This article is part of the Here. Now. essay series, which seeks to de-stigmatize mental health treatment, and improve accessibility to treatment and support for teens and parents in metropolitan New York.
Her face was blue. Body stiff. Lying hunched over on her bed in a pool of vomit. No movement. Breathless. Dead. A 25 years old, my friend Naomi, with a beautiful Jewish soul, unique zest for life, contagious vivaciousness, strikingly beautiful smile, and the greatest and deepest belly laugh known to mankind, succumbed to the demons of addiction, heroin, cocaine—a lethal combination.
Our friend, Dovi, a volunteer firefighter, heard the address blare over the loud speakers amidst the sirens at the local Pikesville Fire Department. As soon as he heard the address, he thought, “I was just at that address for her birthday party!” He geared up and hopped on the rig. As he entered the home at 8:25 in the morning, her father was panicked, screaming, “She’s not breathing, oh my God, Dovi, you have to save her, she’s not breathing, my baby, Naomi wake up, wake up damnit!”
As soon as he saw her body lying there, he knew that she was dead and rigor mortis had set in. He proceeded to perform CPR on his friend, knowing that it was too late, with Naomi’s father begging and pleading with all his heart and soul to bring her back, to save his baby. Dovi carried Naomi’s lifeless body down the stairs, dead weight, and her body was transported to Sinai where she was pronounced dead upon arrival. Cause of death was aspirating on vomit from a lethal overdose.
We met when we were 15. Such innocence—a shared love of music, art, Judaism, and our community. We were soul sisters, two young girls hosting sleepovers together and driving our parents mad with our cackling laughter. Naomi became entrenched in the music scene through a young lover—a guy who was older than her, a DJ. She was captivated by it. Slowly over time she began mixing friends and drugs. At first what seemed like innocent teenage experimentation led to a much bigger problem.
Our friendship hit a sudden jolt when my grandmother had a stroke. My mother called with the news while Naomi and I were hanging out after a work shift while on semester break from college. I wanted Naomi to come with me to the hospital, but she was fixated on meeting up with one of her buddies and get her next fix. The conversation between us became heated and hurtful words were said on both ends.
Eventually, I got her to come with me to the hospital. When my grandma saw Naomi and I enter her hospital room, she scanned the two of us and blurted out loud, “What is she on?” It was after that when we began drifting apart. It was so painful to watch her spiral out of control.
One week before her overdose, I was working a night shift as a receptionist at a local gym, my part-time job while in grad school. A Facebook notification popped up on my phone. Naomi. Her birthday party was in one week. She was so excited to celebrate her 25th birthday. After approximately one year of no contact, we had reconnected. I heard the same false hopes that I had heard for years: “I’m clean, I’m sober. I have 30 days clean. 60 days clean. 90.” I heard it all before.
Sometimes she was indeed on the sober path, but other times, I had to come to terms with the revolving door of compulsive lies. There was always a part of me that was hopeful she was finally on the “derech,” the road to recovery. In reality, though, I saw her struggle. I knew her fight. It was so complex. Dark. Scary. Terrifying. These demons were overpowering. One week later, they killed her.
As I watched my soul sister self-destruct, it was incredibly painful—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The pain was raw yet I could only imagine what the hideous demons rotting her brain were like. I was paranoid about doing her favors, yet bound by our sisterly youthful love to help her, to ease the pain. Taking her to appointments, picking her up when she was stranded at a seedy place, grocery shopping, giving her a ride to work where we shared counter shifts at a local kosher pizza establishment—it all became dangerous. I worried that she may be hiding drugs on her person.
How would I ever be able to explain to an officer that my friend had a needle and dope in her pocket? Plead ignorance? Anytime that she would get in my car, I would make her empty her bag and pockets to ensure that she was not carrying dope on her. She would often have pill bottles, prescribed by her doctor. A mixture of psychiatric meds and a cocktail that she oftentimes abused. There were times when I asked her to show me the pills inside of her container so that I knew it wasn’t dope. There were times I’m sure she had dope hidden in places on her body.
Being friends with an addict in the pangs, twangs, needles, nods, and heinousness of addiction is painful, excruciatingly so. However, comparatively it is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the pain and suffering of the addict herself. It is a downward spiral of self-destruction. You bear witness to the drugs completely morphing their entire body and soul from the person you love into an egocentric monster. It is terrifying.
Many times I recall pulling up to her house and taking a deep breath before paying a visit, prepping myself for the first glance. I could always tell by looking in her eyes if she was using, or the way her head would spastically drop almost completely off her shoulders, as she would jerk forward, the nod. She became completely fixated on the next fix, a stronger high, upping the ante, chasing the dragon.
The person who I once loved was gone. She lied, cheated people, and hurt those she loved the most while simultaneously killing herself. It was a vicious cycle of self-destruction, a desperate call to help for adequate medical and psychiatric interventions.
At 25, she had so much to offer, and so much ahead of her. Falling in love, getting married, giving birth to her first child, a passionate career, a home—all of the above. Instead, at 25, she was buried six feet under. Watching my friend struggle through the rawness of drug addiction will haunt me for the remainder of my life. Instead of meeting up at the park for play dates with our children, going swimming (one of our favorite past times), cooking a Shabbat meal together, or watching a funny comedy, I place a rock on her tombstone when I visit and I think about her when I light Shabbat candles.
Throughout my life I hope to inspire someone to put the needle down, to not venture through these dark alleys, and to seek the mental health care help that they need. There should be no shame in seeking adequate mental health care. It’s time to end the stigma.
This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,
and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.
You can find other educational mental health resources here.