"It is their voices I hear ... each day"

By Sarah Morse, Guest Contributor

“Did you hear about Ben?” 

I had been both expecting and praying I would never hear those five little words for 14 years. That one tiny sentence was enough to bring me to my knees. You see, nothing can ever prepare you to lose the father of your child. Ours was an epic tale, one of love and pain, of drugs and struggle and regret. The irony that the single most soul-shattering event in my life has also provided me with overwhelming hope and purpose is still bittersweet. 

Fifteen years ago, when I got pregnant with our daughter Lili, our paths split. His addiction raged and landed  him in prison for nearly a decade while I was left to raise her on my own. We were both in our own versions of Hell. I threw myself into a bottle to drown the hurt and pain. The whiskey kept me from feeling, left me numb. After years of failed attempts and two drunk-driving charges, it was a mandatory two-week program in Tewksbury that saved my life. 

On July 17, 2016 I took back my life.

My new life has purpose and meaning, a desire to change the world around me that I never had in active addiction. I strive to be the light of hope I had so desperately sought while I suffered in the darkness. To live my new life so openly that no one doubts that there is no shame in being an addict in recovery. For years I watched Ben struggle, living in the revolving door of active addiction and recovery. It broke my heart to see him living in anguish. He knew how important sobriety was to me, which ended up driving us apart. When he was clean, we spoke almost daily. When he fell off the wagon, he would grow distant. The texts would stop, my phone ceased to ring. 

That is how spring of 2020 began. I would reach out, and my messages would go unanswered. The closer I got, the more he drifted away. The steps to a dance we have danced a thousand times over the years. I cannot adequately describe the pain I felt as an addict myself, watching him immerse himself in solitude. To know the pain he felt at my very core, and at the same time be so aware that there was not a single thing I could do. To want nothing more than to be able to say some magic words that would bring him to his “Ah Ha!” moment, and know that was something only he could find for himself. To know that the roles could have been so easily reversed. Every day I face the cold truth that I could be the subject of this tragedy rather than writing these words for you today.

When June rolled around, I was just shy of four years sober. I felt confident, solid in my sober status. I had already endured countless hardships and losses. I was OK. Until those five little words landed in my inbox. Losing Ben shook me to my very core. I hadn’t felt so shaky since my first few months of sobriety. I found myself increasingly preoccupied with the mere thought of picking up a drink again. Of drowning the pain in whiskey, of the prospect of a few short hours to not feel anything at all. I wallowed in my grief, noticing the red flags and ignoring them all. For a while, the only thought that stopped me was knowing how disappointed Ben would be if I used his death as an excuse to slip. While I always knew some part of him resented my faith in the steps, my vocal stance on recovery, I also knew he was so proud of me.

One August day, while sitting in the rain and sobbing my heart out, it hit me like a lightning strike. I couldn’t let his death be in vain. It is my destiny to honor his memory, to give his death meaning. I went from huddled and sobbing to dancing and shouting (OK, and crying). Of course there are still days I wish the very Earth would split apart and swallow me whole. Days where I am fine one moment and bawling on the bathroom floor at work the next. Those are the moments I choose to share, the ugly ones. The ones most people hide from the world. More often than not, when I share my raw pain, my inbox fills with people like me. Like Ben. The ones who feel isolated, lost, hurting,. 

As I share this with all of you now, tears striking the keyboard like raindrops, I know in my heart this is exactly what he would have wanted me to do. I'm finding it difficult to express the twofold horror of losing such an important part of my life while knowing on a gut level that this could just as easily have been me. To convey the instinctual need inside me to use this devastation to heal the world around me. To shine a light into the dark holes where the fingers of fear and addiction twist themselves into the minds and souls, taking hold. I refuse to let his death go silently into the night, to have him be just another number in a statistic. Our story could save one person out there and that is worth every ounce of agony I am feeling today.

As I sat down to write this, I learned of another friend’s passing. In just 17 years, I have lost 48 beautiful souls to this insidious disease. They stand behind me now, giving me the strength to walk this path. It is their voices I hear as I wake up each day, grateful to be alive to share my light and hope with you all. For them, for myself, for my children, I will not go silently. I will use my pain to amplify my voice. I am an addict and I am grateful.

Sarah Morse aspires to be a recovery coach. She and her three children live in Yarmouth, Mass.