I was in bed, half-awake, on Sunday morning when I found out that Cory Monteith, one of the lead actors on “Glee,” had died suddenly of an apparent drug overdose the day before. Monteith was never a celebrity that I would have expected to die at 31. Even though I knew he had struggled with drug addiction and done several stints in rehab, he didn’t have that reputation for reckless living like Lindsay Lohan or Justin Bieber do.
Julie had the presence of mind to throw up a quick post on The Frisky. But my thoughts were firmly fixated on the actor’s family and friends and his girlfriend, “Glee” co-star Lea Michele. I kept thinking about Michele, who was apparently vacationing in Mexico when her boyfriend died in a hotel room in Vancouver, getting that phone call telling her Monteith had died.
I forgot about how I personally find Lea Michele really annoying and have never, ever wanted to see a movie she is in or read a magazine interview with her. But in that moment, I felt for her. I really felt for her. Because I have been waiting for that same phone call my entire life.
I don’t know much about Cory Monteith other than reading some gossip blogs about his and Michele’s relationship and watching him on “Glee.” But if he was anything like most of the addicts that I know, he was an intelligent, sensitive individual who also happened to struggle with some hard shit. Some addicts are the Sent From Central Casting Hot Messes like Lohan, but a lot of them are just funny, quirky people who have a deep, private pain. It would be so much easier if addicts — when they’re using, when they’re sober — were assholes all the time. Then we would all feel justified hating them and cutting them out of our lives. Yet they’re people who love us, care for us, share in our successes, nurse us through our breakups. They’re people we love for a reason.
But loving someone with a substance abuse problem comes with a lot of guilt. Guilt over what you could be doing to help them that you’re not doing, obsessing over what part you may have played in their illness. You worry about their safety and their health, but at the same time you ask yourself, “Why me? Why is this something I have to deal with?” You think about cutting them out of your life. (And maybe you do.) Then you feel bad for them because they didn’t ask to have an addiction problem. Then they do something hurtful to you — lie, behave violently — and the anger and guilt comes roaring back.
Loving someone with a substance abuse problem is like wearing a jacket that isn’t fitting right: you constantly know that something just isn’t how it should be. But it’s jacket-like enough, right? You will spend a lot of time trying to zip up that jacket or shuffle it from side to side so that it feels like it fits. If you’re lucky, at some point you reach a point of resignation and acceptance about your addict. He is who he is and you are who you are because of it. There are a lot of different ways that I conceptualize myself — a writer, a feminist, a sister, a daughter, a friend — and the sister of a drug addict is one of them.
A couple years ago, I had thought my brother was sober forever. But there I was, sitting at my desk at The Frisky, when my mother emailed me to inform me that my brother had checked into rehab yet again. He had been abusing drugs again and hiding it. I was shocked, but not that shocked. She informed me of this news very matter-of-factly; she was proud, I think, that he had sought help. But my not-that-shocked part overwhelmed me; I felt angry and duped and hurt and confused. And I felt all too acutely aware that having to go to rehab is bad, but not as bad as him being dead. Shouldn’t I be happy that he checked into rehab and proud of him for doing so? Then I felt guilty for feeling angry.
Loving someone with a substance abuse problem is living with a sense of never-ending dread that you’re going to get one of these phone calls or emails. Even if the person you love is sober, you know that most addicts struggle throughout their entire lives. Falling off the wagon happens. And since you know you’ll never really be prepared to lose a person that you care about, you’re always just a little bit expecting that it will happen. You’ll be shocked, but not that shocked. I will always be conscious about how I can’t do anything about this jacket on me that just doesn’t fit.
I feel terrible for Cory’s loved ones because I know it wasn’t just his death this weekend that brought them pain. It was the years and years and years of being afraid that this would happen, wondering whether he was really doing OK or whether he was abusing drugs again and hiding it. I recognize the anger, guilt, sadness and confusion which they have already suffered, In a way, their pain has just begun; in another way, some of that pain has come to an end. My thoughts are with Cory’s loved ones wherever they are in their journey.
If you are affected by a person with a substance abuse problem, please know that you are not alone. I have found Al-Anon meetings, which are for friends and family members of alcoholics, very helpful, as well as the work of Melody Beattie, in particular The Language Of Letting Go.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.