A few weeks ago, I got a call from an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. We’ll call him Tommy.
Tommy and I were great friends in high school—we went to the same youth group, I gave him rides home from school, we burned eachother CDs. We had one other friend in our posse, Billy, who had been my best friend since preschool. Tommy had the same kind of goofy sense of humor and love of punk rock that we did, so when he showed up at Sunday school in junior high, he fit right in.
The three of us were inseparable.
Until Tommy and Billy started smoking weed together.
I was always a pretty clean-cut kid...spiked hair and ripped jeans aside. I never had any interest in chemically enhancing my experience of the world. All through high school, I never took a drag of a cigarette, drank a drop of booze, or popped a pill (that I wasn’t prescribed to. Serious ADD over here).
But Tommy and Billy didn’t have the same hang ups. And since my teetotalism was well known, they tried to hide it from me.
It took Billy years to admit to me that he even smoked. I found a pack of cigarettes in his car once. He said they were Tommy’s. I told him I would rather have his honesty than his sobriety.
Slowly, they let me glimpse into the depths of their recreation. One day, hanging out in Tommy’s basement out of college, they showed me a pill encyclopedia they had bought. One of them would pick a combination of pills, and the other would consult the book to see if it would be fatal. If not, they’d throw them down the hatch and see what happens.
Over time, they got bored of this game and moved to harder stuff. As they got deeper, we drifted further and further apart.
I fought to keep Billy in my life. I’d go to his shows, invite him over to play video games or listen to records. I asked him to stand in my wedding. After the rehearsal dinner, he told me tearfully that he wanted to get clean—a process that would take five years. This past fall, I officiated his.
But Tommy’s a different story. He and Billy had a falling out. He treated me with a polite friendliness when we saw eachother. He was impossible to get ahold of, and he flaked out of most plans even when they were made.
So when he called me, it was a surprise. At least, it was more surprising than the life update he gave me: he had just gotten out of prison. After the falling out, he had developed a heroin habit, which he supported with a theft habit. After he was arrested for transporting stolen guns across state lines, his luck had finally run out.
As far as my expectations for Tommy were concerned, this was a best case scenario.
But the best part of it was that he reached out to me. For the last fifteen years, he’s shied away from me, knowing that I didn’t approve of what he was doing to himself, not wanting to put himself in a place where I could lecture him.
And true, I didn’t like his drug use. I never wanted to see him succumb to addiction. But I understand how difficult recovery is. I know that kindness, not judgment, is the best way to help a friend who is struggling.
And as he readjusts to life as a free man, relearns how to live without the drugs, and reconnects with friends (I’m not the only friend he’s reached out to), I know that his is a difficult road ahead.
But if he’ll have me along, I’ll be with him.