The Best Minds of My Generation, but not the Grittiest
I was at the movie "Titanic" the night G overdosed and died. It was the winter of 1997 and "Titanic" was a pretty big deal. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about so I made my boyfriend take me. He wasn't happy because our friends were having what they called a wine party that night and he would have to miss it for what he considered a moronic movie. I enjoyed the movie and even shed a tear at the end. He did not.
What we did not know was that our friends were having much more than just wine at that party. I don't know what all they were doing but it involved opiates. And G did too many and he went unconscious and seized and foamed at the mouth. And they took him and carried him to his apartment and laid him on his couch. And he died.
They did this because they were afraid to get in trouble for whatever it was they were doing that night at that improperly named wine party. They did not dump him in front of the ER and drive away. They did not drop him in front of his parents' house and honk and run. They let him die. He was 20.
If I'd been at that party instead of "Titanic", I wouldn't have let him die. I know this for a fact. I was not afraid. I was the always sober one there to try to keep them safe. Drugs were not the center of my world like they were theirs. I had not sold my soul to addiction. I had not slowly fallen into a life where drugs mattered more than anything or anyone. They had. G had too.
They were afraid in the days that followed that they would be arrested. They mourned his death by drinking and smoking weed and telling stories about him. And they tried to justify what they had done. And they were afraid. I saw the guilt and shame in them, eating its way into their soul like bacteria in a necrotic wound. I'd been slowly losing them for a few years. Looking back on it, I think this was when I really lost them for good. The spark that was them went out.
We'd met three years earlier, when we were 15 years old. There was a group of them. All boys. I was the only girl. And they were funny and smart and creative and full of life. They were so damn smart. They weren't like the other kids at school. They didn't buy into all the bullshit. We read Kerouac and Ginsberg and listened to Nirvana and ran all over town raising cain. And they smoked cigarettes and drank beer and Zima when they could get it and toked pot out of Coke can bowls. I did not. It wasn't such a big part of things then. Mainly we talked and went to arcades and roamed around goofing off. Mainly we were busy being 15.
But as time went on, the alcohol and the drugs moved further and further to the center. They used to make fun of burnouts who smoked too much pot, of guys who did hard drugs. Thought they were stupid. But pot led to acid to mushrooms to pills to coke to crack to heroin. Drinking went from fun when they could get it to alcoholism. Pot became daily and their minds wasted. I saw the best minds of my generation ...
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the
starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.
Ginsberg says it significantly better than I.
They dropped out of school. Got arrested. Aren't allowed to see their kids. Are on heroin and killing themselves with alcohol. G died years ago. Theirs is a slower death.
One died this past winter. I'm sure the others will follow. I look at us now. I became a physician who treats addiction. They became addicted. There but by the grace of God go I.
I have seen those that are taking a different path, though. So many of my patients get back to being themselves with the help of treatment. They face the demons of their past and the things they've done while struggling with their addiction. They do the hard work of recovery. The day in and day out.
This past week I had two different patients come in for follow up and tell me their lives were turning around. I'm proud of them. I hope they're proud of themselves. I'm happy for their children and their significant others. Recovery is not easy.
Life is easier for some than others but we all have our cross to bear. We all have the same basic choice in life: will we fight?
I found an article many years ago that reported on a scientific study that showed that grit was responsible for 75% of success in life, talent only 25%. It's sort of a silly thing to try to quantify but I cut that article out and kept it. I was 24 and had a special needs newborn and had decided I was going to be a doctor. Literally everyone I talked to told me it would never happen. I carried that article with me to med school and then residency. They were wrong.
Grit is ambition, determination, perseverance, optimism, work ethic, resilience. It is not always logical. In fact, in the times when you need it most it isn't logical at all. That's the point. Deciding you will do something difficult, something that seems impossible. Deciding you will. Somehow. You will.
I see grit in the autism mamas standing up to a medical world that tells them to get their child some therapy and look for an institution. I see grit in my addiction patients working hard at recovery in a society that views their medical problem as a moral failing, despite a medical establishment that created the opiate epidemic and has now turned its back on them. I see grit in my boys as they struggle with autism and vision impairment and PANS and Lyme and more. Working so hard to do simple things that come so easily to other kids. Facing down demons most adults would hide from.
I did not become a doctor to settle in comfortably to taking care of those whose lives are easy. I became a doctor to serve those whom our culture and our medical world has turned their backs on. Seeking to get well or to get their children well is an act of resistance. I respect their grit more than they will ever know. I hope I can lend some grit of my own and make a difference.
To my friends who've chosen a different path: Rest in peace, my friends. And know that I tried.