This post was originally published on July 25, 2014.
Having had a fair share of super close girlfriends who felt more like family than friends over the years—a few of whom shared a love for altered states—I read this sad Atlantic essay with interest. In it, writer Julie Buntin recounts the dissolution of her relationship with her high school best friend, Lea. Her recollections of those unforgettable, traumatic and exciting years full of getting fucked up and doing ridiculous, exciting, shitty things ring so true.
As she writes, “Together we did things we’d never do alone, like skinny-dip in Lake Michigan while rolling on Ecstasy. In summer, our sleepovers lasted weeks. At 1 a.m., we’d sneak out and trudge through the woods to a field, where we smoked cigarettes and got blackout drunk on wine stolen from our mothers.” ZOMG yep, all of that could have been me. Or us, rather.
Destruction through the Lens of Social Media
Buntin goes on to write about the guilt and confusion she felt watching Lea’s life seem to fall apart post-college. Julie, on the other hand, was doing well—she’d moved to New York and segued fairly seamlessly into a reasonably adult normal life. Throughout all of this, though, Julie is following her old friend’s life on Facebook, and finding herself increasingly disturbed by what she sees there.
To Julie, it seems like Lea is falling down the inescapable spiral of drug use and abuse, as she loses tons of weight, grows gaunt and writes rambling and non-sensical status updates. Though Julie still cares about her old friend, she doesn’t know what to do to help her. Plus, Julie’s life is busy and active enough that she’s distracted from constantly worrying about Lea. So she doesn’t do anything, which she kicks herself for after Lea dies from liver failure at the strikingly young age of 22.
Reaching out before It’s Too Late
Buntin’s essay makes the long-term consequences of drinking and drugging feel intimate, personal and raw, hammering home the idea that it’s not always easy or predictable to tell which friends will go one way and which the other. Julie wonders why she survived and Lea didn’t; how she managed to outrun her demons while her friend stagnated in them. It’s a good question, and though I haven’t personally lost any close friends to alcohol or addiction, I’ve definitely experienced the fear, alarm and guilt of watching someone who seems hell-bent on self-destruction. It’s ridiculously exhausting painful to watch—and it’s almost impossible to know how to help, what to do. Hopefully Buntin’s essay will help encourage at least one person to reach out to one of those lost friends before they face a tragedy like Lea’s.