Abigail Rose Fiala
Six years ago today, September 5, 2014, I moved to Santa Monica for my fifth travel nursing contract. I had worked in Phoenix, San Francisco, Riverside, and Kansas City over the previous two years, and I knew I was starting to feel the desire to stay put for a little longer, to be around consistent community again, which is why I started looking for jobs in Los Angeles. And I found a job at the same hospital my friend Abby already worked at in Santa Monica. Another of my close friends and Abby’s girlfriend, Kaci, was also planning a move to the area after they had been dating long distance for a year, so I knew that this was the job I was supposed to take. I renewed the contract two times before taking a permanent staff position the summer of 2015.
Six years ago, I intentionally moved into Abby’s neighborhood to make her my community. Last week, she left my life forever after a drug overdose. This is going to be a post remembering her and processing my grief. But to do that, I have to go back further than September 2014.
Abby first entered my life in 2012, when we both got heavily invested in a web series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (and later on several other web series, including Squaresville). She used to make gifs from episodes and post them on tumblr, so I felt very indebted to her for all the excellent content she was providing to help me love these shows even more. It is one of those friendships where I couldn’t even begin to tell you exactly when or how it started. I can tell you that November 1, 2012 is the day I started following her on twitter, because I looked it up on my twitter archive. I hadn’t realized she also had a twitter account, and I got roasted by our friends for not already following her.
Twitter archives are kind of amazing at capturing exactly what was happening in your life and your friend group when you are all on it together. In March 2013, I was driving from Phoenix to San Francisco, so naturally I ended up talking about it on twitter and decided to meet up with Abby and another LBD fan who has become a close friend, Claudia. We met at a Panera, and it was both of their first times there. Abby ordered broccoli cheddar soup at the recommendation of our other friend Kelsey, and we tweeted out photos of the meeting, which made several of our friends jealous they couldn’t be with us in person, too. She even turned me into a gif after that lunch, and I was so excited to be gif’d for the first time.
She was adept at giffing and video editing, so when I started organizing a secret fan video project to celebrate the ending of the LBD, I asked her to be the one to head up editing it. It turned into one of my favorite fandom contributions.
Later that year, in June, I drove down from San Francisco with another fan and dear friend to go to Disneyland and visit Abby and several other people. We were building a community that started online but was transitioning into real life in a beautiful and organic way that was deepening our friendships and community. When it was time to decide where to take my next job, I decided to look in Southern California, and I ended up in Riverside, California for the last half of 2013.
Summer 2013, our friend group was alive and well. A ton of us met up at VidCon that summer, including coordinating a visit from our friend Amelia from Australia, who was still a minor, to stay with me for the week. That VidCon was the first time the vast majority of us were all together in person; it was a solidifying moment of friendship, and it created so many beautiful and fun memories.
Fall 2013 is when I feel like Abby and I really started bonding one on one. Even though several of our friends were in the general SoCal area, Abby and I both worked full time, but also had random weekdays off because we both worked at hospitals and would work some weekends. So, we had both spendable income and random free time. She quickly became my “let’s do this fun thing together” buddy. We would meet at Disneyland, meet at Magic Mountain, go to random plays, and anything else we both felt like checking out. I don’t think I can fully express how many Disney ride photos I have of me and Abby during that fall, so I guess I will just show you a (large) sampling.
That Thanksgiving, Kaci came out to visit. I got the day off of work and drove into Santa Monica, and thus began Kaci’s and my tradition of spending Thanksgiving with Abby’s family. I also roped Abby into filming that day and later editing a parody song music video I had been wanting to make for over a year and hadn’t gotten around to it. She took my raw, unedited footage and audio and made a video that I still adore and am so glad finally got made.
Not long after Thanksgiving, I packed up my apartment back into my car (with Abby’s help) and drove to Atlanta to spend the holidays with my family before deciding where to go out on another travel job. I ended up in Kansas City, but I was constantly missing being so close to my LA friends.
2014 convention season brought on more adventures with Abby and our other friends. VidCon in Anaheim again, and GeekyCon in Orlando.
And that brings us to six years ago, when I decided to take a job in Santa Monica. I had such a blast being just over an hour drive from Abby and our other SoCal friends, but especially Abby, because she was always up for seeing and doing things together. Taking a job at her hospital and living minutes away from her was a dream. I started my new SoCal life strong, attending my first Dapper Day.
Life was complimented by Kaci’s arrival a month later. We quickly settled into a tangible community that I could share everyday life with. Of course, because it’s us, every day life involved a lot of game nights, Disney days, and musicals. 2014 soon became 2015, and my new normal was having Abby (and Kaci) in my life all the time. Sometimes it even included unplanned run-ins at the grocery store. There was another Thanksgiving, another amazing pumpkin chiffon pie made by Abby. We would time our lunch break together some days, and we always enjoyed talking about stool samples that I’d collect and she’d process, grossing our friends out in the process.
Later in the year, what was solidifying into our SoCal Squad — brought together by internet fandom, but intentionally choosing to continue to share life together — got to attend two of our friends’ wedding.
VidCon and GeekyCon in 2015 were a weekend apart, and it was back to back adventures.
By summer 2015, it was clear I would be staying in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. I had gone back to Nashville to pack up and ship the rest of my stuff, found a permanent place to live, changed over my car registration and license, etc. to officially become a California resident. Merry times with friends and with Abby continued.
Special Disney trips with friends visiting from abroad continued.
In 2016, we were officially the Squad, it felt like our little community had found a comfortable groove. Everything was bliss. Or so it seemed.
Halfway through the year, in July 2016, Kaci asked if we could have lunch, just the two of us. That afternoon, she told me how Abby had revealed to her she had been struggling with cravings to use opiates since after she was prescribed some for her wisdom tooth surgery in late 2012/early 2013. That she had bought oxycodone on the dark web because she wanted to feel good again, and then told Kaci about it. She had shown Kaci how many pills she had and told Kaci it was helping her with her anxiety but she knew she needed to stop.
Of course, we only knew then a very censored version of what was going on. Abby was already lying, stockpiling, using in secret while acting accountable. Saying things were fine and under control when they were far from it.
LeakyCon 2016 came to Los Angeles, which was an exciting change of pace to not have to travel for LeakyCon. We still decided to get a hotel room, and Abby and I shared a room with Kaci and our friend Jenn. It was a great week, but also the start of having to remember that my memories don’t reflect reality, and there was already a building level of lies and boundaries being broken I didn’t even know about yet.
I have a chronic illness that can flare at conventions. Part of my treatment plan is taking Ativan before bed on a day I know would have high triggers, which I do a few times a year. I never go to a convention without my meds, and at this point, I was always taking extra meds during cons, because I had spent a week in the hospital after LeakyCon in 2012. That weekend, I now know Abby stole Ativan from my supply. I had no idea until many months later.
Our friend group kept planning special days together, going through our own bucket list of things we really wanted to do at Disneyland and other places. Abby and I had been working on our Disney bucket list together since 2013, and we were still finding new things to do for the first time. In October, we all ate at Goofy’s Kitchen and then attended Mickey’s Halloween Party that night.
In November and December 2016, Abby’s drug use was ramping up in secret. That Thanksgiving I had to work, but her family saved me a plate, including a piece of the coveted pumpkin chiffon pie. Usually Abby made the pie herself, but she wasn’t feeling well that day; we thought maybe she was sick or in a depression funk. Abby’s mom Ruth had to help Abby make the pie. She fell asleep waiting for me to get there and was really out of it that night. She told us later that she was in withdrawal that day.
That December, we went to the Disney Candlelight processional together along with my roommate. I’m pretty sure that was my first year attending, and I only knew about it because of Abby. It immediately became one of my favorite Disney and Christmas events. Later that month, Abby was part of the largest group of friends I’ve ever had go to a musical with me.
Everything came to crashing down January 4th, 2017. I got a call from Kaci in the middle of a date that Abby was in the ER in severe withdrawal. She had been taking doses of opiates that didn’t sound possible, that terrified me as an ICU nurse who pushes these drugs almost every shift for my patients in acute distress. She had been using in secret, alone in the apartment while Kaci went home to visit her family for a week after Christmas. She had run out of drugs and money to buy them with.
It was one of the hardest 24 hours of my life. The next day, one of my dearest friends called to tell me she had officially decided to file for a divorce. And to top it all off, my favorite TV show had been canceled. I sat in my car sobbing for over an hour after work January 5th. I was overwhelmed at all the pain and secret burdens my friends had been carrying that I was only just learning about. I had no idea how to support them, but I knew I wanted to be there for them more than anything.
Three days later, we had already planned to have our Squad Christmas, and I had already extensively planned and prepared collage picture frames to give us all. I had been planning to make them for at least a year and finally gotten myself organized enough to follow through.
That night, Abby told the rest of our close friend group about her addiction, her withdrawal, her trip to the ER, and that she was heading into a rehab program. We were all emotional, and I remember that night feeling so much love and support. I was so proud of us, that we were all ready to rally around Abby and support her through rehab and her recovery.
A few days later, I had dinner and spent the evening with Kaci and Abby one more time before she headed to rehab. We were full of naive optimism about the future.
Before 2017, my friendship with Abby was lived out in the open. You could easily pull up and see exactly what day different things happened, because there’s a tweet, or an instagram post, or something documenting it. Our friendship started on social media, and we easily would turn tweets into text conversations and vice versa. There is more than one tweet in my archive along the lines of “Abby, why aren’t you texting me back!!!” It took me hours to go through my twitter archive of tweets mentioning her from 2013–2016.
There are five tweets where I mentioned her from 2017 until now. The moment her addiction came to light, our friendship went immediately offline. I’m a very open person, but this was something that wasn’t my story to tell, so I didn’t share it.
But, our friendship and my love and care and concern for her continued on. 2017 happens to be the year I started bullet journaling, and I’ve been keeping a line a day journal since August 2010. The archive of our friendship at this point is no longer public, but it’s still recorded. And it’s a hard road. I didn’t share any of it publicly then, but I’d like to share some of it now.
She spent two weeks in a rehab program in January, but insurance wouldn’t cover any more than that. Our friends rallied around her, supporting her, congratulating her on not using, and trying to be there for her.
In February, our friend Chelsea came down to spend the weekend to support her recovery. We all had brunch together; they went to Disney the next day, but I opted not to go because I had planned to spend my free time that day with my new boyfriend, and Abby only wanted close friends to be there with her because she wanted a “chill therapeutic day” with people she already knew. I felt awful for choosing time with my boyfriend over her and agonized over the decision, and we had a long discussion about it. She told me she was learning to assert herself in her recovery and ask for what she needed. She said Disney meant a lot to her and to her recovery. I ultimately realized I had too much school work to dedicate time for a Disney trip, so I didn’t join them. Then, I found out she used in secret the entire day at Disney.
I wrote her the following text after I found that out.
Just wanted to reach out and remind you again that I love you. I want to be honest that I was really disappointed that after all that talk about not wanting Tyler there on Sunday because it was an important recovery day for you, it really hurt to find out you had been using that day again. But at the same time, I know that it doesn’t mean you didn’t mean what you said, and that you’re probably more disappointed in yourself than I was feeling. Please remember that you are not your addiction. I remember that, and I love you still. When I was talking with Kaci on Tuesday, we talked about how this is a really important part of the process… part of recovery is the falls, and learning that you’re not as strong as you think you are or you want to be. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you will always not be strong, it just means that you have to find new ways to be strong, new ways to turn away from your urges. And that takes time! That takes all the hard work you’re doing in rehab. And you’re doing it! I am so so proud of you for that! This isn’t a failure, this is the start of your journey to healing and being clean.
We had gotten Pantages season tickets together along with our other friend, Chris. Abby, Kaci, Chris, and I all in a row. I remember being so excited to purchase those season tickets with my friends in 2016, to have those dates on the calendar where I knew we were going to spend time with each other. Our third show was Finding Neverland. That’s the night Abby told us in the car on the way to the show that she bought heroin. I remember calmly asking if she used any, and she said she was really tempted to, but she didn’t. I told her I was really proud of her for telling us, and it was okay, and she did the right thing. A day later, I found out she was high during that conversation. She had used hours before. I was doing my best to create an open space for her to be honest about her recovery and know it was safe to come to me, to us, and she was still lying.
I only found two pictures with her in 2017. All I can think now when I look at them was that she was lying, right then; in that moment, it was all a lie. I stopped taking pictures with her after that. I couldn’t trust her, and I didn’t want to keep torturing myself with tainted memories captured in a selfie to forever preserve that time Abby lied to me, again.
My bullet journal is full of these simple logs throughout the beginning of that year.
February 7th, 2017: Kaci needing support, Abby relapsed.
March 4th, 2017: Abby bought heroin and told us. Amended the next day to include: and used and lied. So angry and lost.
March 7th: Abby back to inpatient rehab.
March 15th: Abby’s insurance won’t cover rehab.
April 9th: Abby used again, and is in the hospital getting a psych eval (OD’d, resuscitated).
It’s all scattered in next to my daily to-do lists, school assignment tracking, and other momentos. 11 am therapy, study patho, gifts for Galentines Day? Oh, also, Abby relapsed. Write up abdominal assessment, clean the cat litter, don’t forget to vote. Also, Abby’s back in rehab. I remember making these notes thinking “I don’t have time to reflect on what this means right now, but I want to make sure when I look back at this time I remember that on top of everything else I had going on, my friend was slipping deeper and deeper into addiction and I had no idea how to help her.”
I don’t usually journal in depth daily, but for whatever reason that year, I decided to spend every day of lent journal praying, which is my preferred way to spend time in intentional prayer. Maybe because I was feeling so overwhelmed and knew I needed to pray more, because it’s all I knew to do. From March 1st to April 15th, I wrote out my prayers daily. And over and over again my heart bled over the page with love and fear for Abby.
March 1st: Be with Kaci, be with Abby. Help us support them and have patience and compassion for Abby- but to not enable her- give Abby what she needs to heal- from herself, not us.
March 4th: Lord, do be with Abby and her recovery, Kaci as she navigates this, and all of us supporting them both.
March 5th: Oh, Lord, I am worried about Abby. And feeling powerless and confused and just sick with worry and fear for her. Let her hear us. She needs to go back to inpatient rehab or she’s going to kill herself. … I have no idea if I’m saying the right things. But Lord, I love her, I care for her, which means you must, too. … Give me peace and let me know I’ve done what I can and surrender the rest to you. … Be with Abby and be with us, be with Abby and be with us, be with Abby and be with us.
March 6th: My heart is heavy because of Abby. I don’t know how to help her or what to do. And I want to protect Kaci from all this pain. I don’t want to have to cut Abby out of my life. I’m sad and scared for her, and feel completely ill-equipped for this. And also unable to focus on anything else but my worry and anxiety and anger about and at her. I don’t know where to go next. … My mind is wandering this morning … It’s so hard to focus on anything else, but I don’t even know what to worry about or what to do. I’m overwhelmed and overcome by it. I don’t understand why she seems to be getting worse, not better, with rehab. … Is it too much to ask to keep her clean for more than 3 weeks?
March 7th: Oh, God, thank you for letting Abby realize she needs to go back to inpatient, and please please Lord let it be a time of recovery and breakthroughs for her. Please Lord let her stay the whole time, as long as she needs. Let her get better.
March 9th: Be with Abby in rehab. Give her strength and courage. Help her get better.
March 13th: So many things weigh on my heart tonight. Firstly, Abby, Abby, Abby. … Lord, heal Abby, and keep her in rehab! I can’t watch her keep walking away from her recovery.
March 16th: Lord, I am so worried about Abby. I confess I am easily caught up in wanting to control the situation, or wanting to guilt, shame, or force her to get clean. I just fear this is not the best move for her, and that she is setting herself up for failure. I don’t know what the right move is here. …. Lord, I am so angry and confused and scared.
March 18th: Be with Abby this weekend, keep her safe. Keep my mind centered and help me internalize that I can’t control or cure her- only she can do that. I can just keep loving her, but letting her feel the consequences of her actions, too.
March 20th: I don’t know how I should respond and support Abby right now. Please provide some time for me to actually think about it and come up with boundaries.
March 31st: Help me not to fret about Abby, and be with Abby- give her the strength and desire to get well. And help me stay removed and follow my boundaries.
April 4th: I don’t want Abby to die. I really really want her to get well and experience real happiness again.
April 5th: My heart feels heavy about Abby; I worry and there’s nothing I can do- please give her parents wisdom and please get her the help she needs to get well.
April 6th: I have no idea what to do or how to feel about Abby… I’m so angry… and confused and I’m tired of her addiction being in control because it’s turned her into an awful person who I hate. I don’t want to give up hope and walk away, but also I can’t help and support her if she’s not willing to help herself. But I don’t want to abandon her. I don’t know what to do. Please give me wisdom in all of this. Life is so hard and messy.
April 8th: Give me wisdom on how to move forward in supporting Abby, or the wisdom and strength to truly step away if I need to- but also please get her to 30 and 60 days… I don’t want her to die.
April 9th: Be with Abby. And give Kaci and I the strength to stay away. It’s hard. I’m so worried about her. But what she needs is to feel the pain and reality of all her addiction is destroying. And I need to not be caught in the middle of her addiction and her manipulation. Oh give me grace and wisdom.
April 10th: Please be with Kaci, give her the strength she needs to survive today. Keep us firm and strong and remembering we are doing the right thing.
April 12th: I am not giving myself enough space to remember that Abby is hurting me too, not just Kaci- that I also need to process and grieve- not just support her.
March 29, 2017 is the first time I sent her boundaries, which I wrote out and sent through a text, along with the following message.
Hi Abby. I love you. I know I haven’t reached out since you went in and came back out from inpatient. I had been planning on writing you a long letter the week you left rehab, and then I needed some time to really think about what was best for me and you given where you are in your recovery. I’ve made these boundaries. Please know that I fiercely love you and want to see you well again, and never stop wanting recovery for you. I know this is hard, and I know it’s using all your energy to focus on pushing through your recovery. I’m glad to hear from Kaci that sober living and group therapy has been going well so far, even though I know it’s hard. This is going to be hard, but there is no shortcut for it, there is no skipping or rushing through this step. Your mind has to learn how to feel and process emotions again, without drugs. You’re going to feel anxious and a lot of unpleasant feelings, but they won’t last forever. There is real happiness on the other side, not the fast and fleeting thrill of a drugged high. I believe you can do this and I am 100% behind you as you go through this. But I also need to be clear that lying to me and lying to Kaci is not okay, and hurts me. I am angry that you lied about using heroin, and you used again after telling Kaci about it. And it made me so scared to see how much control your addiction still has over you. But I know this is your fight and only you can do it. I’m going to stay removed until you’re 60 days sober, because it’s not fair to me or you to have expectations of you while you’re still in this very hard first couple of months. I can’t wait to talk to you again in another month and see how you’re doing. I love you. Looking forward to your 60 days. Until then, know that I’m still praying for you regularly, and helping support Kaci so that she can keep supporting you.
She kept continually relapsing after that text. April 8th I sent her revised boundaries.
Abby, I wanted to clarify a couple of my boundaries, especially given your most recent relapse. I remain fiercely supportive of your recovery but I can’t support you if you aren’t getting the help you need and committed to your recovery. And right now I can’t trust anything you’re doing or saying, and I won’t be able to until you’re able to stay clean.
My firm boundary is that I don’t want any communication with you until you reach 60 days clean. That includes through twitter, Instagram, etc. So I would appreciate if you don’t like my posts because right now I really need to decrease my contact with you because I love you, but I never know if I’m talking to you or your addiction right now and I need to step away until I can be sure I’m talking to you again.
Once you are sixty days without using, we can talk and I will likely reinforce and maybe add or adjust boundaries based on my list I already gave you. One new boundary I realized I need given that you used a drug that I have a prescription for to prevent my CVS cycles is that we can no longer travel together. I hate this but I can’t worry that you’re going to take meds that I need to stay healthy for yourself, and I have to travel with my meds to stay safe.
I love you. I want to see you get better. I can’t tell you how to do that, but I urge you to do whatever you have to to get yourself past the thirty and sixty day marks of not using. None of us can continue to support you if you never make it past thirty days.
After she overdosed and almost died in April, her parents helped send her to a three-month outdoor rehab program in Utah. For 90 days, I knew she was somewhere safe, and I didn’t have to worry if she was using again. She hadn’t made it 30 days without using since the start of the year when she started trying to get clean. I was learning how to place boundaries with the addict in your life. I learned I was allowed to check out when it was too much, and it wasn’t selfish. I was allowed to have consequences when she broke my boundaries.
After those 90 days, when Abby returned to Santa Monica, I sat down and wrote a long letter to her and listed new boundaries. I hadn’t read it in a while, and reading it again this week, along with reading through that prayer journal, reminded me again of how much pain and fear I was experiencing. I finally was realizing and accepting that there was no trust anymore between me and Abby, and I didn’t know how we would be able to rebuild that except with time, and it was going to be a long road. But, I was willing and open to slowly rebuilding.
My boundaries included things like:
I expect the truth from you when you tell me things.
I will not lie for you.
If you steal from the hospital again, I will report you.
I don’t want to interact with you at work. I don’t want to eat lunch together or talk in the hallways.
We may not travel together and you may not stay in the same hotel room as me or be in my hotel room.
You are not allowed into my home.
I do not want you to be in my selfies for now.
If you have used in the past 24 hours, I do not want to be in your presence. I expect you to be honest and tell me if you have used before we see each other.
Looking at that list, after spending the last several days looking at all our memories together, it stood out how every good thing we had shared was now tainted.
I used to love talking to her at work and eating lunch with her, but now it distracted me from my work. The last time we ate lunch together she was in withdrawal. I couldn’t see her at work without thinking about how she stole needles and other supplies from that hospital to help her use opiates.
I used to love going to conventions with her, but now all I could think about was how she might try to steal my medication and it wasn’t safe for her to be in my home where I had controlled meds for my own chronic illness.
I used to love taking pictures with her, but now they all made me sad.
We started rebuilding, slowly. Mostly texting, trying to rebuild trust. My boundaries included not wanting to spend time with her one on one. She was in a sober living facility for a while, so it was difficult to find time to meet up, but we were texting every few weeks. Long texts and short texts. Texts about how this was hard for both of us, rebuilding trust. But it was so nice to talk to her again. She had a mildly positive urine drug test, which she claimed was from a poppy seed bagel, and we had a long discussion about how I know it was frustrating that we couldn’t automatically believe her, but that this was part of what it looks like to lose trust. We couldn’t just take her at her word anymore.
I didn’t see her in person again until December 2nd, when we went to the Candlelight Processional again together. At that point, we had been trying to see each other for a few months but couldn’t get our schedules lined up. Because I didn’t want to be alone with her, we had to coordinate more than two schedules, and it wasn’t easy.
In January 2018, Abby had moved back into the apartment she shared with Kaci, and we were once again cautiously optimistic that she was on the path to real recovery, healing, and restoration. We had a game night towards the end of the month; it was the first time we had hung out together like we used to in a long time, and it was so wonderful.
I was trying out a passion planner that year and wrote in the monthly reflection in January that one of the most memorable moments was the game night with Kaci, Kelsey, and Abby: “it was so good to spend time with Abby again, and we laughed until we cried and couldn’t breathe.” I wrote I was grateful for sober/clean Abby.
It was clear, however, that Abby was no longer part of the Squad. Rebuilding with her was on individual terms for all of us, and we all had different boundaries and needs that we all respected. Kaci and I were committed to walking with her and rebuilding our little Santa Monica community, and Kelsey remained committed as well to cautiously rebuilding her friendship with Abby.
And then, March 10th, 2018, another added note to the end of my daily schedule in my planner: Abby relapsed, went to Kaci’s. Kelsey and I rushed to be with Kaci and tried to process it all together. It was two days after I had decided I was okay being alone with Abby again and had gone over to hang out at her apartment with her. Kelsey and I tried to be helpful and take the illegal drugs out of the apartment for Kaci the next day, figuring that you can surrender drugs at the police station so they can be safely disposed of. That’s the day the police told me I should have just flushed it and made sure I knew I could have been arrested for possession if someone had stopped me before I walked into the station. After that stressful encounter, we then went to visit the Wilhites and their 6-month-old to help us feel better and have something happy to focus on.
That was the first time she really broke my boundaries. I was around her when she had used within 24 hours, and she stole again from the hospital.
Later in March, Abby relapsed again, and we found out she had been lying to us for months. That she started using again before she even moved back in with Kaci. All the fragile trust we had been building immediately was erased all over again. I still am so angry when I think about how Abby sat in therapy with Kaci and said she was committed to her sobriety and her recovery and ready to move back in and move forward with Kaci, while she was actively using again. That she once again brought illegal drugs into their home. She had shown us her sobriety tokens at that game night and talked about how proud it made her to have them. It makes me furious still today to remember all these lies.
At the end of March, I reflected in my planner that the biggest lessons I learned that month were 1. You can never trust an addict, 2. There is no legal way to turn in illegal drugs, and 3. Baby time can make a lot of things better.
After finding out even more of my boundaries had been broken, that she had been lying to me for months, I finally unfollowed and blocked her on social media. I sent her a text telling her I loved her, but I needed this space as I processed everything. I told her that I couldn’t be friends with someone who wasn’t being honest with me.
After giving her a few weeks to report it herself, I went to my manager in April and reported that she had stolen supplies from the hospital for her drug use. This was one of my clearest and firmest boundaries, as I never reported it the first time (because I didn’t even know if she would ever make it back to her job at the hospital anyway) and felt an ethical commitment to report something that affected my place of work and the safety of patients and staff. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. That day my selfie-of-the-day caption was “I had to do something hard today, but sometimes what is right isn’t easy. (Please don’t ask, it’s not something I want to talk about beyond saying I’m proud of myself, and that’s enough.)”
May of that year, I wrote her a long text with new boundaries. I talked about how hard it was, how much I loved her, how I didn’t know how I would be able to trust her again, except with time and her proving over and over that her words matched her actions. I told her how much I didn’t want to have to have these boundaries, how much I wanted my friend back, but I never knew if I was talking to my friend or her addiction anymore. I told her that I wanted her to still text me and let me know how she’s doing, but for now I wanted to limit our friendship to texting only. I asked that she start texting me directly with updates on how she was doing instead of going through Kaci, as they were headed towards an inevitable breakup they both needed for healing and growth, and I wanted Abby to know that my friendship with her was separate than my friendship with Kaci, and just as important to me.
At the end of May, Abby came out to me as genderfluid. She started playing around with names and pronouns, trying out different clothes, make up, etc. I was so glad that she was finding the courage to tell us this, and that I was able to support and love her as she explored her gender identity more.
She continued to keep me updated on her recovery like I asked throughout that summer and fall. She started suboxone, she started seeing a new therapist. We kept texting about stool samples, because we’re us, and we would always find a reason to talk about poop. She told me how she always felt really happy when she spent the day presenting as female and felt really bad when she spent the day with her old name and presenting as male. I was cautiously optimistic that beginning to work through her gender identity would help her not feel the need to get high and escape her life anymore.
In September, she told me she had decided on her new and final name, Abigail Rose. Later, she told me about a trans support group she had started attending. We talked about how she still wasn’t ready to be Abby full time yet, but she was thinking about it. And then we talked about her plans to see an endocrinologist and start hormone therapy.
Thanksgiving 2018, Kaci and I spent the day together, making our own two-person meal. We both love many of Abby’s family recipes, and we still kept some as part of our tradition. I made Abby’s pumpkin chiffon pie for the first time and texted her throughout the process with all my questions about the older recipe. I couldn’t find my pie pan and had to do an emergency run to the grocery store to try to find a pan. My homemade pie crust fell out of the pan and onto the floor, and I had to use a pre-made crust instead. I kept her updated all day with the saga, even though we weren’t together.
2019 felt full of possibility and hope. She told me she was nine months sober at the beginning of the year and that she had transitioned to being Abby all of the time. She was respecting my boundaries, and it felt really good. She didn’t talk to me at work but would text me later instead to say she saw me and was thinking of me; she sent me updates and didn’t pressure me to respond right away. I continued to respect my own needs, and would reply to her texts once I was ready, and didn’t feel guilty for not replying immediately, but taking sometimes a few hours or a few days to decide how I wanted to respond. I learned that it was okay to decide when I had the energy to devote to our friendship and when I didn’t have the capacity to engage right then.
I told her I wanted to get to know her as Abby and I wanted to start texting more. I couldn’t trust that she was really clean or that her sobriety date was what she told me it was, but I wanted to believe her, and I wanted to give her a chance to show me more of herself again and share more of her life with me. I celebrated with her that she was getting her name legally changed and sent her a checklist of all the things to remember to update when you change your name. We talked about how I was almost done with my grad program, how she had decided to go back to school for a clinical laboratory science program, and how stressful work can be.
In April 2019, she celebrated one year of sobriety with the help of Suboxone. I hadn’t given her a definitive time that I would be ready to see her again because I wanted to be able to change my mind, but I had been thinking since April 2018 that if she could make it a year without using, then I thought I could trust that enough to be comfortable seeing her in person again. At the end of May, I reached out to say I was ready to see her again and invited her to see Noises Off together. We had seen the play together six years ago, mid-October 2014, right after I moved here and before Kaci moved. It was a special and fun memory between just the two of us, and I was so excited to see the show with her again, to get to see her in person again, and to see her as Abby for the first time. I didn’t share pictures on social media with her that day, but I did take several pictures with her. We carpooled and got dinner together, and it was just so nice. We ran into someone she knew from her trans support group at the theater. I was ready and excited to start rebuilding our friendship even more, and I was really happy to see how well she seemed to be doing.
One of my last classes for my program was an elective on LGBTQ psycho/social/political issues the summer of 2019. There was a section on the increased rates of drug use and addiction in the LGBTQ community. We texted about her Suboxone and how helpful it had been after I watched a documentary for class. It’s one of the most effective treatments for addiction yet so many people don’t have access to it, and I was so grateful that she had started taking it. As we talked in class about how much higher incidences of addiction are in the queer community, I was so thankful that Abby was beginning to live a more true version of herself. And I could see in her pictures that she seemed happier and lighter.
That summer and fall, we found a few more times to spend time together, doing things we had loved before. Disney, plays, and good general fun. We had been seeing the annual production put on by Artists At Play since 2013. I kept going without her; in 2018 I texted her about how it was weird to see the play without her and I missed her. I was delighted to have her join me again in 2019. We went to see a preview of the Looking for Alaska series on Hulu, with a Q&A afterward with John Green. It felt so right to share that night with her. I felt like we were finally rebuilding. I felt like she was finally finding herself and feeling happy.
The last time we texted, it was once again about the Thanksgiving pie. I can never get the crust right. We facetimed so I could show it to her and see what she thought I needed to do. Kaci and I were still opting to do our own Thanksgiving, this time in my brand new apartment. Even with rebuilding, some boundaries were still good. Kaci and Abby had realized they needed to fully close their chapter of friendship so they could both move forward in their lives, but I was hopeful to continue navigating my friendship with both of them separately.
In the last several months since then, Abby started breaking boundaries again, particularly with Kaci. She said hurtful and manipulative things that made us both feel like we couldn’t engage with her anymore. We were worried about her, but we knew that her life and her recovery and her choices were her own. I could only be here as her friend and support if she wanted it. Kaci and I also felt freedom to not feel responsible for her recovery anymore. We were separated enough to know that her struggle and her choices were not a reflection of us and not something we had control over. Only she could be responsible for herself and her choices.
I remember being sad that Abby didn’t reach out to me directly to let me know how she was doing. It’s hard when someone crosses a line when they say they are clean, and now it’s just manipulation. I couldn’t even blame it on the addiction. It was just her, making hurtful choices that made us not feel safe or comfortable around her. Of course, now I wonder if she was already using again and that’s why she was disrespecting boundaries and being manipulative again.
I made a hard decision and unfollowed her on instagram again and unfriended her on facebook for the first time. I still loved her, and I wanted to see her thrive and be happy, but I didn’t feel it was healthy for me or her to keep her in my daily life. I knew that she had a new support system, her friends at school, her trans support group, her family, her medical team, her therapists. I knew that her recovery and healing is her choice and her responsibility. She had all the tools and resources if she needed it.
The weekend before she died, I was thinking about her. I was going through an old memory box, pulling out the bullet journal and prayer journal I’ve gone through again this week. I was thinking about how much I loved her, how hard it had all been in 2017, how much we all went through, how scared I was for her.
When someone dies, it’s impossible to not think back to the last time you thought about talking to them but didn’t. It’s hard not to wonder, what if I had texted her that weekend? It’s hard not to wonder, could I have done something different and prevented this? Especially when it’s death from an overdose. But ultimately, I know that her recovery and her safety while using was her responsibility. She knew the dangers. She knew how to reach out to her support system if she wanted to. She made the active decision to start using again. When did she start using again? I will never know. Was the 2+ years of sobriety a lie? Was she lying to me still as I was getting to know her as Abby? I will never know.
Addiction is a disease, and there’s so much Abby had no control over in it. She didn’t get to decide to have a genetic predisposition for it. She didn’t have any control over the way it changed her brain chemistry after using regularly. It’s a struggle that I will never understand. It’s a sickness that needs medical intervention. Addicts deserve medication that works and address the underlying brain chemistry changes to how they feel desire, pleasure, and happiness. Addiction needs to be treated as a disease state and a chronic illness because it is one.
But addiction is also a string of choices. A string of broken promises, broken trust, lies, and manipulation. Loving Abby through her addiction was hard, painful, and confusing. Trying to rebuild trust with her was scary. I felt completely inadequate and ill-equipped for it, and I’m a trained medical professional.
I had so much hope last year that she was making real progress. After spending most of 2017 expecting her to be dead before the end of the year and trying to prepare for it, and 2018 not knowing any way to trust her again, 2019 was a glimmer of hope, finally, in this long road. I am so thankful I got to know her as Abby, that she was able to come out and transition and begin to live a more truthful, real version of herself. It was beautiful to see the change in her. I was humbled that she shared as much as she did with me on her journey of discovery.
And now, here I am, nine months since I last talked to her, completely blindsided by her death. Full of questions and feeling so crushed and hopeless. Wondering if there ever is any true hope of recovery for an opiate addict, or if it just messes your brain up too much. Feeling still somehow that I failed her, that I should have tried to do more. Overwhelmed when I try to imagine what she must have been feeling to decide to start using again, how low and desperate and hopeless she must have felt. Heartbroken thinking how lonely and isolated she must have felt, and that she might have thought she couldn’t reach out to me ever again because she’d broken the trust too many times. Hating to think that she might have died thinking that I don’t love her anymore because I hadn’t talked to her in months, when literally two days before I was thinking about how I missed her and loved her.
Her death feels pointless and overwhelming. I want there to be a clean happy ending that makes it all make sense, and there isn’t one. Because life is messy and doesn’t always make sense. I’m trying my best to find the threads of peace and stillness in this, but it’s hard. At times it feels impossible.
What I do know is that nothing can ever take away or invalidate all the good memories I shared with Abby. She will always be a part of my story, and a part of who I am. What is life, but who you share it with, and who are you, but who has influenced and shaped you into who you are today?
Abby is part of who I am, and therefore part of her will never die because she will always be with me. She will always be with her family, her other friends. All the people she loved and who loved her were impacted and changed by her life and her story. And nothing can ever take that away.
It’s been hard to realize that it’s easier for me to remember all my good times with Abby now that she’s dead. It’s been hard to think that maybe she thought in her worst moments that it didn’t matter if she overdosed and died, because it would be easier for all the people she’d hurt if she wasn’t around to keep hurting them. It is true that Abby can’t hurt me anymore with any new lies or manipulation from her addiction. But losing her hurts worse than those things did. Knowing that there is no more hope of rebuilding our friendship hurts worse. Knowing that her life, especially her life as she grew in confidence, grace, and beauty as Abby, was cut short hurts worse.
But losing her has given me some clarity. The clarity that all the pain she caused didn’t invalidate all the joy she also brought me. That I can hold those two things separate, and that I can be thankful for our time together even if I couldn’t continue being part of her daily support system anymore. I’ve learned to embrace the “and” instead of the “but.” I love her, and she hurt me; she means a lot to me, and it was not healthy for her to be in my life anymore.
It also has brought me the clarity that sometimes you will never get amends you deserve from someone, and sometimes you have to work to find your own closure, and that’s okay.
I wish more than anything that Abby had never started using opiates, that she never had to go through this pain, and that our friends and I never had to go through the pain of watching her slip away from us to her addiction. She had her first opiate not long after we started talking more regularly at the end of 2012, and her addiction slowly worsened over our entire friendship until it imploded in 2017. But, even as she was bearing this silent and secret struggle over the years, she was a good friend to me, and we created so many happy memories. Oh, that I could have known her and seen her thrive without the burden of addiction. Oh, to know who she could have been and what she could have done if she hadn’t been inflicted with the disease of addiction. She was pretty amazing when things were good. Generous, kind, funny. She would give me her time and her energy without a second thought. She helped me pack my car, unpack my car, and spent hours editing footage for me just because it would make me happy. We shared life together, and it was good.
I was so lucky to get to share so many years with her.
Abby, I love you, always, and I will miss you always.