I Now Notice The Little Things
Right after I picked Matt up, he told me three of his friends had died of heroin overdoses that week.
Matt is a heroin addict himself.
We sat at a deserted Dunkin’ Donuts and talked.
He asked me several questions but two stuck out immediately and I thought about them long after I dropped him off, nervous about his eleven day stint in detox that would start the following day.
“When did you stop obsessing about drinking?”
“As soon as I started doing the work,” I answered.
That wasn’t good enough.
He wanted a precise answer; as if I could pinpoint the exact moment when alcohol wasn’t the only thing on my mind.
I knew I had to be honest.
So I was.
“It took about a year and a half,” I answered.
The look of disappointment in his eyes was evident but he tried to hide it.
“Matt,” I said. “That’s no one’s fault but my own. Everyone is different. And I waited that long to start the work because I was fucking terrified of taking a look at myself. But one day, after I had been going through the 12 steps, the obsession was just gone. It wasn’t there anymore.”
I shared more, telling him how angry and defiant I had been at the beginning. I told him I was going to meetings but that was the extent of it. I wasn’t taking any of the other suggestions that were offered.
I wanted to scream, “So do the fucking work as soon as you get out of detox!”
But of course I didn’t.
I didn’t want to push him away before he even started.
Then he asked me if I noticed the little things, which surprised the hell out of me.
“Yes.” I said without hesitation. “I notice everything.”
He looked at me with anticipation, like he knew he had been burying his emotions for years and was finally ready to start feeling again. He was finally ready to start being human again.
“Just yesterday, I was sitting at Regina’s,” I said. “My niece was on my lap and most of my family was there too. We were all laughing and talking and I kept smelling my niece’s head. I noticed my stubble scraping her hair and how she felt warm against my chest.
“I noticed the burst of salt and oil on my tongue and the tang of cheese when I took my first bite of pizza. I noticed the six different conversations taking place amongst the eleven of us, trying to catch bits and pieces of each of them but being present and engaged with the ones directed at me. One sister was ecstatic about her new Fit Bit and was showing me all the things it did. My stepmom was showing me pictures of her recent trip to the Florida Keys with my dad. Another sister was feeding my nephews brownies and M&M’s and I couldn’t stop smiling at the mess of chocolate all over his face.
“Yes Matt,” I repeated. “I notice everything. And it’s fucking awesome. All I would have cared about before, sitting in that restaurant, was the pitchers of beer at each of the table and how I’d go to any lengths to get that beer into me, even if it meant ignoring my family and not being present for any of it.”
He started sweating and he was twitching a little in his seat. The next four days would physically be the worst of his life, as the last of the heroin pumping through his veins ran its course.
I’ve known Matt since junior high school but never spent any time with him because we ran in different crowds. He hung out with my younger brother more than he did me.
He’s a very good-looking kid, with huge dimples and a smile that lights up his entire face. He’s articulate too, and very well spoken.
“That’s what I want,” he finally said. “I want to notice the little things again.”
His gaze went vacant a few times as we talked and I knew he was starting to feel sick. But he held on and listened as I shared my story and he told me more of his.
He mentioned that he had been to a meeting last week and was amazed at how many people came up to him and introduced themselves. He said he felt safe and cared for, even though he didn’t know them.
He talked a lot about guilt, about how he had put his fiancee through hell and how it was impossible for her to trust him. He even said he felt guilty that he couldn’t go back to that meeting the next night because he’d be in detox. He said he promised a few people there that he’d definitely be back.
“They’ll understand Matt. They’ve been there.” I said. “You need to focus on you now.”
Before I drove him home he told me he didn’t understand why he couldn’t stop on his own, that he had tried a thousand times and that he was basically a good guy, but he did bad things.
“Me too,” I said. “We’re all good people Matt. We’re not us when we’re in the midst of addiction. It’s the addiction and whatever substance we put in our bodies that causes us to act the way we do.”
I could tell he was trying to fight it. He was trying to analyze why no human power could overcome addiction.
I had done the same thing for years.
The conversation came full circle when we talked about all the people we knew who had overdosed and died because of drugs and alcohol.
“Jay,” he said. “It’s not a question of if I overdose if I keep using. It’s a question a when.”
“I know.” I said. “That’s why you need help. And you did the right thing by reaching out.”
As we pulled up to his house, he leaned over, hugged me tightly and thanked me.
“A year from now,” I said. “When you’re up at the podium, getting your one year medallion, you can thank me by reaching your hand out to someone else who needs help. That’ll be all the thanks I ever need. It’ll also be the one thing that helps keep us sober more than anything else; helping another addict.
He looked a little confused as he got out and turned back to me through the open window.
“You’re helping keep me sober as much as I’m helping you,” I said. “Doesn’t matter how much time I have. What matters is that we can relate and identify with each other. I know I’m not alone in this exhausting fucking battle, a battle we have to fight every day.
“And that my friend, is a blessing.”
Jay Keefe Director of Happiness and staff writer at The Addictions Academy
National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer
Published Author of “And Drink I Did”
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