“Whenever someone with addiction dies, I grieve the lost potential and wonder about the limitations of our ability to address this cunning, baffling and powerful disease.” - Dr. Marvin D. Seppala
Last month I married my best friend. It was the happiest and most important day of my life thus far. And yet throughout the day there was a hole in my heart. My mother, the woman who gave me life, could not attend my wedding. She hasn’t passed away, and she isn’t in a coma and unable to travel. She is a drug addict.
I debated for weeks leading up to the wedding, how do I handle this? She knew I was engaged. I texted her a picture of the ring when my now husband proposed. But due to her addiction, our relationship is strained. We communicate solely through text messages, and never stray from the topic of the Packers. I doubted she remembered that we were engaged or what wedding date we picked.
So as my wedding approached, I wondered: Should I tell her I’m getting married on Saturday? She’ll probably be hurt and mad that she wasn’t invited and guilt me. Or she won’t care at all. But either way, I’ll be hurt and I’ll carry the weight of her disease when I should be focused on my wedding, my friends and my husband.
I didn’t call or text before the wedding but I did send her some of the pictures the following week via text messages. I wish I could say I felt confident and whole in my decision and her responses, but that’s not my life. And it hasn’t been for years.
Addiction has been part of my family’s story for over half my life. It’s broken people, bonds, and lives. I’ve also witnessed people fight their disease and save their lives.
I have a very distinct memory of the press conference when Brett Favre announced he was going to rehab. I looked up and said, “I know that face. He’s going to say he has a drug problem.” I was thirteen.
So over fifteen years later, when I watched Johnny Jolly on Outside the Lines, it was his face that caught my attention. It reminded me of something so familiar, and it moved me. Four days after Jolly was sentenced to six years in jail, I reached out to his Twitter account. I expressed my interest in writing him while he was away and was sent his contact information.
In my experience I’ve witnessed people hit rock bottom and be alone and use it as motivation to finally change their life and I’ve also seen people, people like my mother, for whom the loneliness and the bottom only feeds the illness. I can’t reach my mother. I have had to accept that. So I wanted to reach out to someone who might be able to change.
It’s slightly selfish and there were a lot of my own issues projected in my motivations. But I felt very strongly about it.
I recently read this article, Addiction: The Disease that Lies that was published after the death of Glee star, Cory Monteith. It outlines the science behind how addiction can re-wire the brain, but what caught my attention, and I think motivates a lot of my current interactions, were the ending paragraphs:
“…the primary reason people don’t seek help. Our largest public health problem goes unrecognized by those with the disease.
Every one of these deaths is tragic. They died of a disease that lies to them. Great talent and intelligence do not protect us from any illness.
We can safely watch such a tragedy, gawking as we drive by the destruction, insulated from the suffering and unable to help. But addiction is all around us and we need to respond to the rising death toll.
All of us are responsible for learning the truth about addiction, raising awareness and intervening for those who have this disease, knowing they are unlikely to be able to do so for themselves.”
Over the course of his time behind bars, I exchanged a handful of letters with Jolly. My letters to him discussed my life working at a non-profit, my fandom for the Packers and about my friends and family. His responses were honest, hopeful of his release and return to the NFL, and always included a “Go Pack Go.” I’ve kept the letters in large part private, sharing them with my husband and select parts with a few close friends. I started to write this blog post nearly ten times since his release, but each time I’ve stopped.
I don’t have any secrets to share, nor news to break. I don’t have any inside scoop now, nor do I expect to any time in the future. I needed to feel like I was helping, and I think he needed to know that people care about his future.
I stopped exchanging letters with Jolly after his release from prison, but decided to share this all now because I feel like the story has finally come full circle.
On Friday, Jolly will report to Packers camp. And I think back to those letters: the growth from planning the next six years behind bars to actively planning on a return to the Packers, yet all only dreams from inside a jail cell. And I feel hopeful. Hopeful for him. Hopeful for the others in my life who are struggling with their own demons. Hopeful that given the chance, with hard work and the right programs people can grow, they can change, and they can realize their full potential.
Over the past four years, the more I write about the Packers, the more I’ve found myself becoming distant from the feel good stories and more trying to focus on the objective. So I know that come final cut down day, Jolly will only be on the final roster after winning a spot on the field, and in my heart I will be the loudest supporter. I really hope and pray that Jolly will succeed and find a home with the Green Bay Packers.
Jayme Snowden is a writer at CheeseheadTV and co-host of CheeseheadRadio, part of the Packers Talk Radio Network at PackersTalk.com. You can contact her via Twitter at @jaymelee1 or via email at Jaymelee1@gmail.com