I live next door to addiction. Always have. Always will. We’re friends.

Genetically, addiction and I share a white picket fence all along the bloodline. Literally, I grew up next door to an uncle whose schizophrenia, among other things, led to a long downward spiral. He was a songwriter. I wanted nothing more at 10 years-old than for Uncle Rick to invite me over to play guitar. To this day, I don’t know any of his songs though he wrote hundreds. He lived in the basement of a home that my grandparents owned next door to us. I used to sit upstairs, alone in this empty suburban home, for hours just to listen to him play. I had my first band practice in that upstairs living room. I remember hoping he’d walk up to complement us. Ten minutes after we started playing, he sauntered upstairs and told us to shut the hell up. He yelled, “This is the worst music I’ve ever heard,” followed by a malt-liquor laugh. I idolized and despised the guy equally for years. Then he died. His last words to my father in the hospital were, “I wish I had a little more time.” This was my first close friendship with addiction, certainly not my last, and definitely not the most painful.

I’ve been addiction’s nephew, cousin, 2nd cousin, grandchild, son-in-law and brother. I hope I will never become addiction’s father but I’m ready for it if it happens. I’ve been addiction’s best friend, barista, boss and client. Addiction’s told me it likes my songs a few times. I never fell in love with addiction but I reckon we had a couple one night stands.

Most of us have met it— at a family barbecue or holiday office party, the sidelines of a soccer game or a glass-box boardroom, in the pen or on the pew. I’ve idolized and imitated addiction, to levels that made me wonder if I wasn’t addiction’s Fight Club narrator. Thankfully, I’ve learned quite-the-hard-way that we will remain neighbors.

I’ve known addiction so long that we’re not just friends, we’re old friends, chums. When we get together, it’s like nothing ever changed. Same stale jokes. Same knowing smiles. I’ve hung out with addiction at the rockiest of bottoms. I’ve partied with addiction atop the highest sober peaks, way up in the clouds. Anyone who’s met addiction knows that a sober high is really just a mirror held up to a rock bottom. Addiction sticks to the poles. I’m much more afraid of a sober high-flyer then a rock-bottom lowlife. Low is honest. High forgets its gravity.

See the thing with addiction is, it doesn’t like to sit around. It doesn’t wanna sip lemonade on a cedar dock on a warm summer afternoon gazing out upon a placid pond. It certainly doesn’t like to walk up to the water’s edge and peer down. Addiction hates its reflection. Addiction thinks too much. It demands energy. Buzz. When it gets to hanging around folks of kindred energy, it gets that crazy look in its eye. Impassioned streams of consciousness boil up from its throat and spill over its dry lips. Its tongue turns to those of your heroes. You see a thousand idols in its teeth. Its consciousness flows rapidly until it slaps hard onto a dry, cracked, desert plain, melts to mud, and dehydrates. Wickedly parched, addiction believes only in its acrobatic ability to somersault toward the oases ahead.

I’ve had coffee with addiction a trillion times. I know what we’ll talk about, every single time, though its body mutates and its words take on different accents. I’ve stared into addiction’s eyes and ideals as often as its breasts and burdens. At first, I didn’t know the distance between me and addiction. Over time, it shed its ambiguity. Today, I can see every nook and cranny of the grand canyon wedged between each hug we share.

Most folks don’t get to know addiction like this. Most folks think addiction is a cartoon wolf with bulging eyes, wet tongue rolling across a dirty kitchen table. A Little Rascal releasing rocks from a taut slingshot. A Scooby Doo villain. A misquoted warning from a dusty manuscript edited a thousand times since sunrise. A ancient germ, polio untreated down an American cul-de-sac. The fear of quicksand, as a child. A spiked mace. A fresh scalpel incision gaping outward. These folks don’t really know addiction. They know addiction like you know what’s good for a Bachelor contestant’s mental health. For a lot of these folks, addiction chain-smokes Reds with its left boot kicked back against a red brick wall beneath flashing neuronal neon in their own psychic back-alleys. I’ve met people who slaughter, tan and sew addiction into black leather horse blinders that they latch in place to walk past the addiction around them. The pot calling the kettle a junkie. Fun house mirrors.

Some of these folks are simply afraid of addiction. Fair.

Most folks don’t get to know addiction like I know addiction because they don’t want to own something they can’t fix. Most folks want algebra worksheets, erector sets, true/false questions and knock-knock jokes. We burn homes we can’t fumigate. But horrifically, there’s nothing addiction needs more than folks who don’t want to kill it. It needs people who can respect it as a glowing Buddha in the ever-fleeting, ever-destructive momentum of our inexplicable existence. It needs the short phone call on a rainy day. It needs the simple sentence when its consciousness reaches a steep pitch. It needs to know that you’re not thinking what it thinks you are thinking. It needs a hug from you and your cement shoes as it yearns to leap from its own skin to dance all the organs from its torso.

I’ve known addiction for decades. We go way back. I’ve changed its diapers and coached its little league teams. I’ve tutored it in math and taken polaroid pictures before it left for senior prom to hang on the fridge. I’ve fed it torn-up wonder bread and water, Eucharist and altar wine. I’ve hired it and given it a raise. I’ve fired it and slid its severance check across the shiny oak table. I’ve walked it down the aisle and taken it to the hospital after it “fell down the stairs.” Kissed its black eyes delicately.

I’ve yet to write a eulogy for it. I don’t know the burn of acid in my forearms from carrying its casket and lowering it into the earth. I’ve stood to the side at such funerals. But it’s never been me with the gaunt eyes and shards of heart tissue stabbing out through the white dress shirt that hadn’t been worn in years, bloody, dripping onto the grass. The sacred heart on fire sipping stale black coffee back home before the relatives arrive. No, I’ve suffered only the phantom pain of that man.

I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe we can jinx ourselves. In truth, my bad luck has done more for me than its buddy ever did. I’m good with bad. So I’m not afraid to say that I will write that eulogy one day. I know I’ll feel that rush of acid. Anyone who befriends addiction has heard its tick interrupt their own. We’re all stopwatches. Addiction just ticks down louder and harder. It craves center stage, even in its rot. We all live with death on our shoulders, but addiction snatches it up and tucks it under the tongue. That said, addiction is not death.

Hear me: Addiction is not death.

I’ve been told differently. I’ve been taught differently. I’ve seen it printed in gospel and heard it proclaimed from pulpits. I’ve spent time believing it. Like I said, I’ve shared a lot of cups of coffee with addiction. I’ve heard it out. We get each other. If addiction were here right now, it would say: “Sure, I make for a harder life path, but it’s a life path, not a death path.”

The junkie and the bodybuilder have a lot more in common than you think. The guy pouring whiskey in his coffee to get through his 9-to-5 drudgery won’t brag about it to his buddies like his coworker who slept his way through the office last year, but their neurons aren’t firing all that different. There are two tiny blue-haired teetotalers shaming a loud drunk at the bar right now, while they slam slot machine levers.

I’m not going to sit here and yearn for a cure. The words “cure for addiction” are scrawled near the top of a scroll that I started in 5th grade entitled: Things That Are Clearly Bullshit. Above it: White Jesus, Satan’s Tail. Below it: Capitalism, Bed Time. All I want is for anyone reading this to know that there are now very real things that can be done if our old friend addiction wanders toward the sunset with someone we love.

Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose. Brass tacks: It keeps you breathing. You’ll find it prescribed as Narcan or Evzio in nasal spray and auto-injectable form. It’s covered under most insurance plans and there are even cost-assistance programs for those without insurance.

I recently added a new item to my Things That Are Clearly Bullshit scroll. It reads: objections to overdose reversal drugs. There are actual humans that argue that increasing access to Naloxone will increase opioid usage by providing a “safety valve” against overdose. Aside from the fact that there’s no scientific evidence to support this phenomena, it’s dangerously short-sided to wave an assumption about increased drug use as a way to block a drug that’s saving human lives today.

There are other actual humans who argue that providing Naloxone to the public reduces the flow of people overdosing into Emergency Rooms where they can be routed into treatment programs. Again, saving someone’s life should come first. Folks making this claim clearly have never shared a cup of coffee with addiction. How many people die before medical attention arrives? Lots. How many overdoses happen in environments where no one is willing to call authorities? Lots. How many people consider treatment after surviving an overdose? Lots. 74% of participants in a New York City prevention program called for help after administering Naloxone. Similar statistics are reported nationwide with overdose survivors. And don’t even get me fucking started on the rehabilitation industry in the first place. Ain’t nobody here got time for that.

It’s cliché to say “keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer.” That’s usually bad advice doled about by the cream of the corniest human crop. But I’ve known addiction for a really long time and I’ve stayed friends with it for a reason. Connection makes it weaker. Isolation distills its venom.

A guy I’m honored to call a creative compatriot, Morgan Snow, is putting on a concert this May 18th at The State Room in Salt Lake City. Morgan and friends will be performing Alice in Chains’ famous MTV Unplugged set, followed by a set of Unplugged classics. There will be all-star appearances from all over the Utah music world. The goal: Raise awareness for Naloxone and educate folks on what we can actually do to curb opioid overdose and care for opioid addiction. No rhetoric. No sales pitch. This isn’t about intervention and rehab. It’s about facts. It about normalizing and accepting addiction instead of ignoring and demonizing it. It’s also about celebrating damn fine music from folks we lost too soon to opioid addiction because smart people and drugs like Naloxone weren’t around when their breath went soft.

Rest In Peace Jimi, Janis, Jim, Graham, Nick, Tim, Layne, Kurt, Scott, Keith, Syd, Bon, John, Darby, Hillel, Kurt, Shannon, Bradley, Layne, DeeDee, Jay, Jay, Jason, Scott, Prince, Chris, Tom and too many more. Thank you for showing up. Fuck you for leaving early.

Keep an eye out for more information.