Dear Sarah: A Letter to a Friend Who Can't Get Clean

By Mary Elizabeth 11/22/19
Two and a half years pass, and you have just gotten out of jail again. I know it won’t be your last time, but I wish it were.
sad woman leaning against a wall
Looking back on my behavior during this time, I am remorseful and embarrassed by our cruelty. Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

To the Most Interesting Girl I’ve Ever Known:

Do you remember the first day that we met? I do. I was sitting on a couch with a few other girls and we were watching a movie. That was pretty much all we could do to pass the time in detox. It was my first rehab and your fifth. That night you came out of the bathroom in ridiculous unicorn pajamas and your hair was wrapped in a towel. I didn’t even realize you were there until you started violently throwing up into a trash can. Everyone was watching you and shaking their heads. I found it sad that these women were judging you for getting sick. After all, we were all there to get better…weren’t we?

I wasn’t. You weren’t either. I was in rehab because I had nowhere else to go and you were there because your parents forced you to get clean.

The next day, you wandered into my room, jumped up onto my bed, and we talked about everything. We talked about how miserable it was to be stuck in this building when all we really wanted to do was to go out and get high. We didn’t want to be there, but it was really the best option for both of us at that time. 

I learned so much about you during our time in that place. I found out that you were three years younger than me and that when your dad died, he left your mom an obscene amount of money. You have never lived in a house with less than five bedrooms and have never gone hungry. All your clothes came from the mall and you judged people based on what their teeth looked like. Your mom was used to you going to rehab every other month and she would make sure that you had plenty of cigarettes and nice things to wear.

I had nice things to wear, too. My dad made sure that I had new clothes and nice shampoo for my first trip to rehab. I was homeless but far from hitting rock bottom...that came later. We bonded over our love of superficial things and our misery there. You confided in me that you were a new mother and embarrassed about it. You did not want to be a mom and you shot up every day during your pregnancy. You gave birth to a little boy three months early because you went into withdrawal and weren’t able to get your dope that morning. It pissed you off because you didn’t like children and still didn’t want any.

I understood and didn’t judge you because I didn’t want children, either. I knew that if I were ever pregnant, there would be even less time and money for me to get high. After social services told you that your drug use prevented you from keeping the sick baby in your care, your mom adopted your son and took on all of the responsibility that you didn’t want to have.

I understood you and you understood me.

We were moved together to the residential area of the rehab program where they took away our comfort medications and forced us to interact with the other women there. That didn’t last long. We didn’t want anything to do with these women who had hit their rock bottom. We didn’t want to hear their sad stories or participate in anything therapeutic. If we talked about other people there, it was to judge or make fun of their appearance.

Looking back on my behavior during this time, I am remorseful and embarrassed by our cruelty. We were both sick and should have taken advantage of the help that was being offered, but we weren’t ready. We fed off each other, encouraging destructive behavior. A few days after being moved, we were kicked out of that rehab together for buying drugs from a man in a different unit.

Do you remember sitting on that curb in the sunshine with our freedom and trash bags full of clothing? A guy that you knew picked us up and bought us each a gram of heroin and a brand-new bag of needles. He then took us to a hotel in a sketchy part of town and we stayed there for the next three days. We looked at each other as we pulled out of the rehab parking lot and smiled so big. We had won our freedom and were now able to get as high as we wanted without consequence.

We didn’t think about the fact that we’d both just screwed up a really good chance to fix our lives and to rebuild the trust we had broken with our respective families. We weren’t thinking about anything past the three days that the hotel was paid for. We bonded and became closer during that long weekend. You overdosed in the bathtub and I brought you back. The first thing you said to me was, “where’s my shit?” I laughed, you laughed, and we continued to get high. After being kicked out of the hotel we went our separate ways but continued to stay in touch. You went home to your big house and I continued to crash where I could because it was getting cold out. We even planned our next rehab stay together!

We really had our priorities straight, didn’t we?

The next “vacation” we took together was a bit more successful. We didn’t get kicked out, but we came close. We didn’t take it seriously and continued to judge people, something that I’m still ashamed of. You told me you’d been arrested twice since we’d seen each other last, both times for felony possession. You saw your son and he’s walking now, but you still hate being a mom. I nod and agree, it sounds like a hassle to me at that time in my life. We graduate from this 30-day program and go our separate ways again. You go back home again to your fancy house and I go to a sober living facility, something I wasn’t ready for. You came to visit me often and took me out for coffee on my birthday.

I got kicked out of that place too and had to stay on a lot of different couches, each more desperate and filthier than the previous. My parents were done housing me because they saw me getting sicker with each visit. They saw me lose weight and gain track marks and strung out boyfriends while you were sleeping in your childhood home with a fridge full of food. I never compared myself to you and I never complained about my situation, especially to you. In rehab, we judged people like me; I had become one of the unfortunate. I was someone whose addiction had completely taken over her life. I was paying for my heroin with money that I stole or earned in ways that I don’t like to talk about. You paid for your drugs with money that your mom handed you and if that wasn’t enough you stole it from your stepdad.

Maybe I was a little jealous.

The following summer I hit my rock bottom. I won’t tell you how it happened, but it was brutal. The drugs we so enjoyed doing in your car ended up taking my soul and my self-respect. I decided that I needed to change and right after making that decision I met the man who changed my life. I’d started taking methadone a few months prior to meeting him and finally my life was starting to make sense. I had a home, a job, and someone who loved me unconditionally.

I still called you every few weeks to check in. You told me you were still getting high and that you overdosed a few times and that you had just gotten out of jail again. We laughed about it and then we didn’t talk for almost six months because we were both so busy with life. The next time I called you, you kept talking about how “nasty” the girls in jail are and how they’re missing their teeth and you’re sick of having to pee in front of your probation officer.

I didn’t tell you that the damage I caused to my own teeth led to them all being pulled and replaced with porcelain ones.

You asked the last time I used and when I said eight months, you yelled at me. “How?! You were the WORST! You LOVE getting high!”

I told you about the methadone and how it was really helping me fix my life. You said you will never be on that stuff because you don’t want to have to take something every day. I wish you would at least try. If not methadone… just try something. 

I tell you I’m pregnant and getting married and you are in disbelief again. You say my child will have issues and I won’t be able to bond with him. In the same conversation, you get upset because I don’t invite you to my baby shower. My husband doesn’t want us to see each other and I agree with him. You are now dangerous for me and the little life that he and I built together. Perhaps you always were. I imagine you falling asleep or getting high in the bathroom as I open presents.

I am a different person now and happy about it, a different kind of selfish.

Two and a half years pass, and you have just gotten out of jail again. I know it won’t be your last time, but I wish it were. You don’t look three years younger than me anymore. We don’t talk on the phone because we don’t have anything to talk about. I know how you feel about the medication I take and that’s okay. I have a family now and a home, and I wish that one day you’ll get to have the same things. I want you to know that the unconditional love that your child has for you is better than the best heroin you’ve ever done. I want you to know that eventually, once you stop using, you can enjoy things again. Sushi is amazing. Sleeping in late is amazing. Not being sick and desperate every morning is amazing, too.

We might never see each other again but I just wanted you to know that I still think about you and that if you give it a chance, you can find happiness too. You deserve to have a good life, we all do. Just try, okay?

Your friend always, 


Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Mary Elizabeth is a former Emergency Medical Technician from Michigan. She is a part time student and full time mom to a little boy with another one on the way. She advocates for access to medication assisted treatment for patients in rehabilitation facilities and recovery houses. In her spare time, she writes short stories that focus on success with medication assisted treatment and personal experiences on her blog.