Ben Russell

Ben Russell
St Paul, Minnesota,
October 02
armed with weapons of mass procrastination.


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APRIL 17, 2012 11:29PM

Remembering Vivek

Rate: 28 Flag

   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.




4th 2


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grief, loss, addiction

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Your genuine friendship was a blessing, the joys and shared pains, a lasting gift of inner knowing. You shared a curse, the struggles, triumphs and ultimate relapses that split the psyche and your souls. You were meant to find him, I allow the grief of shared past; the years and days you will never revisit, except to remember the important roles you each played in each other's lives. His laughter and bright moments will live on in yours.

So very sorry for your loss and sending you warm hugs this day and the days to come.
I am so sorry. What you've written here is an homage not only to Vivek, but also to what friendship is truly about - being there for each other through hard times, no matter what. You can be proud that you were a good friend to Vivek, as he was to you. Sending my prayers and thoughts, and sensing that he's still watching over and rooting for you.
This is a lovely tribute to your friend.
I'm sorry for your loss.
I agree with Alysa, Vivek is cheering you on as you juggle fire (is that what is going on in that picture?) and find the still points. You will find him there, too.
Ben, it is always so sad to lose someone dear to us, such final-ness which is so hard to adjust to. Like you said, the quiet is nearly unbearable. We all have our own way to grieve and how you choose to do so is a very personal and individualistic thing. You have accomplished much by grabbing your addition by the horns, and as much as you loved your friend, you couldn't fix his. He had to do it and I think that is part of the sadness you feel. Remember all the friendship and appreciation you showed him, I am sure he took that gift to heart. I believe God gives mercy and comfort to those in pain. Best to you.
Thinking of you in the stillness. Thinking of the gifts you gave each other. Thinking of you in the moments in between the emotional waves. Thinking of the gift he knew you are, of the gift you will always be.
This is a tough one, Ben. I am so sorry this has happened and you had to be the one to discover Vivek's demise. I pray that over a time not too long you will be able to replace that gruesome image with the twinkly-eyed, smiling version in the first photo.

Your friend was lucky to have you in his life. You were a good friend to him during such difficult times. So sorry for your loss. This was just a beautiful tribute. Hope the days get easier for you.
As one who shares this experience, I know the grief, the confusion as well as the wealth of lessons that lay between those waves of emotion. My heart hurts for you and the images/memories you must now bear, but your post is a cruel reminder that the affliction is truly "cunning, baffling and powerful". By posting this most courageous tribute it is my belief that as you process and internalize the brutality of addiction you will grow stronger in your own recovery. I am so very sorry for your loss, Ben ~

Writing it out will help the most, somehow seeing it in print, expelling it from your soul helps the healing begin. I am so sorry for your loss and having lost a very good friend in my 30's I understand how hard this must be. Keep writing even if it doesn't see print here just keep writing it all out.
This is a beautiful piece dedicated to a friendship many of us will never know. It is often easier to help others than it is to help ourselves. I'm so sorry for your loss.
So happy the editors chose this to honor both your touching and very real story here and also the homage to your dear friend, forever.
Whenever I read about the loss of a young life, I have no words of consolation for those left behind. There is no ryme or reason, yet we must make their lives count by learning from our loss. You were lucky to have known each other and shared part of your experiences. The years that follow will separate you physically but the memories will be part of who you are. I wish you peace in grieving your best friend and moving on with strength of the special bond you two shared. Thank you for sharing this very sad, personal piece.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your friend.

Beautiful and moving tribute to a wonderful friend, and you, your spirit the friend that you are shines through. Hand on your shoulder across the miles, a terrible loss, a shocking way to find someone. Take care of yourself, Vivek would want that most of all, if anything, this is what your piece shows, his wonderful human heart.
"...the absolute quiet in between each emotional wave."

You describe something that has eluded description for me. Well written. Take good care of yourself.
Ben, I am so sorry for your friend and for you. This is a huge loss and there are no adequate words to console. You've experienced and witnessed this as have I, but Addiction can be a larger system that is bigger than us or our power to affect, change, influence. You have witnessed it first hand in action with your good friend and it is tragic. My heart is with you during this time of grief and sadness.
Your loyalty is honorable. Even though your friend is gone, your love for him will always be there in your heart. Coping with grief as you are doing now with your written remembrance of friendship is an excellent means of expressing love and I admire your courage.

I know your loss is overwhelming but please know that you've garnered empathy and love from many who've lost loved ones to the demons of addictions.
You are blessed to have had such a friendship.
I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and how that makes you feel. I think that we are friends to many people in our lives for many reasons. While we enjoy each other for most of the time, we have to realize that we are all individuals and each is on their own emotional and spiritual path. We can travel together, but we cannot make the other person whole. I think that it is very sad that his journey here ended, but I think that part of your experience with him will always live on. You can appreciate all he was to you and in turn, learn from all that both you experienced while knowing him. Your journey continues. Peace to you.
This is heartbreaking; what a shock to lose your friend this way. You are a really wonderful and thoughtful writer--thank you for sharing your friend Vivek's story here with us.

I am just wishing you lots of healing, and I hope you keep close to your heart all the peace and happiness and joy in this life that I think Vivek would wish for you.
Thank you all so much for reading, and for the well wishes. I am realizing now that this story is simply a start to what could be told about our friendship.

Probably the biggest lesson learned at this point is the value of staying in the moment. The minute my mind begins to cling onto feelings of guilt, sorrow, or anger, I tend to want to embrace it, and let it run the show. Realizing that these feelings are all natural, now, as they are always, is a true gift. I am learning how to experience them for what they are, and doing my best to not let them dictate my actions. This experience will change my life, I just have to do my best to see that it's for the better.
Hey Ben,
I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I am not here at Open Salon that much and just checked my messages.

I would imagine that it is not only the loss that you are feeling, but the fear of losing hope. If we don't have that, we have nothing.

I am glad that you had the courage and strength to write about this. So many struggle against demons the likes of which we can only imagine. You earned an EP so it got out to a lot of people some of whom you may have helped through your words.

Just know that you are on a path to learn something in this lifetime and although it can be incredibly painful, the process often is. Taking the easy ride through it without learning lessons can be a total waste.

Surviving can be synonymous with success, so hang in there. I hope that soon you'll have many better days and many new friends who will be honored to know you as I am.