EDITOR’S NOTES: In the midst of addiction, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the afternoon with a woman named Tanya.

She told me about her 29-year-old daughter who’s been addicted to drugs since age 14, who’s abandoned two children with her and is now homeless in California.

She told me about her 50-year-old sister who was once a five-sport varsity athlete, the homecoming queen and National Honor Society president, who had a great job and a beautiful house, who’s now being fed meth by a drug-dealing husband.

She told me she expects to bury her daughter. Every time she hears of another parent doing that, she feels like a bullet whizzed past her head — not her, not this time.

This isn’t how either of them were raised, she said. This wasn’t the way life was supposed to turn out, for them or for Tanya.

While we talked, Tanya’s phone was lighting up. She put it on speaker and we listened to the voicemail together.

It was from her sister. She was begging Tanya to pick her up.

Tanya and her siblings agreed that they would not take calls from that sister anymore. They would not try to help her anymore.

For a minute, Tanya was silent. She looked at her phone and saw that it would be 0 degrees again that night. She worried her sister would freeze to death, while she got to crawl into a warm bed in a warm house and have dinner with her family.

She cannot change her daughter, she told me; she has tried too many times. She will do what she wants to do. With her sister, she is not to that point. She would probably go get her, she said.

And then she broke down, feeling guilty about not being willing or able anymore to do the same for her own daughter.

Tanya and I lived two houses apart for five years. I never spoke to her. I never knew what she was going through.

Another woman I interviewed for this series, I learned her mother and younger brother were also our neighbors for years before they died. I knew they had some drug problems but never really knew what was going on in that family, never really asked. It was their business, not mine.

I never would have sought either of them out if not for this series, and I didn’t, actually; they were the ones who contacted me.

“I hope this doesn’t haunt you,” Tanya told me as she was leaving our interview.

It did. Not only their stories but the realization of how close this world is coming to mine, this “other” world that I’ve only watched from a safe and somewhat self-righteous perspective — and of how wrong I’ve been to see “them” in that way.

Reporter Suzannah Couch and I have only begun to collect the stories of loss, relapse and recovery that we know are out there in our community and the stories of the people working to turn the tide of drug addiction. We’ll be running one group of stories per month for the next year — maybe more.

We’ve been thanking our interview subjects over and over for their bravery in speaking out and for the incredible trust they’ve granted us to tell others what they are going through.

These stories are unbelievably hard to hear, to write and to read. They are almost unbelievable in themselves.

But for an astounding number of people — normal people, literally our neighbors — this is life. And we could never even know it.

Brown County Democrat Editor Sara Clifford welcomes comments at 812-988-2221 or sclifford@bcdemocrat.com.

IN THIS SERIES:

Addicted and Dying: An introduction

‘Addiction works when it gets to hide’

‘He wasn’t the addiction’

‘#DoSomething movement uniting the community

The science behind addiction

OPINION: In the midst of addiction, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’