A young man in recovery named Charlie came to my house earlier this year with his parents. His entry into addiction came as the result of a head-on car accident caused by an old man who was driving on the wrong side of Highway 17 near Santa Cruz on Jan. 1, 2010. That was the day that changed the course of Charlie’s life. Opiates!
Charlie had been to many rehabs, but nothing had stuck. Yet, his heart shined through the epic pain and suffering his addiction had wreaked upon his life. He was sweet and had a true sense of compassion and kindness.
When we met he had been out of treatment and sober for a month or two. We chatted together and I took him to a 12-Step meeting. All at once, I felt a slight distance between us and a tremendous love for him, like someone I knew much better. I can’t explain this feeling. I think it has to do with something beyond my limited perspective, but the point is, he made an impact on me.
He was adamant about moving down to the LA area, I think to Long Beach, from his home in Northern, CA. He had no real program or connections to speak of, but his plan was to work that out when he got down. He did not ask me to sponsor him and I did not offer that. I had gotten very busy between work and my existing sponsees and it would have been difficult to take on another one.
A few months passed and I decided to email his mom to see how things were proceeding before reaching out to him. I received her email back a day later telling me that Charlie had died from his addiction just two weeks after I had met him months ago. She had wanted to email me, but just couldn’t do it. The news crushed me. It makes no sense to grieve for someone you never knew, but that’s how I felt. It was real grief.
And if you want to know the truth, I felt guilty. Had I missed an opportunity to help this person? Could I have made a difference in his life? What if I had volunteered to sponsor him?
I’m perfectly aware that I cannot control another person. I’m clear that people die all the time from the dis-ease of addiction, especially opiates these days. I know we can only help a few people, but God Dammit, I’m so sorry that Charlie died. I’m so sorry about it that I have to write about it and tell you, I wish I had another shot at this. I wish I had a chance to go back and push myself upon this kid as his sponsor. Would things have turned out differently? I have no idea, but I would like to have the shot at it.
This is part of what drives me to do the work I’m doing. Addiction is a disease. It has a treatment. If you apply the treatment you get better. If you then apply the elements of yoga, meditation, healthy diet and continue to strengthen your mind, body and connection to spirit, things turn out amazingly well. BUT all this takes an amazing amount of willingness and day-to-day vigilance. Most people just cannot understand that this is what it takes to survive and ultimately thrive in recovery.
I will not ever forget Charlie. In the face of a disease that kills amazing people like him, all we can do is to carry the message that Recovery = Life.
This is yet another wake-up call. Young people are dropping like flies around Heroin addiction. It’s an epidemic. We must get out in front of this thing and help our kids to understand just how devastating this thing is and help those afflicted to access holistic treatment to heal them into the wholeness of their being.
In Loving Memory of Charlie Thomas,