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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

I Love An Addict

Rocks, acrylic on cardboard, 2000

My dear friend, Joel (not his real name) is sober 41 days. There is a purity in his voice, a direct line to his raw-meat heart, free of nuance or subtext. Hearing this pure voice is like watching my sleeping 4-year old. Knee-bucklingly beautiful.

In a recent rehab group discussion, Joel was asked,” Who Are You?” He told me he could not answer, because he truly does not know who he is. Joel has spent his whole life running away from who he is. Ironically, who he is is a dashing, charming, athletic, 30-something gentleman. An inquistor. An adventurer. A six-figure bread-winner. A husband and a father. Everyone loves Joel … except Joel.

I asked myself the same seemingly obvious question, “Who am I?”

I found it harder than I thought to answer. I know what I am. I am a man. I am a father. A son. A creator. I am kind. I am lazy. I am sensual. I am impatient. I am clever. But what does that all add up to? I am not sure who I am, because I am so many things. Or am I merely one thing? What I wish to be is a professional author. A full-time artist. A philanthropist. And, most importantly, as radically honest and connected as Joel was on the phone. He told me straight up, “I am an addict. I cannot take just one drink. I cannot take just one pill. I cannot snort just one line. That is who I am.” He also heard each word that I said. He really listened.

Joel currently stays in a halfway house he shares with 12 junkies. Whatever he has done in his lowest most desperate moments, someone there has done worse. Everyone has hit bottom and is bouncing skyward in the hope that their wings still function. “My whole life I have felt like an alien. For the first time, I feel like I am home,” he told me. “I am with people like me. And it feels so good.”

Joel is fighting with his bare fists to save all that he has: his marriage, his children, his career, his dignity. And he is winning, one punch at a time. But he knows it is only the early rounds. Still, Joel humbles me with his tenacity. He is naked before the world with nothing to hide behind but his courage and resolve.

As this new year begins, I hope we can each fight with the same ferocity for all that we hope to become.

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