A struggling addict called me tonight during dinner. His mom has been talking with me for the last couple of weeks with the hopes of connecting us. Convincing addicts to focus on the light and come out of the darkness is a chess match. At one point during our conversation, he asked me, “So what are you doing right now? I must be interrupting you.” I replied, “No it’s okay, I’m just having dinner with a couple of my friends. My buddy Matthew from Massachusetts is in town and my buddy Danny from Connecticut came over as well. I’m waiting on my friend Jason to come out but I’m not sure he’ll make it.” The addict on the other line said, “Oh well I’ll let you go, I don’t mean to interrupt.” This was just the opportunity he was looking for to get off the phone with someone like me. I said, “No don’t go yet, my friends didn’t show tonight. In all reality, I’m eating dinner alone. I eat dinner alone most nights.” The addict on the other end of the phone said, “Oh alright, maybe you should find some new friends?” I paused for a few seconds and then I said, “Well, Jason hasn’t answered the phone since he overdosed on heroin in his bathroom last January. He doesn’t answer because he’s gone. Matthew has never been to my house. He died two years ago of a blood infection from intravenous drug abuse. Danny and I used to eat dinner together every night. Unfortunately a lethal dose of carfentanil ended his life last year. They said he was gone before he could even finish pushing the plunger down on the syringe.” The phone went quiet after that. He didn’t say anything. I waited to hear him hang up, but he didn’t. I bet those thirty seconds of silence felt like two hours to him. Checkmate. I got clean by being uncomfortable. I got clean by people being honest with me and not sugar coating life. I wanted to make sure the young man on the phone felt that uncomfortability too. So I took every possible second of awkwardness, and then I said, “Yeah, I’m actually getting tired of eating alone. I need some new friends. You know anyone?”

-Kevin Alter