They were supposed to never see each other again.
At least that was what reassured me, after detailing her and her boyfriend’s ride-or-die lifestyle, a tumultuous whirlwind built on illicit drugs, beating the alleged system, and living life as hard and as fast as possible. When I first met her, she glamorized their love, confusing chaos for comfort, abuse for intimacy. It was clear that she equally loved and hated both her boyfriend and heroin. She was also addicted to both.
I remember the time she rolled up her sleeves to show me the faint scars left from the time he had pushed her down the stairs. He was high though, she said, with a shrug, It wasn’t intentional.
She was just a small girl from a small town with just a large past and a large heroin problem.
He usually knows how to control his anger, she rationalized, as she dabbed her eyes with tissues. Black eyeliner streaked down her porcelain, blushed cheeks. Instinctively, she pulled out her compact mirror to investigate the damage. At the end of the day, I know he loves me.
She wore makeup to every therapy session. Cried it off every therapy session, too.
This was her first time in rehab, and she was trying as hard as she could to change her life. She participated in groups, asked the tough questions, sought honest feedback, poured her soul out in therapy, and was quickly adopted the AA vernacular. She spoke about resentments and about being of service. She liked meetings, and she liked working the Twelve Steps. She spoke about how good recovery felt, how good living life on life’s terms felt. She started envisioning a future, what it could be like to be a wife or mother, to own a home, to travel.
In all of this, she was finding her voice in a world that discourages addicts from having one. She was also finding courage, and, by the end of treatment, this courage propelled her to break up with her boyfriend and uproot her life from the Midwest to California.
She was so proud of herself.
Months of sustained sobriety passed. Sober living happened. The job happened. Check, check, check. On paper, she was the model woman in early sobriety. She was doing everything that was asked of her and she was doing it with gratitude and joy.
Then, she started talking to the boyfriend. When this first happened, we discussed the risks with thorough and rigorous assessment. I candidly shared my concerns. She responded with optimistically vague comments about just wanting to be friends, about maybe going home to just have some closure, about wanting to help him get into treatment.
And then, it became slightly more consuming, with him promising to get clean, with offhand remarks about a proposal, with the sweet allure of a happily-ever-after hanging over her.
For weeks, she wavered back and forth. He enticed her with a plane ticket back home. He promised to attend couples therapy. He detailed their life together, and how it was going to be different this time.
They say it takes, on average, seven times for a woman to leave an abusive relationship. They also say up to eighty percent of heroin addicts relapse.
She didn’t want to be a statistic, and when we first began working together, she told me that often. Everyone she knew at home was a statistic, and her slight taste of recovery had given her hope that there was an alternative.
She held on for another month. She attended her meetings, sometimes twice a day, called her sponsor every night, worked her job, and met me every week. Every time she spoke about home, she cried. And her eyeliner would run. And she would check it with the compact mirror she always carried. And she would tell me she would see me next week.
And then, there wasn’t a next week.
She had disappeared in the middle of the night. Left a generic voicemail that she was going home just for the weekend. Stated that she had it under control. That it was going to be fine.
You probably know how this story ends. I never saw her or heard from her again.
Small girl from a small town, she had slunk back into she shadows between recovery and everything else, segued back into the life and self she had fought so hard to escape from.
*While this is based on a true story, all reasonable efforts have been made by this writer to protect utmost client confidentiality an safety. Because of this, names and identifying details in this piece have been changed, omitted, and/or embellished.