It happens in the best families. You need something for severe pain and obtain a prescription for a strong opiate from a well-meaning doctor. The painkiller eases the symptoms – and then so much more, until you actually start to crave not only the absence of pain, but the accompanying sense of euphoria.
Soon you need more. And then more.
It gets to the point where you can no longer hide your cravings and don’t even care. That’s when the people who love you envision you shuffling around like a zombie and thinking only about your next fix. They see you in the gutter, a needle in your arm, your eyes rolled back. So they intervene.
The following is the actual transcript from an intervention I conducted with a loved one. It’s gut wrenching and heartbreaking. But it’s important.
LOVED ONE: [Opening the door] Hey, Grump! Whatcha doin’ here? Thought ya had to be off writin’ one a yer columns.
GRUMPY OLD MAN: We need to talk. Can we sit down?
LO: Sure! Wanna hitta somethin’?
GOM: No. Let’s talk. It’s important.
LO: Uh, okay. Lemme just pop one a these.
[He puts in his mouth a white pill stamped US Assistance.]
GOM: [Frowning] Look at you. You have no control over yourself. You have problems. Huge problems, and not just with those pills. You should be solving those problems. Instead, you sit inside all day thinking they’ll go away with just one more fix.
LO: [Belligerent] Who’re you to tell me what my problems are! Ya think I don’t agonize over this every day? Ya know what withdrawal’s like? I feel it every morning! It hurts. It hurts like a chainsaw in the brain, like snakes tryin’ to eat their way outta my belly! Whadda you know?
[He scowls and pops another pill.]
GOM: Let’s go back to the beginning, to where it all started. Maybe that will help us find a way out.
LO: You know where it all started! Read the history books! It started with the little stuff. Kennedy and those Hawks, Johnson and those Pattons and Skyhawks. Soon, it was Phantoms, those big, loud, smoky mothers that made ya feel like you were on toppa the world. (Man, it was unreal! Primo! The ultimate high!) But then I wanted more. Ya always want more. And it came in 1973. I was really hurtin’. It was bad. I coulda been dead just from the pain. But Nixon came through. And then he started frontin’ me the stuff! No more cash payments. Pay later. High interest. But hey, who feels it? And then... then it was freebies, man! The guys who came after him practically started shovin’ it in my direction, sayin’ things like “outpost of liberty” and “bulwark against terrorism,” things like that. Ya know what that can do to ya? Do ya? Nah. You never had people comin’ atcha from every direction to kill ya. Expulsions! Pogroms! Gas chambers! And the nut jobs are still out there! I’m not bein’ paranoid, I tell ya. They’re out there! Those ayatollahs? As bad as Hitler! Maybe worse! Worse!
GOM: We all know that. The things you mention were real and remain real, and we all have to face up to it. But look at you – this is no way to go about it. We love you! We care for you! We...
LO: [Screaming] Don’t gimme that crap! No one loves me! The whole world hates me! The whole world wants me gone! Why? Why, dammit?
[He breaks into sobs. I rise, go over to him, sit down and gather him in my arms. Tears come. He hugs me back. And then the tears come in a heaving torrent.]
GOM: There, there. I’m with you. A lot of us are with you. We believe you. You’re not imagining these things. There are bad people who want to hurt you. But you have to be strong, you have to be clearheaded, you have to be in control of yourself because there are other problems you can’t ignore. There are the ayatollahs and Islamic State. But there are problems much closer to home, too. Like your next-door neighbors. There’s noise. There are bricks and knives flying, and much, much worse. I know the wall helps, but it’s not airtight. And Officers Kerry and Ban show up every other day. You can’t ignore this anymore.
LO: [Still sniffling, but now more relaxed] What can I do? Do you know what those neighbors of mine teach their kids? It’s absolutely outrageous! I can make some gestures, maybe paint the wall, make it nicer for them. But some of my friends? They say they’ll never talk to me again. They dislike my neighbors more than I do. And you know, someone like me, I need friends. I don’t want to be alone.
GOM: You’re not alone. And as for those “friends,” they’re not really friends. They’re just around for the handouts. Money. Jobs. Believe me.
LO: [Straightening up] You’re right. I’ve got to pull myself together. And I can do it. I’m a start-up guy! I’ve got brains! I’ve got resources! And people love me! [He raises his head] Yes, I can do it!
[Loved One’s phone rings. He notices the number. It’s a Washington area code. He answers.]
LO: Listen up! I’m getting my act together! I don’t need your stuff anymore! I... I… How much? Thirty-eight billion dollars over 10 years? Ummm... maybe you could find a little more? ... I’d have to what? ... Well, I guess $38 bees should be enough. Actually, it sounds, ya know, pretty good. Really good! Thanks, bro! See ya real soon!
[He hangs up, smiles and slowly looks back at me. His eyes are once again glazed.]
LO: Uh, what were we talkin’ about, man?
[I get up and leave. Some interventions require rope and a padded room.]