Mindfully Yours: In Love with a Heroin Addict
By Judith Toy
We were like a litter of pups in the den, Philip and I and our combined four children, his two boys and my two girls, when we first moved together in 1981 into a renovated turn-of-the-century stone school house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Our kids ranged in age from 8 to 14, and at first were like oil and water. I was not used to boys, their musky smell and their incessant motions and vocalizations.
I could see from the start that Jesse was a special child, like an old man in a kid’s body, frighteningly bright and moody. He had a rough go of the divorce and the re-coupling, so that at age eight he was still wetting the bed and pooping in his underwear and hiding it under the bed with shame. It broke my heart when he came to me one day and asked if his mother could move in with us. He and his brother were like two little animals at the dinner table, untrained in how to properly use silverware. They sometimes used their hands to scoop up their food, and I was appalled.
But I was so in love with their father that I did not come back down to earth for three-and-a-half years after the first blush and subsequent marriage. So the problems with Jesse paled in comparison with my love for Philip. Still, we knew we needed help with co-parenting our brood. We sought counseling for Jesse and for ourselves.
One special evening, Philip sent Jesse to his room for some misdemeanor, and I felt sorry for the boy. I climbed the stairs and walked down the hall to his comfy room, where Jesse kept his belongings on his night stand at right angles to each other, neat as a pin. I sat down on his bed; he was crying. I took him in my arms, and felt at that moment when he hugged me back that the arms of the cosmos were wrapped around me. That was our spiritual bonding moment. And that bond between Jesse and me never ended, even past his death by heroin 30 years later, even to this day.
I remember a conference with Jesse’s third grade teacher. I can still smell the chalk. She had nothing good to say about this child. I went into mama bear mode and told her that if she could find nothing nice to say about Jesse, she did not deserve to be his teacher. She reneged, and softened, and ultimately the two of us formed an alliance to help Jesse through his difficult childhood, which turned out to be a bi-polar adulthood in the making.
He and his brother set a fire in the shed. When he was in sixth grade, one night at the dinner table Jesse was so drunk that he fell off his chair onto the floor. On the way to the hospital, he talked his father into taking him home again. This child needs more help than we can give him, I said. I was at the end of my rope.
During his teen years, there were rehabs and detention facilities, a move to South Miami with his mother, where his best friend was murdered by gun for stealing a car. Jesse became addicted to crack.
Jail. More rehabs. Trouble with the law. Clean time. Using again. And through all this my love for him remained the same, although I hated his actions. When he was 21 and in a clean period, he moved back in with us. There was a car accident during that time, but Jesse appeared to be clean and sober. We felt okay leaving him with our dogs while Philip and I went to Romania to work with orphans for a summer. But when we came home, we learned that Jesse had killed our beloved dog, Bill. Why? How? We never found out. I was so angry when I learned this that I threw a bentwood rocker across a 20-foot room, and his father and I told Jesse to leave.
This was before I was introduced to the mindfulness practice, before I learned not to act on my anger, before I learned that people only commit evil acts because they suffer so deeply.
Time went on, and Jesse lived for 11 years with a woman who had five children. He became a step-dad and a father to the children, whom we did not meet until after Jesse’s passing. There were hopeful clean times, when Philip and I would meet with Jesse, who had become a tall, handsome man, a beautiful man. He asked for forgiveness for ending Bill’s life. He would wrap his arms around me and say I love you, Jude. Then inexplicably, he would be in trouble again.
His death? Phillip Seymour Hoffman comes to mind. When a heroin addict gets clean (Jesse had been clean about a year before his death) and they return to use again, ingesting the same amount of the drug they had been able to tolerate prior to the clean time, they often overdose. It was February 4, 2008. Jesse was planning a superbowl party. His apartment was neat as his childhood bedside table. He was healthy and buff. Our Christmas card was pinned in the center of his kitchen bulletin board. He was found naked among many empty bags of heroin.
I got the call in my kitchen, fell to my knees. I would be the one to tell Jesse’s father that he was dead. There was an autopsy. We learned the actual weight of Jesse’s heart. I now know that one out of every five people who are bi-polar commit suicide. But this was not a suicide. It was an accidental overdose. Still, I am sure that Jesse was medicating himself with alcohol and drugs. There was nothing we could have done differently. We only loved him no matter what.
Judith Toy practices mindfulness with Cloud Cottage Community of Mindful Living in Black Mountain. She volunteers her time to work with those who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. “If I can help one person to avoid death by drug overdose, I will be honoring Jesse’s life,” she said. She can be contacted through the Cloud Cottage website, www.cloudcottage.org. Look for a ziplining fundraiser June 22 at French Broad Rafting and Ziplining, for Cloud Cottage.