Graham M. Graham was the middle son of my sister S and a former mate. May the universe console them and Graham’s two brothers as they deal with the grief of his sudden death. He was merely 20 years old.
It’s never easy dealing with the unexpected death of an immediate family member. Especially when that person checks out before they’ve really had a chance to fully live. From what’s been published by the family, it appears that Graham took his own life. It could be called accidental suicide. We learned that he overdosed on a mixture of two drugs, one illegal recreational and the other a legally controlled pharmaceutical drug.
One of the drugs, ecstasy (an amphetamine), has long been used by young people who attended rave shows. Ecstasy is in the illegal drug category, therefore the user can never be sure of the purity of what they are ingesting. It’s not controlled. It produces a euphoria and sense of intimacy with others. It basically gets the user “high.” But when the bounds of equilibrium are broken and take you to a false sense of euphoria, the equal and opposite reaction occurs on the downside.
The other drug, oxycontin, is a legal regulated narcotic. It also works on the nervous system and changes brain synapses to relieve pain.
I never had experience with the oxycontin family until radiation therapy. In fact, less than a year ago I relapsed into severe head-pain as a result of radiation. Oxycontin was one of the drugs prescribed. One drug was too many but the pain was searing. The pain management specialist carefully analyzed how and when to take this in conjunction to some other nerve stuff. I took them sparingly and half-unwillingly. The pain was debilitating for a two-month stretch and having this prescribed narcotic helped routine functioning become tolerable. As soon as the pain abated, I was more than relieved to stop the narcotics.
Apparently Graham was an experienced drug user. He had been in and out of intensive rehabilitation over the years and was still looking for ways to deceive the system. In other words, he was a addict. And of course he may not have thought about suicide at all, but the fact that his uncle and his closest friend (two different people) both died in similar fashion means he had to know he was flirting with the fringes.
The fact is, he was a smart guy. You don’t graduate from an aeronautical university with a helicopter license at an early age without being very savvy and intelligent. He knew what he was doing. Or maybe he didn’t. One consolation that has crossed the family’s minds is that at least he took no prisoners.
When young, vital humans take enough synthetic drugs that make their systems stop functioning, it’s impossible to know what was going through their heads.
Although for different reasons, it appears that Whitney Houston went the same way. There were mixtures of drugs found in her hotel room that simply didn’t go together. No one except the ones analyzing her blood will know for sure, but the history and signs indicate an overdose.
About ten years ago I attended a small private dinner party of less than a dozen people in the middle of the island of Mauritius. Whitney Houston and her then husband Bobby Brown were there. This isn’t name dropping, but I met both of them that night. Had dinner with them. (Why I was invited I can’t recall). Anyway, she smiled her very beautiful smile, but there was something underneath that didn’t seem right. When she left, I remember thinking that although she was outwardly smiling she seemed inwardly unhappy. She died fooling around with the fringes.
Our digestive system has a musculature wall that naturally pushes things from the mouth to the other end. Once in a while, when the system detects something toxic, it reverses course and pushes the poison back out causing us to vomit. Had Graham been conscious, this reflexive action may have saved his life.
Those who inject drugs directly into their bloodstream don’t have the luxury of the vomit reflex when they overdose. When I was in my mid-20’s, I had to pick up a personal item from someone I didn’t know. I was doing that person a favor. It was a Saturday night. When I arrived at the home of the person, I was invited in where several were sitting around cooking down cocaine into an injectable form. While I was there, the person I came to see “shot up” and I could see his eyes float up inside his head. I felt pity for him. For them. I then picked up what I had come for and left. The next morning his picture was on the front page of the local Sunday paper — dead from an overdose. He was playing with the fringes and lost.
When I lived in San Francisco, for several years I lived with a girlfriend. She was third generation American Japanese, one of four children to a very close family. Over the years I got to know them well and by extension, became close with them. One year one of the brothers, a senior at Washington State and Graham’s age, decided to check out. He was not a drug user, not even close. For reasons the family could not understand, a seemingly happy, studious, gregarious person decided to ingest arsenic and end his life. It appeared not to be an accidental suicide. He wasn’t playing with the fringe. He made a determined effort to drive off the fringe.
More than 99% of us don’t play with the fringe. A few posts ago I made a case about drug legalization for current plant-based drugs now classified as illegal. Our society, as it is, will always be loosing a certain percent in our “war on drugs.” But attacking the supply side is attacking the wrong side. As long as there is demand, there will be supply. By keeping the supply illegal, we’ve created a substantial amount of collateral damage. If we can divert part of those resources to the demand side we might be better off.
What is missing in early education is comprehensive instruction about our human bodies, and how ingesting non-natural substances causes negative (cumulative) reactions. But we have a long way to go if we still have vending machines in school selling sodas and candy.
Our society doesn’t have the stomach for strict enforcement. We criminalize certain drugs, then make them glamorous and sexy.
In his new book, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, Marc Lewis tells of his life through school and beyond taking anything and everything (drug related). In between, he was able to get his doctorate and as he describes, tried to analyze what happens neurologically when we are addicted. As reviewed by Sally Satel in the New York Times yesterday, “Marc Lewis reminds us that people keep using (drugs) not because of the physiological dynamics of addiction, but because drugs serve a purpose. They quell anxiety, dissolve boredom, suppress self-loathing. As he puts it: Whether junkies or executives, people take drugs because they are not feeling right.”
Although I met Graham on occasion, I didn’t know him well. From what I gather, he was a very sweet, mild mannered and a genuinly good person. It’s hard for anyone to know why he was playing with the fringes as close as he was. I’m guessing that those close to him knew he wasn’t feeling right. How do delve into that “right” feeling is something most of us haven’t figured out yet.
It could just be that there are less than 1% of us who are meant to be here for a much shorter time period. There’s got to be a way out when exit must occur. Graham’s parents invested greatly over the years trying to help him find his way. There is no one to blame, it’s no one’s fault, and no sense trying to analyze what we’ll never really know for sure. It was his time.
As difficult as it is, those close to him can feel grateful for the gift he gave them during the short 20 years he was here. The alternative would have been 20 years without his existence had he not come into their lives. Maybe that would have been easier. But the gift of his short life will remain a gift of memory not to be taken away.