We met 11 years ago when you were 16 and I was 38. I remember it vividly – you were a tiny, very cool scowling teenager with platinum blonde hair, the most beautiful face and the longest nails I’d ever seen. I was a corporate, snobbish, running obsessed woman with always perfect hair and make up and we had zero in common. There was just one thing that united us, the fact that we were both newly sober having accepted that alcohol was a problem for which the only solution was to stop.
The first time we met I think we barely spoke to each other – in fact if I remember rightly, you said pretty much nothing at all. I certainly had no interest in a friendship with a teenager and I doubt very much that I would have been anything more to you than a faceless grey adult. But we kept bumping into each other, and eventually started to arrange to meet for coffee, where we would both only drink Americano’s as we were obsessed with our weight (as often happens with alcoholics, we also both struggled with food) and we would talk about being sober/staying sober and how we were navigating life without alcohol.
Somewhere along the line our chats grew to being about our lives and we started to hang out with each other. We pretended to people who didn’t know or wouldn’t understand how we met that we were cousins, and we met for lunch/dinner/shopping whenever we could. We laughed a LOT. We shared silly jokes about ourselves (one of the reasons I love you so much is how self deprecating you are) and would laugh at other people too – always sharing the same views on the people we met and knew. We also cried a LOT. Early sobriety is incredibly hard, but we also both had difficulties in our relationships that we talked about and had patches of depression and sadness that it often felt as though we could only talk to each other about. In you I felt I met a kindred soul, someone who I could be myself with and who loved me unconditionally and vice versa.
After a couple of years you started to drink again. I remember being anxious about that, but completely understanding why. I couldn’t imagine having been 18 and not drinking and I hoped that you would be OK, and maybe that 2 years of sobriety would be enough. If anything our friendship got closer. I got involved in a damaging and ultimately doomed relationship and you held my hand throughout it. You got so skinny you almost disappeared and had a very controlling boyfriend and I was there for you (and made you eat!). We went to New York with another of my friends (who grew to love you too) and I ran the marathon and you cheered me on, giving me the strength and love I needed to make it through the 26.2 miles in -5 temperature. That was the best trip I have ever been on and during it we coined the phrase ‘The Triers’ to describe us, because we knew we were far from perfect but we were always trying. We spent Christmas mornings together for years and made pancakes. You got a tattoo of my birthday as a mark of our friendship. That remains one of the most moving symbols of love I have ever experienced.
I got into a more stable relationship and you and my boyfriend would laugh at me, you liked each other enormously. When it ended, it felt as though I crashed and burned and you were there for me throughout that time, and even when I disappeared into isolation, you were the person who could draw me out. For you, alcohol was never going to go away and over the last couple of years I have watched addiction take hold of you again, along with periods of anxiety and depression. I too have struggled with my mental health and we have once more held each other up and loved each other unconditionally, even though I have since moved to the other side of the country.
You were, and are the sweetest, funniest, wisest young woman who I love more than I can say.
Yesterday you were put in prison for 2 years, the crime you committed being all over the tabloid and mainstream press. I made the mistake of looking on social media, where you were trending and I saw more starkly than I ever have what a distorted and unhealthy world it can be. People were writing things about you and your life which were completely untrue and one dimensional. The picture painted of you was of a person I do not recognise and people talked about how you ‘used’ your mental health to try to ‘get away with it’. They don’t know the person I know. The person who regrets the crime you committed every single day, the person whose whole life has been turned upside down by it. The person who has been working hard to stay sober ever since. The person who is SO MUCH MORE than this one event. I wanted to tell every single person who cast judgement and made comments about you about this person, but realised I doubt they would be able to hear me, so I wrote this instead.
I know you will be strong enough to serve your time and I will carry on unconditionally loving you as I always have.
Your Cousin x