CW: Addiction, Grief, Co-Dependency
Two months ago my ex boyfriend died.
We were together for four tumultuous years, but it was never just the two of us. Addiction, like a thick smog, filled every gap, dictated our future and framed our history. Every now and then it seemed as though the skies might clear, like the path to happiness might be easier to pick out amongst the thicket, a thicket made up of used needles, mental health problems and co-dependency. That’s a pretty brutal combination of things to gingerly pick your way through. You’re definitely going to scratch up your ankles. But we were in love, and I felt duty bound to protect him, to help him to get better so we could finally be happy and live real human lives. I told myself “If I leave him, he’ll die”, all the while I was bleeding out over my family and rapidly dwindling friends. It took some awful, scary, painful years for me to realise that our relationship was made up of two people who were unwittingly facilitating a slow burn suicide pact.
Leaving an addict feels like leaving a puppy in a house fire. Addiction is a disease, it’s a force that can’t be cured by love no more than well wishes can quell a flame. If a person succumbs to their disease, the responsibility does not fall to the victims left behind, stood in the ashes of memories and regrets. I’m only 25 and already know so many ghosts, lost through overdose, lost to a brain and body they couldn’t trust. When you lose someone to addiction there’s enough guilt and trauma to shoulder without being reminded of it by other people who didn’t know the ins and outs your relationship.
The death of Mac Miller, a 26 year old who had a huge future ahead of him, is tragic. The death of any young person is tragic and enough to shake the public consciousness. I don’t profess to know his music well, I only knew a couple of his songs and won’t claim to have been impacted by his death any more than I was. I just saw it a desperately sad situation, I was angry that this disease keeps claiming so many people. I felt for those in his life. I watched his Tiny Desk Concert and saw what a positive thing he left for the world, despite the sad way he left it. I hoped that his fans could find solace in what he left behind.
A few hours later I began to see reports of his ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande being abused by trolls on Instagram. They were telling her that this was all her fault. That she could have kept him alive, with her love and presence. These Miller fans were angry and sad. Hurt people hurt people, this we already know. But these trolls were directing their grief-struck vitriol towards one of the people who was hurting the most. I can’t know what Grande is feeling, I don’t know her memories, we don’t share the same head. But we have experiences a similar loss, one that is complicated and strange and difficult to grieve. She’ll never read this blog, but I wish her the best in processing and healing. I wish you, reader, the best if you have also been bereaved through addiction. It’s the ultimate headfuck. I’m really sorry that this has become part of your life. I hope you’re okay.
The online reaction has made it clear that we need to educate more on addiction and co-dependency. We need to change this narrative of love as the antidote to illness. We need to discuss the nature of addiction, how to spot and combat it. The language of dependence needs to be adapted, improved upon, de-stigmatised. We need to stop losing people to this. We need to stop blaming survivors for leaving. The truth is that for co-dependent couples, remaining in a relationship, protecting your partner from the danger and consequences of their drug/alcohol/anything abuse is enabling the addict to keep using. All the good will in the world can’t quell a flame.