Grieving an Overdose Death: Who Am I Now? The Transformative Power of Grief
Losing Someone You Love to Overdose
When you lose someone you love to an overdose, one thing is certain: You will never again be who you were before. Your space-time continuum has been irrevocably altered. Your calendar, rewritten. With the heedless strength of a wrecking ball, the shock and trauma have ripped a gaping hole into the fabric of your life, and you are left gasping for air, clawing at the fragments, trying to find the “why.”
The Wisdom in Transformation
In the early months of my grief, after losing my boyfriend, Luke, to a fatal overdose, a wise friend said to me,
“It will take time, but in some ways, you will be happier than you were before.”
When she was 21 years old, she had lost her mother to cancer. It had been a long, heartbreaking battle, and it had changed my friend profoundly. In response to her comment about the possibility of future happiness, I replied through my tears, “I just want to be who I was before.”
I can hear her answer as clearly today as I did 17 years ago:
“You aren’t meant to be who you were before.”
I knew she was right, and I knew even then that eventually I would find the strength to pick myself up off the floor, to look the world in the eye again and to become the person I was meant to be …
Grief Can Be a Gift
Grief, to me, was an incredible gift. I had suffered from tremendous anxiety and self-doubt. I lived my life with a sense of “not good enough,” feeling lost and unanchored. In my memoir, The Year of the Dogs, penned in the immediate aftermath of Luke’s death, I wrote:
“The emptiness, the self-doubt that Luke and I shared, that we talked of so often, is gone. I reach for it sometimes, baffled by its disappearance … But I know, Luke, that you took it with you when you left. That was your greatest and final gift to me.”
To this day, I am still awed by this.
How could something that nearly broke me, that nearly ended me, have saved me all at once?
I don’t have the answer, not really. I only know that love and grief are intrinsically connected, and that both have the power to strip away the most carefully constructed façade and to lay our souls bare, to break our hearts open so that the light can enter.
The Process Will Bring You Answers
But this didn’t happen overnight.
There were many black days, many so-called “friends” who walked away in my hour of need. There were doors that closed on me, never to be opened again. And there was deep regret living at the core of my being. The awful ache of remorse would wake me suddenly in the dead of night, and I would pray for dawn for just a moment’s reprieve.
Of what exactly was this regret born?
For a long while, I didn’t understand. I had loved this man, offered him comfort and genuine warmth in the final months, days and hours of his life. Hadn’t I done everything I could for him? Hadn’t I stood by him when another might have turned him away?
Then like a flash of light, it hit me one day: We never regret the things we give, only the things we hold back. The word unspoken. The touch denied. The love we forsake trying to protect our hearts, trying to stay in control.
This is especially true when your loved one is suffering from addictive illness. We are told to practice “tough love.”
“Don’t be an enabler,” the world warns. And so we hold our love back, we dole out tenderness in carefully measured doses. We deny our loved ones and ourselves the perfect beauty that blossoms in the soft glow of total acceptance:
You are imperfect; I love you anyway.
I cannot save you; I love you anyway.
You are dying; I love you anyway …
Moving into Clarity
Seventeen years later, I look at all of this the same as I did then, but with even more clarity. This is who I am now, who I was truly meant to be:
I am a writer, an artist, an activist. I am a healer, an empath, a truth seeker. I listen to everyone’s story, especially those untold. I love boldly and loudly, with all of my heart and without regret. I am overflowing with gratitude. I no longer hide from the light; I carry it inside of me.
My friend was right: In some ways, I am happier now than I was before. And I owe so much of it to a man named Luke, forever young, who broke my heart open and set me free.