Slowly peeling back the door to his room, the first thing I noticed was that his body was not in a natural position. The bottoms of his bare feet were pointed upward, stretched out along the carpet. He was wearing blue striped pajama pants, which were different than the shorts he had on when I left the apartment hours earlier. His shirtless torso lay belly down, propped up against the lower side of his bed frame, head cocked to the left, arms on either side, as if he had tried to catch himself while falling.
Vivek was my best friend. On April 8, 2012, he died of a heroine overdose in his apartment.
Nearly two weeks prior to Vivek’s death, he had asked me to stay with him. Having just gotten out of treatment, Vivek sought my company. I assured him that if it made him feel more secure, and less likely to use with my presence around, then I would be more than happy to do it, at least until his own roommate returned from out of town.
I agreed to be there for Vivek because he had always been there for me. Since I moved to my sober house in Minnesota in 2009, Vivek and sobriety were synonymous—he introduced me to my home group, all my friends, and most importantly, was the first person to accept me for who I was, rather than who I was trying to be. That was his gift—unwavering, unconditional compassion.
Vivek was never able to turn that gift inward. It was this fact that first made me relate to Vivek. He talked of the sadness within himself—his inability to love himself for who he was, and his struggle to find his true identity. These were my struggles also, so when I wandered too far down that dark path, I let Vivek’s love and acceptance guide me.
We always had a sort of brotherly relationship. Vivek was an only child, and I grew up with just one sister, so the partnership seemed to work out well. Our sense of humor quickly evolved into a complimentary language of its own, which undoubtedly frustrated those close to us—but that’s just how it was.
Our paths diverged for about a year after we both went separate ways as we moved out of the sober house. We both had this strange understanding that living together might be too comfortable, too enabling for our often-lazy tendencies. A few months after the move, Vivek relapsed, ultimately landing him in the hospital and back to treatment.
During this time, I had actually begun working for the very treatment center within which Vivek was spending his 30 days. I was a cook, and Vivek was a vegetarian. Naturally, I did my best to spice up the vegetarian option, and give my friend an alternative besides the oh-so-familiar black bean burger.
Vivek moved into a new sober house after that 30-day stent, and I trudged forward with my own life, and recovery, and personal relationships. As I wandered into a co-dependent relationship and away from my recovery roots, Vivek got reestablished in the sober community, and put nearly a year of sobriety together. Around this time, my relationship was falling apart, and when the final straw broke, it was Vivek whom I called.
He let me stay on his couch for a week, a spot that would become quite familiar to me over the next four months. Having to move out of my ex-girlfriend’s apartment, I found a new place to live rather quickly, but I took advantage of my newfound freedom by reconnecting with my old friend.
Everything was the same as it had been. And I think that’s the sad part. Because through all of the jokes, the late nights eating pizza and watching movies, Vivek’s struggles were still with him, perhaps deeper than ever. He relapsed once again, and went back to treatment for another 30 days.
This time, when he came out of treatment, he was missing the familiar sparkle in his eyes. His irreverent humor and charm were still there, but he lacked the vigor he had towards recovery in previous post-relapse experiences.
In the end, Vivek’s struggle was a battle between what I believe was an earnest want to be sober, and the demons of his depression. His addiction took over as the easiest means to an end for the sickness that he felt, but it was never his desire to leave behind those people whom he cared about so much.
Staying with Vivek for his last few weeks was both a blessing and a curse. I am left with an image of my friend that I wish I had never seen, but I know that over time, I will be able to remember him for who he really was. The hardest part of the grieving process has been accepting that this is really happening. In fact, I haven’t even felt like writing anything about this because it hurts too much.
Everything about this is new to me, but the most remarkable thing has been the stillness—the absolute quiet in between each emotional wave. I guess for now, it’s my job to simply hold on, and ride it out.