is typically going to be very irritable, annoyed, uncomfortable, and distracted. Someone who is addicted to heroin and hasn’t had their hit for the day- can’t get out of bed, can’t eat, can’t function. Even if they wanted to move, if they were hungry, if they wanted to go lay on the couch instead of bed- they physically can not do anything without the drug. It’s not a little voice in their brain or a little itch on their leg that they can just block out and keep living normally. The receptors in their brain have been re-formed and their neurotransmitters have created new pathways that will not allow their body to preform without first having the drug. They no longer have the same pathways as you and me. They have a whole new way of thinking, after just one hit.
Part of rehabilitation process is attempting to once again, create more new pathways, so that the body no longer has to function with drug. It is always a constant battle for someone with a previous heroin addiction. For the rest of their lives, they will be labeled as ‘an addict in recovery.’ Heroin addiction is so strong that every single day is a constant fight against the neurotransmitters in their brain. How many of you are strong enough to over come the thoughts about your financial stress, problems at work, the things you forgot on your to-do list that keep you up for hours when you’re trying to fall asleep? Imagine those thoughts, times ten, every second of the day. That is what an addict in recovery is going through. Eventually, these thoughts become less and less, until something triggers the old pathway in their brain to light up. There they are again, trying to fight back against their brain. Can you imagine? Can you imagine what they are going through? I don’t care if they chose to shoot up in the beginning- they did not chose to be living a constant battle, every day, against the most powerful thing on this earth: their own brain. Honestly, (before learning more about it) I would think that if I were to do it one time- I would be able to fight the urge to do it again. I’m strong enough to fight back. Yeah, well, that is how I think before my normal brain pathways are completely reconfigured. The brain I have now is not the brain I would have after using heroin.
Stop looking at addicts like it’s their own fault they got there. Stop judging them by what you think you know. You don’t know. You know nothing. Many addicts in recovery are one hundred times stronger than you will ever be. Stop treating them as worthless people. They were just like you- until a monster took over everything they have ever known. Yes, it was their choice to use, but the consequences were not their fault. That is the world we live in that offered them the drug in the first place, us doing nothing to get these drugs off the streets, the rest of us treating them scum, doing nothing to help them, and watching them suffer a battle that none of us could ever fight ourselves.
Brian, Anna’s uncle, shared with me what a previous addicted shared with him:
What do you do when you really have to pee? You hold it.
What do you do when you’ve held it for 3 hours and you can’t hold it anymore? You pee yourself.
That’s what a heroin addiction is. It becomes an involuntary bodily function. They hold back from using as long as possible, but there comes a point when they can’t hold it anymore. The addiction takes over their brain and it is no longer their choice, they can’t fight it any longer.
I truly believe that is why God gave me Anna. I was a very judgmental person to drugs and addicts before Anna’s death. Anna never told me about her addiction because she knew I would freak out and start running in circles like a chicken with it’s head cut off without a clue on what I was supposed to do. I would have probably laughed and prayed that she was joking.. and then poop myself because of the fact that my best friend is driving me around in her jeep high on heroin. I don’t associate with heroin- how could this happen to me? Anna’s two best friends are criminology majors in college- how is she addicted to heroin, doesn’t she know better? I was just like everyone else who has never known what an addict goes through. I believe part of the reason God gave me Anna, the most beautiful person I have ever known, was to show me the truth- and so I can share that truth with the rest of the world, to give a bigger inspiration to follow my criminology track and fight back against the jerks selling this crap. People can be so ignorant and heartless. Until you walk a mile in their shoes, shut your mouth- shame on you. You don’t know. You don’t want to know.
Throughout my life I will have times of strong faith in God, times of weak faith, and times of complete doubts, so I am absolutely not one to be preaching. However, this time is different. Some of you will understand when I ask- have you ever gotten that feeling after someone passes that their whole life was planned out for an exact reason? Like the time they told you to “live a little,” and put your convertible top down in 36 degree weather- was actually a sign that life would eventually be taken too short? That the only way any of the things that can be happening around you is because God is continuing to put them there, at exactly the right time, exactly when you need it, without anyone else even knowing?
Thinking back on Anna’s life.. It’s crazy how many things have happened since she passed that prove to me she is with God in Heaven, but that her time here was done for a reason and God had a plan the entire time, and we never even noticed it.
After sorting through 81 entries on Anna’s obituary guestbook I finally found the one I was looking for:
“I am a total stranger to Anna and her family, and have no knowledge of the circumstances of her death. Her obituary in the Des Moines Register just happened to catch my eye. What an eloquent, beautiful, and moving statement about who was apparently a very special young woman. The fourth and fifth paragraphs of the obituary, which I am taking at face value, describe a person who only comes into our lives once or twice, if we are lucky. Cherish your memories. -Gary Norby”
Even still reading that comment brings tears to my eyes. Mr. Norby is so very right. You really do only meet one or two people in the world with life like Anna. What if this was really the plan all along? What if this is what was supposed to happen, so that Anna’s story can change the world and the way people treat addicts? What if THIS girl starts an epidemic? What if God planned this entire time for Anna’s death and the start of the non-profit, “Anna’s Warriors,” to change drug rehabilitation completely? What if, ten years from now, our world is completely different, because God sent us this little earth bound Angel. I mean, that is why I’m here, writing this, because God sends Anna to me (in various ways- yelling at me in my head, dropping lighters everywhere, speaking to me in my dreams about who’s 3 weeks pregnant and they still don’t know yet…) to tell me whatever she wants, and this time- she told me to write this blog, to share her story and my story of losing a beautiful best friend to a heroin overdose. Although she also told me this blog was going to explode, and everyone would hear my story (she went as far as showing me a picture in a dream of ME on the today show, sharing her story) and that this would somehow turn into a world wide publicized thing– I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. If ONE person hears Anna’s story, makes a difference, or changes the way they look at people- I can rest happily.
The first time I met Miss Anna was in fourth grade. I was new to school, and I still remember Abi, Sarah, Anna, Stephanie as the ‘popular girls’ in the class. I knew no one, but they were all very welcoming on my first day of school. I have always seen myself as easy to get along with, but in fourth grade at a new school, it is very intimidating to talk to anyone. Anna always had the cool new shoes, the best outfits, and was the most fun to be around. Her and Sarah were allowed to walk home every day BY THEMSELVES, while I had to wait in line for the bus. The walkers got out of class five minutes earlier than the bus riders, which was a big deal in fourth grade. Being a ‘walker’ alone made you ten times cooler than the rest of us. One day Sarah invited me to walk home with her– I was on the rise, popularity level skyrocketed in my eight-year-old brain. Since Anna’s house was on the way, Anna walked with us too. I’m pretty sure at that point I was still too scared to say anything other than ‘hi,’ but it didn’t matter because I was a “walker” now- the coolest kid in school. The year continued on, and Sarah invited me to her sleepover birthday party in June, so by now I basically ran the school. I was leaving for camp the next morning, but my parents allowed me to go and my grandfather picked up me at seven am sharp. There were so many girls there that were so cool I didn’t even know what to do with myself. I didn’t have a sleeping bag, so I slept in Sarah’s round chair and she gave me a blanket. Although it was one of the more uncomfortable nights of my life, I will never forget how great it felt to be included.
As fifth grade came around, I was still friends with the same popular girls, and I was still rather socially awkward. One day I got up enough courage to invite Anna to MY house. I don’t remember much about what we did, but I do remember my Mom being very angry with Anna. My Mom worked for my Dad doing his accounting stuff for his business, and she often had papers spread out everywhere. Anna and I were being nine-year-olds and doing whatever we could find possible to annoy my Mother. Anna was fidgeting with my moms papers, and my Mom politely asked her to please not touch the papers. My Mom looked back down at her work, and the next thing she hears is riiiip. Anna had picked up a paper and tore the corner just to see how my Mom reacted. I, personally, thought it was the coolest thing ever because I could never disappoint my Mother like that, so in my mind Anna had just got even cooler than cool. However, Mom didn’t agree and decided it was time for Anna to go home IMMEDIATELY. One of the things I had admired about Anna all eleven years of our friendship was the fact that she could care less what people thought of her. She would do what she wanted to do, and if someone didn’t like it- screw them.
On the drive home, Anna was supposed to be giving my Mom directions to her house. (This was way back before GPS, kids.) Anna didn’t always know where she was or what was going on around her, she was very easily distracted. I’m laughing while typing that sentence because of the fact that it is so true, and completely hilarious to watch Anna try to focus on anything for more than four seconds. We get to the main road by Anna’s house and my Mom is still very angry about her torn paper (cry baby). My Mom asks Anna if she is supposed to turn soon, and Anna replies, “Wait, where are… oh yeah you were supposed to turn back there. My house is back there on the corner.” REALLY? This sent my Mom into freak out, hyperventilating angry mode, and she whipped the car around. Needless to say, my Mother was more than happy to have miss Anna banana out of the car. Anna had no clue my Mom was even upset, and IM’d be about how much fun she had after she had arrived home in one piece.
This is the Anna I knew in the very beginning. The Anna I always knew. The Anna I loved more than myself. I looked up to her in so many ways because of her carefree personality and her love for life. I can not think of a dull moment with Anna around. Just laying in bed with her she would crack some wise joke, and we would be laughing too hard to fall asleep. There is no one that didn’t get along with Anna because she knew life was too short to hold grudges. She would call me yelling at me for telling Rachel about the time Anna wet the bed, claim that she was never telling me anything ever again, and three hours later she’s calling me to come make dinner with her because she was bored. I have never met anyone in my life that could love as much as Anna loved, or bring as much happiness to room as Anna did. From fourth grade and for the rest of my life I will always admire Anna’s spunky attitude, and continue to wish I had just a tad bit of Anna in me somewhere.
Also, my Mother says: that she isn’t as mean as I made her sound, and that she grew to love Anna very much. She got over the torn paper, and eventually came to also admire the way Anna could find fun in every situation and every piece of life. -Mom