When I was 12, I met someone who would soon become one of my best friends, at least for a season. Our story of friendship began when we attended the same youth group. Our shared passion of music and poetry bonded us together during some of the worst years of our lives. Throughout our teens we joined forces writing lyrics and playing guitar, talking about what we wanted in the future, and looking forward to what lay ahead for our lives.
When I was 22, the same girl who had once been my playmate and free-spirited confidant, entangled herself in a dangerous downward spiral of addiction. I would be lying if I said I was empathetic at the time. Since she didn't quite fit into my idea of what someone was supposed to be, I did the only thing I knew how to do then: I tried to change her. I understood she was hurting, but what I couldn't understand is how she could be driven to go into harm's way for a high.
How could this girl be so selfish? I thought. How could she do this to her family? How could she do this to me?
I did the best thing at the time. I distanced myself and put limitations and conditions on our friendship. I judged her. But, really, what else can a naïve twenty-something do? I was ignorant of her suffering because I didn't understand addiction.
If I could go back in time, I'd wish my friend would have tried to change me. To oppose my criticism and help me understand her irrational one-track mind and the ache in her soul she sought so desperately to fill. I wish she would have told me what it means to be addicted.
I wish she would have argued louder than my judgmental glares, straight past my narrow-mind, until she collided head on with my deepest fear—that the friend I had found in her was gone. Sure, for a while she was. But I wish she would have told me that all she needed was a hug.
She may have not said it with words, but if I had listened more closely, I would have heard her plea for unconditional love in every self-destructive action. Every time she overdosed or took a hit, sold her body for drugs, or wandered homelessly in the streets just to be closer to a high, she was telling her loved ones what she really needed. I wish she would have told me it was nothing I said or did that caused her to be this way. I wish she would have told me she had a problem. But how could she feel safe with me if I only pushed her away to protect myself from hurting?
Eight years have passed and, by God's grace, my friend has been sober for over one year. Reconnecting with her has helped me understand more about addiction than judging her actions ever could. Finally, I know now what I wish I knew then all because I was able to see my friend as she is, not as something she isn't—someone who has to walk her own path to healing.