The first time I met Allison, I knew that we were going to be friends. She was spontaneous, funny, selfish, tough, convincing, optimistic, and a spectrum of complexities I didn’t previously think could exist within a single person. I knew her when she was a prepubescent dork, a pre-med candidate for the honors program, and eventually, when she was an addict and enabler of abuse.
Like a first love, you don’t forget your first best friend. You don’t shake that first understanding that someone can look at you and accept you for all of your flaws and quirks and mistakes. Even in the midst of her addiction, I looked at her and didn’t see the junkie or wild child or the plague of demons that others saw. I saw my best friend of seven years who held my hand through the dark and made me feel less alone. Even now, I struggle to reconcile the Allison that I knew with the version of herself that others saw. She couldn’t be terrible: She took me in when I was homeless, listened to me cry for hours, and was my family when I had none. Even in spite of everything else she became, I never forgot the fact that she was my friend first.
I was close with Allison for almost a decade. There are very few periods of my life she didn't witness, and yet I cannot pinpoint the exact moment in hers when she turned into an utter stranger. One second she was studying for an entrance exam to one of the top universities in the nation, and the next she was snorting lines of cocaine and popping prescription pills like candy. Worse, she actively convinced others to join her unhealthy chase of hedonism. Countless friends and strangers alike have fallen victim to her influence, only to regretfully find themselves near arrest, death, or worse. What used to be a tendency toward youthful indulgence at some point turned into a full-blown lifestyle from which I couldn’t seem to derail her.
The last time I saw her was in October. At that point she seemed unrecognizable to many, but I could still see traces of the old Allison — the one who had a funny laugh and poor spelling and stuck out her tongue for every picture taken of her. But the Allison that I knew wouldn’t ask to "borrow" $2,000 from me or think twice about using my apartment as a substitute brothel. At some point in our friendship, she prioritized her own agenda above our relationship.
I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but as much as she was replacing me, I was doing the same to her. I wanted a future. I wanted a career filled with travel, passion, and change. I wanted to be the person that I needed when I was younger. I wanted to shed all of my bad habits of abandoning people and avoiding confrontation. I couldn’t do that around a person who tempted me to throw that away in exchange for cheap thrills and reckless abandon. I texted Allison good-bye. I didn’t love her any less. I just had to love myself more.
I think about her now the same way I revisit other old scars: A flash of something familiar causes my mind to wander to that old wound, and I wonder, Where is she now? Who’s looking after her? Is she OK? I imagine getting a panicked phone call from her or her family or old friends, and I feel nauseated. The thought of one day waking up to the news that she overdosed, committed suicide, or went missing is still my nightmare. This nightmare sometimes convinces me I should call her just to make sure she still exists, but she exists now only as a gaping hole of remorse and sadness settled deep in my chest.
You don’t lose your best friend to addiction all at once. You lose her slowly, piece by piece, in a slow evolution of regret and conflict. Not a single day goes by when you don’t hope for her to miraculously come back, when you don't think of the hundreds of ways you might've been able to save her. You don’t forget your first friend, and Allison was no exception to that rule.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, visit Half of Us for resources and links to support.
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