The tangy and uncomfortably sweet scent of alcohol on the breath of someone is almost nostalgic to me. When I was only a child I became familiar with the warm air filling my nostrils that hinted of whiskey, the frequency of the scent was often.
No one ever taught me the word. No one used the word for functioning members in the community but even if they did, why teach a child?
They didn’t talk about it amongst the “birds and the bees” discussions in middle school, and they definitely never brought it up in the regular curriculum.
I knew the word, but I didn’t know the word. It was part of my vocabulary, with no context.
I grew up in a world that says they’re “addicted” to video games. Addicted to binge-watching Netflix. Addicted to the latest celebrity drama.
But actual addiction? That was reserved for the people on the streets. The sullen eyes staring back at you from underneath unwashed skin and tattered clothing hanging from their sunken bodies.
At 17-years-old, my best friend died by overdose. The girl with the infectious smile and pearly white teeth, accented by her warm tanned skin. The girl who smelled like Moroccan oil and hated affection, but held my hand one night while we fell asleep because she was happy for me, and “good things happen to good people.”
But addiction? That’s for the people squatting in abandoned buildings selling sex for drugs with no job and no money.
At 20-years-old, I sat in the parking lot after an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I went to with my aunt and sobbed my eyes out. The papers I picked up on the way out were stained with tears, never to make it to someone I loved and cared for deeply who spent their last $20 on a handle of whisky instead of a card for my 19th birthday because they’d “rather drink than buy you something you’ll throw away.”
In the midst of it all, I learned that addiction isn’t just for the chronically ill or the “gutter people” of society.
I learned that addiction lives in the adults on both sides of your family. I learned that it coils deep in the stomachs of the suffering, and especially in the ones you love that are suffering.
It doesn’t know age, race, gender, socioeconomic, religious or societal status. It has no face or type. Yet, we refuse to acknowledge its presence in our everyday lives. We refuse to teach our children and our friends and our adults about the fact that addiction runs as a deep and thick current but there is help.
It crossed my mind today. I don’t like to reflect on those who I have loved and lost from addiction because it hurts. It hurts that at 17, I didn’t have the resources or the knowledge of resources to do anything about my best friend. At 19, I tried to act like an adult, and “fix it on my own” while hurting myself even more in the process.
At 21-years-old, I still don’t understand addiction.
But now, I know there are support groups. And literature galore. And even hotlines.
And now, I know there is a word for it.