In the late evening on January 1, 2002, after buying a cup of coffee at 7-11, a young, promising businessman suffered a seizure, went into cardiac arrest and died en route to the local hospital.
AJ was barely in his early thirties. He had his whole life ahead of him. He was the younger of two children. He was a university graduate and a successful young businessman, but AJ was also an addict who suffered terribly around addictions. He hated that he had a substance abuse problem. He could not even say the word addict.
When he was forced to face his issues, nothing but shame and guilt emerged. For too many years, he was stuck there. For a long time, because he was bright and clever, AJ danced around his addiction issues and deceived those closest to him. He was always able to convince others that he just misused drugs and alcohol, but really did not have a problem.
AJ could binge for days, always show up for work, be effective and cover his tracks. He believed he could be a weekend partier and survive.
However, as he got older his "smoke and mirror" routine was not working. People, especially family, started to become suspicious. Finally, his significant other confronted him and gave him an ultimatum. Either stop using and get help or we are finished. She meant it.
For the first time in his twenty-year drug adventure, AJ finally started to take seriously the steps necessary for recovery. He sought counseling and really began to use it as a tool. He went to meetings and finally became honest. He admitted that he was a drug addict and that he had a disease that was not "curable." However, he knew that if he did the right things he could enter recovery and begin to live a productive life.
Over the last few months, life was really changing for AJ. He and his parents strengthened their relationship in ways that were once thought impossible. They were all close and loving every minute of it.
This past holiday season was the most memorable in recent years. Yes, AJ had some minor mis-steps, but no binges, no lying and no dishonesty. For the first time in his life, AJ was talking about how being an addict was hard and staying straight was really painful. But this time he was determined to do it the right way.
Unfortunately on January 1, 2002, death claimed AJ before he could really live. His story is more than the story of a young man who was tortured by addictions. There is so much more to AJ's journey.
His story might help us to better understand why some choose to walk down the road of recklessness that leads to compulsive and addictive behaviors and choices.
When AJ was a young adolescent, he grew up in a middle, upper middle class community. He was the only boy in his family. His Dad was very attentive and his Mom was very supportive.
In junior high school, he recalls being teased and made fun of and not being able to let it go. Those circumstances really weighed him down. When he began high school, he was determined to be accepted and be a part of the group. So he started to make social choices that were dangerous, but easily hidden.
He would smoke pot and drink on the weekends, but always arranged to stay over a friend's house. That friend's house always seemed to be without parental supervision, even though AJ's parents always asked and were assured that a parent was going to be home. They wanted to believe their son.
Each time Mom would suggest maybe she would call just to double check that everything was okay, AJ would give an all star performance on how they would ruin his life because no parents do that kind of stuff today. For the most part, his Mom always felt somewhat reassured that AJ was telling the truth, at least she wanted to believe he was.
The simple pot smoking and drinking in high school led to more sophisticated experiences in college. By his second year in college, AJ was clubbing and trying all the designer drugs of the day. During this adventure he discovered his drug of choice, which became cocaine. AJ loved "coke." He loved how it made him feel. He did it a lot.
This pattern continued through graduation. Finally, he felt his life was out of control and decided he wanted to reclaim it. In addition, his parents became aware that he was using pretty heavily.
AJ went into treatment, mostly to appease everyone else. He was a good student and completed a twenty-eight day program. He seemed like a "born again" human being. Unfortunately that was short lived. After a few weeks back in the real world, he was using worse than ever.
His cycle of abuse became a pattern of good months and bad weeks, then bad days and then finally an occasional mis-step.
He would often say that his demons kept him restless. He liked coke. He liked how it made him feel and was frustrated that he could not feel high on life.
Before he died, he spoke about how he felt so inadequate. Even though he was so talented and gifted, he did not feel that in his heart. He began to admit that the inadequacy began in junior high and he had never moved beyond it. He was afraid to address it. He was embarrassed, almost ashamed. Finally, in the last chapter of his life, AJ realized how foolish some of that was. He could not go back in time and change it, but he could live in the present and make the future more life giving. He was finally doing that.
For AJ, life finally had a meaning and a purpose and an undetected childhood seizure disorder took him in the springtime of his life.
Sometimes we fail to realize that the best and the beautiful also hurt and feel inadequate. As adults, we need to be more attentive and realize how fragile life really is.
We are all mortal. No one is invincible. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to a world that too often is more concerned about instant gratification than the things of the heart.