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“I’ve lost so many people in my life to drug addiction. I am still in recovery, but I am losing hope. Do you relate to this? What did you do to get through it?”

-In Grief

Dear In Grief,

I am sorry. I am so sorry for your loss. If those words ring hollow, as they so often do, know that I say them with the weight of lived experience and understanding.

Addiction is an insidious foe that ravages my world daily. There is no person safe from its grasping claws, and we, as people in recovery, know this better than anyone.

The first time I lost someone to addiction I was eleven. Twenty-six years have passed, but still when I catch the scent of a Halls cough drop my breath catches in my throat.

Allow me to explain.

It was a hot and sticky day, typical of South Florida, where the steam rises from the sharp grasses, and everything is slightly slick. A neighbor had just dropped my two sisters and me off at home after school. As we shuffled into the house, I spotted my mom sitting on the ground, in tears.

I quickly turned around and told Cassie and Jackie, “Stay outside, just one moment, stay right there.” Cassie’s eyes widened as I closed the door.

My mom looked up and said plainly, “Something happened. Papa died, and Marsha died, and Jeffery died. They were sick, and this happened this morning. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t talk to anyone. They aren’t coming back.”

Papa was my grandfather, Marsha was his wife (my step-grandmother), and Jeff was their little boy (my uncle). He was only eight years old. Papa’s “sickness” was alcoholism. After seventy-two years of fighting the foe of addiction, he gave in, and took his own life—and the lives of Marsha and Jeffery as well.

Papa chewed Halls cough drops incessantly, and he doled them out to his grandchildren like candy. We used to go for long morning walks and crunch on those menthol lozenges. A few years ago I realized the cough drops were most likely intended to cover the scent of gin on his breath. I’d later use the same trick when I started drinking daily.

I share this story hesitantly because whenever I do, I am overcome by grief. Not neat and tidy grief, but the kind of messy, ever-expanding G R I E F that is riddled with rage, empathy, shame, and disgust. Confusion and regret. Every emotion and a stunning numbness all at once.

But here is the silver lining.

I look at my addiction and my recovery through the lens of this grief. It motivates me to keep walking the recovery path, to wake up and fight another day with the incredible people at Workit Health, to keep my loved ones close, and to stay in humble service. I believe the things I do, not the emotions I feel, pay homage to Papa, Marsha, and Jeffery. When I stumble, I lean back into the memory of not only them but of everyone I have lost. I use my grief to push me forward, to help another person, to claim another day.

So in short, in the words of Cheryl Strayed: “My grief is tremendous but my love is bigger.” I live my life honoring those I have lost by staying in service to those who are still living (including myself). This doesn’t solve, or even soften, my grief. But it does make it useful, and I think that’s the best I can hope for.

Know that we are with you, every step of the way.

In your service,

Robin McIntosh

Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Board

Robin McIntosh is Workit Health’s Co-Founder and Chairperson of the Board of Directors. She is an experienced designer & entrepreneur. She has founded multiple companies, and has worked in health and consumer tech over the past ten years.

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