This post was originally published on November 3, 2014.
I have a friend who is a drug addict. That label means different things to different people but if you are picturing a gaunt, pale, cotton-mouthed, sore-ridden, strung out shell of a human who is constantly pacing and itching their forearms then you probably watch too much Law & Order. My drug addict friend is a 47-year-old man who has a good job and a nice apartment in San Francisco’s trendy district of North Beach. From the looks of it, he probably seems like he has his shit together (at least if you ignore his well-advertised dedication to Burning Man). But his shit is far from together. For the last 17 years, I have watched my friend’s once relatively normal life slowly but unmistakably deteriorate as a result of his addictions and the arrested development that goes along with it.
For the sake of this piece, let’s call my friend Geoff—that is not his name but even if it were, he would never spell it that way. Geoff isn’t complicated, he is the epitome of straight-laced; at least he was when I met him back in 1997. He wasn’t a square or a goody two-shoes. Geoff may have worn classic cut, mass-produced and commercially faded Gap jeans, belted, with a pastel hued button-down shirt every day—even when he moonlighted as a club DJ on the weekends—but he loved the nightlife scene. He loved dance music and he loved, loved, loved to drink. Geoff was pretty much your run-of-the-mill good Catholic suburban Boston boy—a collared shirt, a good education and a drinking problem.
I met Geoff when I was waitressing at a nightclub in downtown Boston and he was the house DJ. I liked him immediately because he was kind and we shared the same kind of judgmental and self-deprecating sense of humor. It wasn’t long before we were sleeping together and when you start having regular sex with a nice guy, it’s called dating.
Geoff and I dated for about two months before it started getting weird in that way that alcoholic relationships get weird. When partying is the priority, your life becomes a series of long nights made up of drinking, drama and fried clam plates at 3 am (well, that is how it is in Boston anyways). We often faced problems like erectile dysfunction, passing out drunk during sex or puking and peeing on each other—you know, true alcoholic intimacy.
At the time I was involved with Geoff, I was not only drinking a lot but also into coke and ecstasy—drugs I was always trying to get him to do it with me. He vehemently refused.
When we broke up, Geoff and I immediately became friends because he is Catholic and strongly believes in suffering. In 2000, a year after I moved to LA, Geoff decided to move to San Francisco and our relationship was great. We often drove back and forth between cities to hang out and party together. Shortly thereafter, my best friend from high school also moved out to the Bay Area and it became a fun little threesome every time I went to visit. Geoff is a good person—very kind and thoughtful and a good friend. At least he was back then.
But the move to San Francisco changed him. It was subtle at first but as time went on, it because clear that moving 3,000 miles away from his family finally allowed Geoff to feel free. At 32, Geoff was going through what most of us went through at 18—the fuck-it-I-am-going-to-do-whatever-I-want-with-whoever-I-want phase—and he started experimenting with coke and ecstasy and other club drugs. As I was hitting my final alcoholic bottom in 2003, and crawling into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, Geoff was just beginning his journey towards addiction. By the time I came up to visit again, I was sober and Geoff was off to the races with his partying.
In 2008, I was five years sober and drove up to attend Geoff’s 40th birthday. The party was—excuse my judgment—a freak show. Not in a Jim Rose Circus kind of way (that would have been cool) but in a room full of zombies from The Walking Dead kind of way. Geoff’s clean cut drinking buddies of yesteryear had long since distanced themselves from what had clearly become a life of mass self-destruction. By this time, Geoff had discovered Burning Man and took to it like cherry-flavored oxygen. It was almost no time before he was merging his Black Rock City life with his real-world San Francisco life. He quit his job, cashed out his 401k and bummed around Europe for a year. While this could be construed as an admirable indulgence of one’s inner artist, it’s hard to indulge anything artistic when you are indulging your liver with booze and heavy narcotics. My guess is that Geoff’s only memories from his time in Europe are what he now sees in pictures.
Over the last six years, my friendship with Geoff has all but evaporated. My best friend in the Bay Area also gave up on trying to maintain a friendship with Geoff after he cancelled plans with her five times. But I don’t blame him for not wanting to see her—she is settled in a great job and a happy relationship, just bought a condo and is starting her own business. I can imagine that a man nearing 50 who is still treading water in his own life—almost choking on gulps of it from time to time—would have a hard time relating to her.
Two years ago, I went to a party and Paul Oakenfold was the DJ. If you don’t know who that is, chances are you were born when George Bush Sr. was in office. This was a huge deal for me—a club kid from the 90s—and I knew Geoff would be blown away that I met him. I got someone to take a picture of us together and I texted it to Geoff with a caption that said “Look who I am going to fuck tonight.”
I didn’t fuck Paul Oakenfold that night. I also didn’t hear back from Geoff. A couple of days later, I texted him again to make sure he got my epic photo but he still didn’t respond. When you have a friend who has a strong affinity for drugs, it can be alarming when they go incommunicado. Just to be safe, I decided to go retro and call him but even a pseudo-panicked voicemail didn’t generate a return call, text, email or even Facebook message. I started to get really worried and called a few of our mutual friends to see if they had heard anything from him recently. What I learned is that none of Geoff’s quasi-normal, of-this-earth friends had heard from Geoff in about six months. They all reported versions of the same story—that Geoff had canceled plans or not returned their calls and they had given up. Being an addict and a defacto isolator myself, I knew what was going on and it made me sad but I also knew there wasn’t a goddamn thing I could do about it.
I contemplated calling the police but I didn’t even know where Geoff was living or working at the time. I chalked the whole thing up to being collateral damage of his drug use and hoped the next time I heard from him, he would be reaching out for help. That was June of 2012.
I finally heard from Geoff again—last week—and it was the first time in over two years. The tone of his message was not surprising: light and ignorant. He managed to get out one sentence about how it had “been too long” before launching into the real reason he was messaging me on Facebook (a method of communication that should be reserved for people who don’t have your cell phone number or email address). He wanted to hook me up with a friend of his from San Francisco—no doubt a member of his Burning Man family—who produces a live show that is coming to LA and wanted to see if I might want to be part of it.
This might have appeared to be a thoughtful gesture but when I hadn’t responded eight-and-a-half hours later, he sent another message—this time going off on me about how rude I am, how I have clearly decided to cut him out of my life because I am sober and he isn’t, and how I should at least have the balls to give him a reason (failing to point out he had just spelled out the reason, apparently). His tone was aggressive, hostile and defensive, despite the fact that I hadn’t attacked him in any way. I had to laugh—or rather scoff—at the kind of thought process that could ever justify his two-and-a-half year late response as not being a factor in my eight-and-a-half hour delayed one.
But the truth is, I wasn’t ever going to respond. When I saw the message, I figuratively rolled my eyes. It wasn’t the content that bothered me—I am sure his friend and her show are great—but his audacity to reach out to me so casually after all this time. I know what he is—an active alcoholic and drug addict who is so self-involved he doesn’t even know anything exists beyond his own selfish needs and interests. I understand what it’s like to feel that way, to be that oblivious, and I have made amends to most (okay, some) of the people who were affected by my self-centered, alcoholic behavior. But that is only because I got sober and did the steps, which taught me how to see myself in a clearer light.
I don’t blame Geoff for his crappy behavior and lack of concern for others—I know it’s a part of his disease—but that doesn’t mean I need to have Geoff in my life in any capacity. As far as I am concerned, Geoff and I are no longer friends. At best, we are two people who used to be friends and as a grown up with a full and busy life, I reserve the limited time I have to return Facebook messages for people who are actually my friends—well as much as people who are using Facebook to communicate with me are friends, anyway.
While my friendship with Geoff hasn’t led to any major drama—crashed cars, bail money, unpaid loans, betrayal—our slow demise is one of the more subtle yet cunning ways addiction destroys relationships. I don’t take Geoff’s abandonment of our friendship personally; there just isn’t that much for us to connect on anymore. Still, I am sad to see how sick he is and continues to get as he allows his alcoholism and “manageable” drug addiction to call all the shots in his life.
Another one, alas, bites the dust.