A Year Without Jon

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while but I keep abandoning my drafts and starting over. I haven’t a clue how to say anything meaningful without sounding trite. But let me try again.

Jon died exactly a year ago. He died of alcoholism. I’ve put off writing about this for a long time because I don’t know how to make people understand. Or to put it more honestly, I’m afraid that people won’t understand. Alcoholism defies understanding. Even though it’s all around us, it’s hard to see it for what it is.

I could go on about how alcoholism is an incurable disease, that alcoholics and addicts aren’t losers, that their disease is not their fault. I could say that people with addiction do horrible things, but that doesn’t mean they are horrible people.

I could try to explain that in loving Jon, I suffered from my own kind of incurable disease. I could write a book on this subject, and maybe someday I will.

I could describe how it felt to watch Jon destroy himself. How he tried so hard to get better, but couldn’t. I could tell you about how I walked away from him a few weeks before he died because his drinking was hurting us both so badly. At the time I thought our separation was temporary. As bad as things were, I believed that Jon would eventually choose recovery and we would be together again. I didn’t realize it was already too late.

I could recount the horrors of that day, a year ago, when I found out that Jon’s life ended. The agony of accepting that was it — that he was gone and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

I don’t have the time or the energy to say it all now, but this is a start.

I have so many feelings about Jon’s death. I’ve spent the past year trying to untangle and sort through them. Sadness, pain, anger, grief, loneliness, frustration, guilt, resignation, relief.  But there is one feeling that continually rises to the surface — I’ve felt it pretty much every day since Jon died.  I’m going to try to focus on that feeling today.

Gratitude.

My therapist often says that addiction is a gift. Most people have a hard time understanding what the hell she means by that. But for me, it makes perfect sense.

A couple of days before he died, Jon sent me a message:

I just want you to know that I believe that you are anything and everything you want to be. Best writer, editor, shooter…you name it. I believe in you. Love always, J.

Jon’s disease brought out the worst in him. It made him manipulative and selfish. He fed me (and many other people) a lot of bullshit in the weeks before he died. But this message was real. Jon believed in me and he made me believe in myself. No one can take that away from me now, and it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

I’m grateful.

Here are a few photos I took this week in one of Jon’s favorite places, the Melville Koppies.

People on Koppies

Bird over koppies

Koppies skyline

Lady and dog

Lady on Koppies

Koppies powerlines

I want to do something special for Jon today. I’m going to make a donation to ToughLove South Africa, an organization that helps families affected by addiction. If you would like to donate to ToughLove too, their banking details are here. If you live outside South Africa and want to donate, please contact me and I’ll make it happen for you. Thanks.

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76 Comments

  • Reply sohan December 19, 2012 at 7:18 am

    The pictures are expressing the feelings of your heart more than anything.

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 7:19 am

      Thank you. A picture is worth 1,000 words, and all that 🙂

      • Reply beeseeker December 19, 2012 at 8:39 am

        But the pictures plus words with this depth of feeling are precious – you have my respect.

      • Reply 2summers December 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm

        Thanks Beeseeker!

  • Reply The Wanderlust Gene December 19, 2012 at 7:21 am

    I had a friend who died of alcoholism almost two years ago. She was barely 40. From the wreckage she left behind many gifts – they’re what we remember now. I think you’re on the road to doing the same – especially after your exhibition.

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 7:34 am

      Thank you. It’s a cruel irony that addicts are usually brilliant people that have so much to offer the world.

  • Reply amelie88 December 19, 2012 at 8:07 am

    It is so hard to watch someone you love slip away and not being able to do a thing about it. My grandmother died over a year ago, a few months before Jon. She died of old age so she lived a long and full life, but she had dementia. She became snappy and irritable, she would lash out and say mean and hurtful things to my mother and it was so hard to just stand by and watch. It was hard to reconcile that person with the person she used to be (a really great lady who was a loving mother and grandmother), but you always had to remind yourself it was the disease talking and not her (which was hard to remember when my grandmother would curse and then try to hit my mother or someone close by). When she finally died, it was a relief because she was no longer suffering, yet so painful in so many ways. Dementia and alcoholism are two different beasts, but the family members and friends of people who suffer with either disease feel similar emotions. I remember reading the poem “When I’m Gone” by Lyman Hancock (easily googled) and it really helped put things in perspective for me when dealing with my emotions of loss and grief concerning my grandmother. I hope that through your grief process, you are eventually able to find peace in your memories of Jon.

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 8:10 am

      Thanks Amelie. What you describe is actually very similar to what I experienced. I also had to tell myself over and over the it was the disease, not Jon, that was lashing out. It’s a hard concept to swallow. Anyway, I’m sorry about your grandmother and thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  • Reply Darren Smith (@DazMSmith) December 19, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Beautifully written. Beautifully photographed.

  • Reply Debra Kolkka December 19, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Alcoholism is a terrible thing, as is any addiction that ruins lives. I hope that you will gradually lose the guilt and sense of loss. Time does heal. You don’t ever want to forget him, but hopefully one day the memories won’t be so painful.

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Thanks Debra. I’ve already come a long way. It was hard to see this at first but I know now that it will keep getting better.

  • Reply Gail Wilson December 19, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Having been in the nightclub industry, have had many friends and family with addictions, some lost the battle and other’s pulled through to be great achievers. Tough Love is a great organisation who do wonderful things, I for one am eternally grateful to them.

    Life is also a healing process that eventually all you remember are the good times you shared and the bad becomes a distant memory. xxx

    • Reply 2summers December 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks Gail. I’m glad to hear that ToughLove has helped you.

  • Reply matthew December 19, 2012 at 8:59 am

    wonderful sharing. great pictures. love your openness, honesty, posts, and captures!

    • Reply 2summers December 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks Matthew, I appreciate that.

  • Reply Charles Visser (@CharlesVisser1) December 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Jon could have added that you are extremely brave too. Enjoy your journey ahead.

    • Reply 2summers December 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks Chuck. He did say that to me, many times. And I’m definitely braver thanks to him.

  • Reply May Flowers December 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

    My mother is currently struggling with the disease as well. And, like you said, you have your own form of it. It’s hard to know how much to support and how much to let go. And, the addict tries to put all of that guilt of letting go on your shoulders. But, the person underneath would never do that. He hates himself so much that he lashes because how could anybody love him when he hates himself so much. It sounds like you are doing well in the process of healing and forgiving. (Actually, much better than I am!) I’m glad you are able to remember his heart and not his addiction. And, speaking about it actually helps to reconcile the two. Best of luck in the rest of your journey!

    • Reply 2summers December 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks May Flowers. Letting go is the hardest part, for sure. It sounds like you’re doing pretty well too — becoming aware of the problem is the first step toward dealing with it. I’m sorry about your mom. Best of luck and thanks again for the comment.

  • Reply Melinda December 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Anniversaries of this kind are so horribly sad, but I guess this is the stuff of a lived life in which we are loved and love back. I too remain greatful for the gifts – the many gifts – we have received through dealing with alcoholism, addiction, codependency, and all the recovery steps we all take together…and alone. Much love, much happiness ahead, much life to live and love to give and receive – my wishes for you xx

    • Reply 2summers December 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      Thanks Melinda. I’m very glad that these crazy addictions have brought us together 🙂

  • Reply catherine December 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Thinking of you …

  • Reply divyakrishan December 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    It takes a lot of strength to write something like this. I am sure you had been the pillar for Jon too! Its beautiful how he continues to inspire you. The words and the pictures are beautiful!

  • Reply Mr Bunny Chow December 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    the lady walking into the sunny clouds is especially poignant and to me at least expresses the feelings you have shared with this post. I’ve been following you along this journey since before Jon’s death and have watched your bravery and strength blossom throughout. I know it’s been a tough tough ride but you’ve handled it with such dignity and courage. Here’s to you and the coming years.

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks Mr. Bunny Chow. That means a lot.

  • Reply George Gouranga-Das December 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Thank you for writing this, I am a recovering addict (only 2.5 yrs clean) of many things incl alcohol.. We are trying to write a book called “Eastern Truths and Recovery from Addiction”. Reading your article has give me some more impetus in finishing faster… Thank You, But also please pray that we may be able to finish this difficult task asap.. there are a few things new to the world of understanding and treating Addiction, from the vedic scriptures… http://www.nitaipress.net
    if anybody knows somebody who can help me pls contact gourangadas.bcais@gmail.com – or want to chat..
    Your Servant,
    George Gouranga-Das

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks for the comment George, and best of luck with your recovery. And 2.5 years is a good long time! Congratulations.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough December 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Beautiful post, my friend. Blessings and hugs to you over the holidays———–
    Hugs,
    Kathy

  • Reply eremophila December 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I salute your courage Heather. Yes, Jon gave you an incredible gift, and you continue to honour that brilliantly. These images eloquently echo your words. Take care, hugs from Fred too♥

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks to you and Fred 🙂

  • Reply eremophila December 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I salute your courage Heather. Yes, Jon gave you an incredible gift, and you continue to honour that brilliantly. These images eloquently echo your words. Take care, hugs from Fred too♥

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks to you and Fred 🙂

  • Reply Mandy December 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Beautiful post, so well written.

  • Reply Mandy December 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Beautiful post, so well written.

  • Reply Owls December 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Lovely.

  • Reply Owls December 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Lovely.

  • Reply thirdeyemom December 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Heather, I am so glad you were able to put it all into words. I don’t think alcoholics are bad people. We all know people we love who have suffered from some kind of addiction. I am so glad he gave you the courage and will to see who you truly are. Remember that always. Beautiful piece Heather and I’ll be thinking of you and your words.

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks Nicole, I really appreciate that.

      • Reply thirdeyemom December 20, 2012 at 12:05 am

        Hang in there. The day is almost over and then you’ll have passed it and hopefully feel a bit better. Thinking of you….

  • Reply thirdeyemom December 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Heather, I am so glad you were able to put it all into words. I don’t think alcoholics are bad people. We all know people we love who have suffered from some kind of addiction. I am so glad he gave you the courage and will to see who you truly are. Remember that always. Beautiful piece Heather and I’ll be thinking of you and your words.

    • Reply 2summers December 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks Nicole, I really appreciate that.

      • Reply thirdeyemom December 20, 2012 at 12:05 am

        Hang in there. The day is almost over and then you’ll have passed it and hopefully feel a bit better. Thinking of you….

  • Reply asterisk December 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Beautiful images. Agreed – great means of expression! Kim*

    http://www.travelphotographyblog.wordpress.com

  • Reply asterisk December 19, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Beautiful images. Agreed – great means of expression! Kim*

    http://www.travelphotographyblog.wordpress.com

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica December 22, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I was thinking of you and Jon this past week. My father was an alcoholic and died too young as well, So I understand your feelings about loving somebody with an addiction. It is so hard. I also had to distance myself towards the end.

    • Reply 2summers December 22, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Thanks Lisa. I appreciate the fact that you understand. Sadly, this is something that a huge percentage of the world has to deal with at so me time or another.

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica December 22, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I was thinking of you and Jon this past week. My father was an alcoholic and died too young as well, So I understand your feelings about loving somebody with an addiction. It is so hard. I also had to distance myself towards the end.

    • Reply 2summers December 22, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Thanks Lisa. I appreciate the fact that you understand. Sadly, this is something that a huge percentage of the world has to deal with at so me time or another.

  • Reply Emily December 23, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I’m so glad you have come to this place of being able to write more about it. Your resilience…moving to a new country, finding home anew with Jon and now, without him…is another thing Jon would surely have believed in. Your words, as always, are beautiful.

  • Reply Emily December 23, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I’m so glad you have come to this place of being able to write more about it. Your resilience…moving to a new country, finding home anew with Jon and now, without him…is another thing Jon would surely have believed in. Your words, as always, are beautiful.

  • Reply fiona December 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Your blog was powerful and moving. It has stirred up some deep emotions within my spirit. I am a recovering addict, have 4 years of clean time and am determined, with Gods help to remain clean.
    I met a wonderful man, who accepted me for who I am. He never gave me that look that said, I was damaged goods. He allowed me to start living again. I still remember how proud he was of me when he watched me at a training horse jumping show.He was a recovering alcoholic.
    The one evening I went to visit him and knew instantly that he had been drinking. I didn’t want to believe that he had relapsed and took his word at face value. Deep down, I knew that our lives had changed.
    The next time I visited, there was no denying the drunkeness. I walked out of his home and his life. Late at night, I can still hear him screaming that I’m an addict and shouldn’t be so high and mighty. I will also fail one day.
    I felt guilty for a long time for looking after my own recovery and not holding out a hand to him.
    Years have passed with no contact and a few months ago, I received a simple message, of three words; how are you? It threw me back to the time when I felt safe lying in his arms, of feeling the life surge between us when we kissed, of loving him.
    Perhaps, its how humans cope- only the good and positive was remembered.
    We made plans to meet. One of the first things that he promised me, was that he had not been drinking.
    He was drunk.
    Once again I was connected to Craigs alcoholism. I had a decision to make. I decided this time to fight for Craig. He had nothing. He had lost his job, his son, his family and his house was days from being repossessed. He no longer had any money for private rehb treatment.
    Through NA, I have met a beautiful soul who has started a rehab centre. He agreed to take Craig. At first Craig refused then suddenly he wanted to go. I arranged to pick him up and take him through to see the rehab. His house was filthy. Old, crusted dishes lay on the floor. Tomato sauce had dried where it had fallen. The toilet had stopped flushing and his electricity had been switched off, for non payment. The bile rose in my throat but I knew if he wanted help, I would help him.
    He seemed to connect with the rehab, I allowed myself a glimmer of relief.
    The next day that changed, he refused rehab. He was lonely, he would stop drinking immediately if I would stay with him. This continued for several days, until he sent a desperate message that he needs to go to rehab today. I was off work and went to pick him up. He was very volatile and angry. It was my fault, I hadn’t been able to love him enough, I had left him alone. Suddenly, he started to sob but that soon turned into a cold hatred. I was terrified. Eventually he climbed into my car. Along for the ride came a cheap bottle of wine which he drunk down like water and vomited it out the window.
    I was so pleased when I was able to hand him over to the rehab. He demanded that I come and visit and will wait for him. I mumbled something and gladly left.
    Three days later he phoned pleading with me to fetch him- he was fine. There was no need for rehab. I refused. He left rehab that day.
    Horrid messages got sent, most of them I ignored. Slowly these messages turned abusive and rude. The language was disgusting. I decided to take out a restraining order and serve it on him. His last message to me was, you f****** c*** its all your fault.
    That happened just over ten weeks ago. I wish I knew if he was homeless or even alive.
    I suspect the next time I have contact with him will be at his physical funeral, the emotional funeral has taken years.

  • Reply fiona December 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Your blog was powerful and moving. It has stirred up some deep emotions within my spirit. I am a recovering addict, have 4 years of clean time and am determined, with Gods help to remain clean.
    I met a wonderful man, who accepted me for who I am. He never gave me that look that said, I was damaged goods. He allowed me to start living again. I still remember how proud he was of me when he watched me at a training horse jumping show.He was a recovering alcoholic.
    The one evening I went to visit him and knew instantly that he had been drinking. I didn’t want to believe that he had relapsed and took his word at face value. Deep down, I knew that our lives had changed.
    The next time I visited, there was no denying the drunkeness. I walked out of his home and his life. Late at night, I can still hear him screaming that I’m an addict and shouldn’t be so high and mighty. I will also fail one day.
    I felt guilty for a long time for looking after my own recovery and not holding out a hand to him.
    Years have passed with no contact and a few months ago, I received a simple message, of three words; how are you? It threw me back to the time when I felt safe lying in his arms, of feeling the life surge between us when we kissed, of loving him.
    Perhaps, its how humans cope- only the good and positive was remembered.
    We made plans to meet. One of the first things that he promised me, was that he had not been drinking.
    He was drunk.
    Once again I was connected to Craigs alcoholism. I had a decision to make. I decided this time to fight for Craig. He had nothing. He had lost his job, his son, his family and his house was days from being repossessed. He no longer had any money for private rehb treatment.
    Through NA, I have met a beautiful soul who has started a rehab centre. He agreed to take Craig. At first Craig refused then suddenly he wanted to go. I arranged to pick him up and take him through to see the rehab. His house was filthy. Old, crusted dishes lay on the floor. Tomato sauce had dried where it had fallen. The toilet had stopped flushing and his electricity had been switched off, for non payment. The bile rose in my throat but I knew if he wanted help, I would help him.
    He seemed to connect with the rehab, I allowed myself a glimmer of relief.
    The next day that changed, he refused rehab. He was lonely, he would stop drinking immediately if I would stay with him. This continued for several days, until he sent a desperate message that he needs to go to rehab today. I was off work and went to pick him up. He was very volatile and angry. It was my fault, I hadn’t been able to love him enough, I had left him alone. Suddenly, he started to sob but that soon turned into a cold hatred. I was terrified. Eventually he climbed into my car. Along for the ride came a cheap bottle of wine which he drunk down like water and vomited it out the window.
    I was so pleased when I was able to hand him over to the rehab. He demanded that I come and visit and will wait for him. I mumbled something and gladly left.
    Three days later he phoned pleading with me to fetch him- he was fine. There was no need for rehab. I refused. He left rehab that day.
    Horrid messages got sent, most of them I ignored. Slowly these messages turned abusive and rude. The language was disgusting. I decided to take out a restraining order and serve it on him. His last message to me was, you f****** c*** its all your fault.
    That happened just over ten weeks ago. I wish I knew if he was homeless or even alive.
    I suspect the next time I have contact with him will be at his physical funeral, the emotional funeral has taken years.

  • Reply paranoiasnfm January 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Beautiful!

  • Reply paranoiasnfm January 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Beautiful!

  • Reply joanfrankham May 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I just found your blog now, and have been reading all your very moving posts about Jon and your life since then. i wish you peace, serenity and happiness, and look forward to seeing more of your great posts.

    • Reply 2summers May 9, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks Joan. I really appreciate that 🙂

  • Reply joanfrankham May 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I just found your blog now, and have been reading all your very moving posts about Jon and your life since then. i wish you peace, serenity and happiness, and look forward to seeing more of your great posts.

    • Reply 2summers May 9, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks Joan. I really appreciate that 🙂

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