Listening to Hunter Biden’s unflinching account to CBS News of his darkest times — days and nights in a narrow world of craving the drugs that were stealing his life — left me admiring his honesty and his courage, but also flinching with the memories that huddle stubbornly in my own history.
When I was barely 20, a doctor I had been getting amphetamines from, and frequently lying to in order to get refills way before I should have, suddenly got wise to me. He refused to refill the prescription, insisting instead that I let him do an electrocardiogram. After the test, he informed me that, if I continued my drug use, I wouldn’t live to 30.
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My heart looked like a 70-year-old man’s, he said. I walked out of his office with only one thought in my mind: Where am I going to get the speed I had been addicted to since I was a teenager? Quitting didn’t occur to me.
There are many opinions about why people become addicted to drugs. Doctors have theories; so do addicts.
But there is a common thread, I think, that runs through everyone’s story — the world seems easier to handle when we’re high.
The truth about my delusions
I was 16 when I discovered amphetamines, and I remember feeling that now I could handle a world that frightened me at every turn. As long as my heart was racing, as long as I was jacked up on speed, fear couldn’t find its way in. I was invincible. I was smarter. I could talk fast and be more alert than anyone else.
The fact that all of that is a lie creeps in sometimes. It whispers through the darkness that’s your constant companion; it howls down from the sky. The only thing that silences the truth about your delusions is more drugs.
Speed morphed into cocaine — it was the same rush, and at a certain point in my life, it was more available. I sat in dim living rooms with people who had burned holes in their septum from constantly snorting coke, but still couldn’t make themselves stop. It was one ragged night when I really did think my heart was going to give out that made me stop. I didn’t go to rehab. In the '70s, I’m not sure how many rehab places there were. But neither did I look for any. My father was governor of California, I was ashamed and embarrassed, so I quit the same way I started — all alone.
Alone and vulnerable
Here is something you should know about addiction. Whatever someone’s poison is, they have fallen in love with it. It’s the one dependable thing in a world where friends might leave you, where family might turn away, where love is elusive. That drug, that drink, will always be there for you. It will take you to a place you know and, as dark as that place is, it’s familiar.
Once you quit, if you’re lucky enough to succeed at quitting, you have to make peace with the fact that the world is still going to be frightening at times, and you’ll have to travel through it on your own, without the dependable companion you relied on for years.
When one’s wounds are laid out in a glaring spotlight for the world to see, they are harder to heal. It’s a lesson that many of us who have been thrust into that spotlight have learned.
I thought about that too when I was listening to Hunter Biden. My hope is that, if anyone judges him — or anyone else — for talking openly about their addictions, they are silenced by a chorus of people who choose compassion over cruelty.
Addiction is a dark place. If we’re lucky, someone reaches through that darkness, holds out a hand, and is willing to understand.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Patti Davis: Hunter Biden knows drug addiction is a darkness