|Posted on June 9, 2019 at 1:00 AM|
Before I begin, I would like to dedicate this post to Nicole Ross. You, Ma'am, have met your match in someone who will not forget your courage to speak out about the truth of addiction. This post is for you, the many people suffering from or affected every day by addiction, the loved ones no longer with us because of it, and so many more tragedies.
For those who are new to my writing, hello and welcome to my advocacy website blog. Thank you for taking the time to read this particular entry despite its longer length.
I am a grassroots mental health advocate in recovery with a focus on anti-bullying and empowerment. To date, I have two nationally published NAMI Blogs (Oct. 11th, Nov. 1st) plus a third coming out in September. Be sure to check them out, as well as inspirational quotes listed under Words Of Wisdom. My determination to accomplish more as an advocate, this journey, is as passionate as you will find my way with words. Join me as I discuss what I recently learned about grieving for the loss of someone whose death was no one's fault but their own.
Certain details that will follow may be emotional for some who are sensitive to discussions about tragedy, addiction, and/or true suicide. Please. I encourage everyone to take as much care and time as you need in order to absorb what I have to share.
Remember Nicole, this is for you.
You own this moment.
My name is Jim Irion. I was named after my maternal 'namesake' Uncle, Jim Allis. Or as I like to remember him, "Born on the 4th of July (1952); died on April Fool's Day (1973)." Tragically, he was only three months shy of his 21st birthday with all manner of life ahead of him. My Uncle died in a car accident a total of three thousand one hundred and fifteen days before I was born (1981). A full eight and a half years, plus ten days. So, I never knew nor met him. More importantly, the accident that took his life was not someone else's fault.
The fault was Jim Allis' and his alone.
Just over a week ago, a former high school classmate of mine, named Jeremy, met an untimely end through unfortunate mistakes and poor decisions related to addiction. I had not seen him since graduation a lifetime of nineteen years ago. When I did know him, Jeremy was a unique kind of special. Easy going, laid back, charming as can be. When I heard what happened within hours of his confirmed death, I was shocked. From what little I know his passing, his mistakes as of late, were his own fault and no one else's.
Using what I'd learned through mental health advocacy, I wrote a very thoughtful and sincere condolence for his loss. Soon after, a close friend of mine urged me to make the Facebook post public. Once I did, someone close to Jeremy's family reached out to me. Bless her heart. You know who you are. I owe you one. Why? Well... Despite my years with mental health symptoms, while being very perceptive to tragedies around me, I discovered something unexpected about Jeremy's death. A lesson I'd unknowingly learned during my youth.
My namesake Uncle Jim, and former high school classmate Jeremy, both have something very important in common with each other. How are their deaths, a whole forty six years and however many miles apart, related to each other and in a way I could learn anything positive from them? It was their fault. How could someone, anyone, even a close relative or best friend, be able to grieve for a lost loved one who made bad choices that ended their lives?
Here is where my journey of compassion and forgiveness has now come full circle.
During the years after my parents told me who I was named after, I took personal responsibility for my Uncle Jim's tragedy. I didn't just mourn his death because I was young and didn't know better. I felt as if I was a twin-less twin experiencing survivor's guilt. I even developed a fear of car accidents, called dystychiphobia, as I got older through into high school. The tragic deaths of two classmates, Lynnette and Jason, made the phobia a permanent part of my life. But why?
I simply wanted to know my late Uncle Jim, even though all he and I will ever share are the same first name. No handshake. No hug. No pat on the back or words of encouragement. Nothing but a five-letter name...
In his letters home from college and anecdotes from living relatives, my Uncle Jim was a wonderful person to know. He had dreams of a career in mathematics (which I am horrible at, by the way), aspirations for a wondrous future, a "love of life", as well as a classmate with a crush on him whose heart was shattered when Jim died. I wanted to know where, when, how, and why he died by his mistake, because I felt I had to make sense of it. I was searching within myself for a proper way to grieve and cope with his loss. At the same time, I was also yearning for a way to genuinely forgive him.
But it was my Uncle's impatience to rush back to Brockport State University on that fateful April Fool's Day. It was his foul mistake to try passing that semi-truck trailer on a blind corner no-passing zone. At the time, my Uncle's Chevy Nova only had lap belts for restraint. I have no doubt my maternal Grandparents had raised him well, which included teaching him how to drive. No doubt at all. By all accounts, Jim was a capable and competent person. Yet, his one bad decision cost him his life. I moved on from this as best I could while I was growing up.
Fast forward to late May 2019. I, along with many others who cared about my former classmate, Jeremy, have had to face his unfortunate passing. What happened? What really happened? Why did he die? The first and most important thing I did was not to jump to conclusions. Besides, I scarcely knew anything about what happened or that led to his death. No assumptions. No hateful or ignorant comments made on social media. No stigma. I waited until confirmed information came out. Even now, there are a number of details still unknown. Some that may never be known.
When it was clear Jeremy had fallen into the trap of drug addiction that is a difficult truth to cope with. Like every single one of us, drug addicts do have a choice to not do drugs as we have the choice to not be ignorant towards others. Who cares? He would have probably died at some point. Should have known better. Didn't his parents teach him not to use drugs? Should have sent him to jail. That would teach him (which sounds more like a punishment attitude). Why wasn't he working a full-time job, or getting help for his addiction? He was seeking help, right? If he wasn't then it is his own fault.
Well for one, treatment, recovery, and the path to wellness all take time for everyone whether it is for drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health, and so on. One slip up on any given day could mean tragedy, another run-in with the law, jail time, a near-death experience, homelessness, and more. How many days are there in just a single year to stay clean? Three hundred sixty five opportunities, with twenty four hours each, to make a mistake. Or to not be getting the help they really need to clean up and recover.
In the meantime, staying true to giving up a mind-altering addictive substance gnaws at an addict's mind every chance it gets. Repeated uses of Narcan to reverse opioid effects does not solve the problem either. Even if someone is able to recover drug free, there are issues afterwards that can and still do make life difficult. A past record of addiction related charges can keep them from getting work, and for their closest loved ones to potentially be fired from a job. The fact of the matter is Jeremy had fallen into a tough situation to come back from. At his level, some have made it. Unfortunately, he did not...
On one hand, all things considered Jeremy still had some responsibility with what lead to his death. To just whitewash lawlessness or violence does not do justice or fairness to anyone who may have been affected or hurt. So, I found myself weighing the good and the bad of Jeremy's plight. This was while I continued to get to know the acquaintance of his family who reached out to me. I shared with her about how my namesake Uncle had died, before I was born, in the car accident that was his fault.
In fact... Exactly as I explained to her, I have intentionally reconstructed the same thought processes for all of you here so everyone has an opportunity to experience my discovery firsthand just as I did.
Suddenly, the next day, a light bulb went off in my head.
I was rereading the messages I'd sent the night before when I realized something that honestly I was shocked I hadn't thought of sooner. Want to know why? I am not just a survivor of suicide loss (1997), but also a suicide attempt survivor (2003) as well. A bad choice of its own, which gets far too much stigma just as addiction does. Not only that, and enduring untreated severe depression for more than five years, I have been constantly learning about mental health for the last two years as an advocate. How did I not realize this sooner? I inadvertently learned a very important truth about compassion, forgiveness, mindfulness, and wellness.
How do you cope with and/or grieve for a loved one who tried or has died from their own fault?
The truth is you actually can, and should, properly grieve when a person's death is their own fault (addiction overdose, true suicide such as from PTSD following military service, etc.). There is far more involved in a person's life than any one bad choice or timing. Rushing to judgment, ignorance or hatred, not only skips the opportunity to process these situations and people in a positive way. The chance to genuinely forgive what someone in your life may someday do wrong or hurt others is wasted. Allow me to borrow the words of a phenomenal actor who has had his own past struggles with addiction.
“I shouldn't be alive... unless it was for a reason. I'm not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do. And I know in my heart that it's right.” -Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark (Iron Man).
Bad decisions, bad timing, do not define someone such as Robert Downey Jr., nor should they define my namesake Uncle Jim, me, or Jeremy. A reasonable moment of pause for reflection on facts should be given so the likes of hatred and stigma do not destroy the good worth of anyone's life. As well, if your eyes just went as wide as mine, you picked up on something I actually realized as I was writing these exact words. In. This. Moment.
When you stop and think about all this... exactly how many people are we talking about here that can be affected and/or benefited from a more mindful approach?
Millions of people.
Millions. No joke.
To think that only just a few days ago Jeremy's death was a negative. Now, with tried and tested legitimate wisdom, he has already produced positives in our lives. For a start, that is.
Taking a negative and making it a positive is a cornerstone for positive mindfulness and wellness, as well as compassion and forgiveness. There are so very many negatives out there in this world today (pardon me if I clench my eyes at that particular thought). The least of which are addiction, true suicide, hatred and stigma.
Starting with Jeremy...
Continuing with me...
A better future is possible. How do I know?
Because you are reading this.
You are smiling, crying, teeth-clenched, or fist-pumping.
If when you began reading my blog entry you had assumptions, doubts, questions without answers, or emotions without resolutions, you are now empowered with a very simple truth.
Aug. 4, 1981 - May 29, 2019
Rest in peace, my dear friend.
Rest in peace.
The negatives in your life, and that of millions of others out there, will not be worthless or meaningless anymore. You will not be forgotten, but you won't just be remembered either. Nope. Not enough. Trust me. I know. I've seen people come and go... Names fading from memory... These mistakes, these deaths, being taken for granted as if nothing else can be done to prevent them.
The status quo is not enough.
"People keep telling survivors to move on. Some do, but not me.
Even if there's a small chance, I owe this to every moment of silence to try."
(adapted from the Avengers: Endgame film trailers).
We can and will transform your one negative into thousands upon thousands of positives.
Starting with me.
Continuing with You.