Drug addiction has steadily become one of the greatest plagues to affict mankind. Nearly all of us know someone who has struggled with addiction or lost their life to it. Recently, I read Sam Quinones’ spellbinding account of the rise in opioid in the United States Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic , in which Quinones explains how and why opioids have become so ingrained and deadly in American culture. My boss had recently ordered this book about drug addiction to understand the matter which had come up in one of our cases. He mentioned that he did not have the time to read it at the moment but let us know that the book was for the taking to anyone who had interest in it. I decided to take it along with a few other books also on the opioid epidemic. Similar to Dan Peres As Needed for Pain: A Memoir of Addiction , the story at hand involves the drug addiciton of a successful individual whom many would not suspect of being an addict. Eilene Zimmerman tells the story of her late husband Peter, whose battle with addiction claimed his life and led her on a mission to understand how drugs have infiltrated the lives of even the most successful.
As the book opens, Eilene arrives at Peter’s house after learning he had a bizarrer outburst at his son Evan and daughter Anna. No one has heard from him and she decides to check on him and confront him over his behavior. Upon arrival at his house, she notices several odd things before finding him face up and deceased. A called is placed to 911 and she desperately tries reviving him but it is soon clear that Peter is gone. At this point in the book, we are not sure why he has died but only that something terrible has happended and many questions now exist that are answered as the book progresses.
The story of his life and their time together is equally as important as his death and Eilene takes us all the way back to the time when she was twenty-three and in search of a job after recently being laid off. She meets Peter after he interviews her at a job placement center. Over the next two years they became friends and eventually found themselves in a committed relationship. Zimmerman’s memories provide examples of how true love flourishes under the most unexpected of cirumstances. Marriage, children and an eventual move to San Diego, California follow where they settle in with their children Evan and Anna. Peter is a successful partner in a law firm whileEilene exercises her talents in journalism. However, their marriage soon desolves and not long after, Peter starts to exhibit some very strange behavior.
Peter, who was once a doting father and husband, begins to unravel, missing appointments or in some cases not showing for events. Although the couple divorced, they remained close because of their children. Eilene notices some very disturbing aspects of his appearance which Peter quickly explains as Hasimoto’s disease. Wanting to believe him at face value, she accepts his expanation until discovering one day that some parts of the story do not add up. But Peter has an answer for everything, a commonly known trademark of drug users. As she relays the memories of his behavior, readers will be tempted to think “why didn’t she see that he was using drugs?”. One answer is that prior to Peter, she had no direct exposure to it. Her story is similar to thousands of grieving relatives who have never seen up close, the effects of drugs that are mentioned on television and the internet. Peter’s children are equally disturbed and distressed by their dad’s behavior but no one can come up with a logical answer for his erratic actions.
The author looks back with hindsight and provides insightful comments as she tells the story. It is clear that she is now well immersed in the underpinnings of drug addiction in America and also part of the growing number of those who have lost someone close to narcotics. She is candidly honest about her failure to see what was slowly becoming obvious and why she held on to her belief that he needed to see another doctor about the Hashimoto diagnosis. But through her words, readers will be able to piece together a picture of a man who is in the grip of a serious addiction that is literally changing him mentally, physically and emotionally. The meltdown kicks into high gear and for Zimmerman and her children, events soon take a dark turn.
After learning about their lives and the road leading up to Peter’s death, Zimmerman has a lot more to discuss in the book and devotes a signficant portion to the use of drugs in corporate America, in particular among lawyers. This section hit home because I work in the legal field and bear witness to the amount of pressure and stress that attorneys carry daily. Some handle it better than others and yes, from my own knowledge as well, some turn to drugs to ease the stress. But wht I learned here was more than I had bargained for. And to make matters even more surprising, what Zimmerman relays is just a small sample of what is possibly very large scale. Further, what she relays is that drug use is more prevalent among professionals than most of us think. It also reinforces the notion that not all drug users look like they use.
Towards the end of the book, she also devotes a section to Generation Z and the modern day professional. The invention of social media and concept of being “plugged in” all day long has not only increased workloads but stress. The use of drugs culd very well increase among the younger generation who are coming of age in an era where social and workplace pressures are higher than ever. In Japan, it is well documented that some people have succumbed from working themselves to death. While the United States does not appear to be as extreme in the idea of overwork, there are many professionals who do work eighty or more hours each week. For some of them, the keep going, they will turn to illegal drugs that give them the assist they need to keep going. But how do we then give them the help they need before it is too late?
I found myself glued to the pages of this book. Once the story begins, it continues to pick up speed as Peter begins his descent from which he will never return. Zimmerman’s honesty about her own actions and beliefs will provide solace to other wives and mothers who have been in the same situation. And in spite of all that happens in the book, she never stops loving him even after he is gone, showing the long lasting effects of losing someone to drugs. This is a great read from a very strong person who tells you her story so that your family does not live through what she did. Highly recommended.