Loving a drug addict is like hugging a cactus.
It hurts, and you hate it, then it blooms and the beauty of it shakes you. You don’t see the needles because the flower is so lovely, and, inevitably, you embrace it again.
I have loved an addict or two or three for the majority of my life. I’ve watched bodies waste away, change, crumble. I’ve seen eyes dark and sad, I’ve listened to the gritty sounds of detox, felt the tears of regret, hot and liquid that fall from their eyes.
I have screamed – cried tears of anger and pain, the begging, gut-wrenching pleading of my heart, the cactus loving addict hugger. I’ve hated them with a ferocity that can only be known to someone who loves an addict. With my hatred-love came the sinking, undeniable realization, that beneath the addict, is a person.
An actual, warm-blooded, living and breathing, person. Beneath the addict is someone’s child, husband, mother. Beneath the addict is a person with hopes and dreams, someone who is simply bound by an illness that too often feels so powerful, they can’t overcome it.
Beneath both the needle scars and the invisible ones, lies someone who was once a small child. That person was a pastor’s kid, a governor’s wife. That cactus was a minister themselves. Addiction sees no race, gender, or background. It cares not about one’s press page or list of achievements or Golden Globes. No, it sees only a person with a willingness to try.
In the midst of watching the addicts I love continue to choose their drug over me, in the throes of grief and pain, I would raise my hands to the heavens and cry out, “Why, why, why?”. Why won’t they change, why can’t they see, how do I fix them?
And in doing so I came to the finality of the situation: I too was an addict, for I had fallen victim to the desire to try and save them. It consumed me, the lies and manipulation, the wondering, and second-guessing. I became a slave to their addiction, and in doing so, found myself dark and gritty. Aching deep inside, for answers, for help, for recovery. For one more chance, for one more try. As it turns out, there’s a bit of cactus in us all.
You see, it took a long time, many years, to finally emerge from the place of salvation-giver. It isn’t up to me. I’m not the fixer of lives, I don’t heal addiction, I can’t, it’s not in my power. What is in my power? To love. To water the cactus. To remember and open my eyes to see what and who lives beneath the cloak of addiction.
Often times the wounds they leave us with in the wake of their choices are gaping, oozing. They hurt, with the pain of something that’s ripped open time and time again. The cactus deceives us with her flowers of red and magenta, and we hug again.
I believe that is the beauty in it, the flora. I believe if we can find it in ourselves to see the bloom, it’s quite possible that more addicts find their way. Too many are lost, too many are gone. Addiction claims the lives of our mothers and brothers and friends and children, each, and every, day.
I am no stranger to it. I am however, someone who once hated the cactus, every stage of it, but now, it has become something I choose to see as beautiful. I see the cactus plant with potential, with life.
If loving an addict is like hugging a cactus, I’ll bleed until the end of time.
This article originally appeared at AngieWarren.com.