Updated on 04.19.12


Trent Hamm

When I was a young boy, not much older than my own oldest son, there was an adult male in my life that I looked up to a lot. For a time, he was my role model. He was a quiet fellow with an incredible work ethic. Even though I was a lot younger than him and he didn’t have any real reason at all to take me under his wing, he did. I have fond memories of going on walks in the woods with him (he had a tremendous eagle eye for spotting unusual things in the woods), going miniature golfing with him, and even playing in the sandbox with him. He was an adult, but he would get down on his knees and help me build elaborate car tracks in the sandbox, and then we would race our cars through these tracks. He had a bright future ahead of him, with a ton of opportunities.

Over the course of about two years, I watched everything I loved about this guy change. He stopped spending time with me. He stopped going on his walks in the woods. He stopped working much at all and eventually tossed his career down the drain. He didn’t seem to have a moment to spend with me any more. He often got really angry when I would try to talk with him like we used to. Within two years, I had reached a point where I was actually scared of him and avoided any situation where I would have to be near him.

Unsurprisingly, drugs were the culprit here. He had become addicted to a number of substances and, after a while, the focus of his life was finding more sources for the drugs.

He lost his career path. He lost a woman who he dearly loved and who loved him (she still was asking around about how he was doing a decade later because she loved him so much). He drove away a lot of the people in his life who cared about him.

Today, he seems to have some level of order in his life and has put at least a few pieces back together, but he’s not interested in making any sort of career advancement and seems to have little passion for anything at all.

It was very hard to write those five paragraphs. In writing them, I had to retrace a path where one of the best people in my life – someone that I loved and cared for and respected and emulated – was torn away from me.

Later on, I became very good friends with someone in college. We had the same major and many of the same interests. We spent a ton of time together.

During a single semester in college, he became addicted to drugs. By the end of that finals week, he had skipped all but one final and the one he did show up for involved him drawing doodles all over the test. He failed all but one of his classes, lost his scholarship, and dropped out of college.

Three years later, I received an email from him. He was working in a factory and had gotten himself clean (at least, at that time). He said he was hoping to get back into that college in the next year.

Six months later, I read a newspaper article where he had been arrested for stealing prescription narcotics.

About a year ago, I saw him again. I would have never recognized him had he not introduced himself, but he immediately recognized me. He was as thin as a rail and had lost all of his teeth. He said he was hoping to find work. He eventually asked me for money.

Over the last year, I’ve witnessed people in my life start to go down similar paths. They’ve allowed something in their life to take such control over them that they’re no longer making good decisions. I’ve seen careers lost, homes lost, families torn apart.

At some point in each of their lives, they had a choice. For each of them, there was a point of no return. They could either recover the life that they had with minimal damage done to it, or they could continue to follow a path that led to something else being in control and making the choices for them.

I have witnessed the pain of addiction. I have seen people I care about very much make incredibly self-destructive choices simply to feed their addiction. Having known some of them both before and after those choices, I can only conclude that many of those choices were made when they were not really in their right mind and, at some point, they had ceded control to whatever that addiction was.

The single worst thing you can do for your finances – and much of the rest of your life – is put yourself in a position where you no longer have full control over your decisions. When an addiction or an overwhelming desire that you can’t quite control has taken ahold of you, you’re no longer making decisions that are truly in your own best interests.

If you ever feel like you’re not in complete control of your decisions, seek help. I don’t mean financial help, either. Seek out professionals who can help you reassert control over your life. Your doctor is a good place to start, but so is a truly trusted friend or family member. Lay out everything and ask for their help. Do not let pride or a desire to keep up appearances matter here.

It is incredibly hard to admit to yourself that you’ve messed things up. It’s almost as hard to openly admit that to others and ask for their help in fixing things. Yet the strength shown by someone who can do that and who is willing to actually help themselves is worthy of respect. The people in your life that matter will step up and help you if you’re willing to work to help yourself.

There are many people out there who have seen this situation before. They will not hate you for the mistakes you’ve made, and they will listen to you and support you if you’re willing to try to fix what is broken. Don’t be afraid to start.

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  1. Jeff C. says:

    Thanks for the post! A great start to a Friday morning to e reminded to always be in control of myself. Thanks again!

  2. Molly Bandit says:

    That had to be tough to write. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. cf says:

    I’ve seen similar situations replayed in my own life. When I was an undergrad,my boyfriend at the time, now my ex, had a friend who I liked very much. He was friendly, outgoing and worked as a bouncer at the local nightclub. He used to get me to the front of the stage for concerts!

    One day he settled a 2 year old car accident claim and got A LOT of money. He started doing cocaine and everything went downhill from there. He got really anxious all time, lost an incredible amount of weight and was really a shadow of his former self. He stopped hanging out with us and when I did see him one day, I didn’t recognize him at all.

    Another 2 friends of my ex went down similar routes with addictions. One, an closet alcoholic, choked on his own vomit and died. His girlfriend found him the next day. Another, died on his couch after a night of partying with his friends. His friend, someone he knew from childhood, was heartbroken and hasn’t been the same since.

    Addictions are scary things. Some people seem to be able to handle life and indulge in the occasional habit, but many can’t.

  4. Rafael Ruiz says:

    Very good. I’ve been there and done that. My addiction(s) started as forms of escape and soon took on lives of their own. Oddly enough they were never drugs or alcohol, but they were just as enslaving and destructive. I’m in my fifties and still recovering from some of those decisions. Two things that helped was reading the Galatian letter in the New Testament, and also reading Dr.William Glasser’s “Positive Addiction”. BTW,I appreciate the irenic tone of your post very much. I pray your friend will find peace and return to those walks in the woods.

  5. Jennifer says:

    A genuine voice makes for really good writing.

  6. Kathryn says:

    Thank you for writing this, and sharing this part of your life (it REALLY makes up for the weird post earlier this week!)

  7. Julia says:

    What a sensitive and heart-filled post about something common for so many and yet so destructive.

  8. Connie says:

    I have been reading Simple dollar for quite some time. I truly appreciate this post. Addictions have destoyed many people I love and yet addiciton is still surrounded by silence and denial. One thing I would add from experience is: do not loan money to addicts for anything or co-sign for anything.(even when they are not using) Money will not not help this person, they must make it on their own. And it will harm your relationship with them.

  9. Angie says:

    I hope this isn’t an anti 4/20 post haha.

  10. Jaime says:

    Touchi g post! Thank god i don t have any unhealthy dependancies, hope my kids stay that way too

  11. Laura in Seattle says:

    EXCELLENT post. This was my favorite part: “It is incredibly hard to admit to yourself that you’ve messed things up. It’s almost as hard to openly admit that to others and ask for their help in fixing things. Yet the strength shown by someone who can do that and who is willing to actually help themselves is worthy of respect. The people in your life that matter will step up and help you if you’re willing to work to help yourself.”

    That is absolutely true.

  12. Jim Smith says:

    Love the post as always but one suggestion – it may be redundant to say “tremendous eagle eye” because saying that someone has an eagle eye suggests a very high degree of perception already.

  13. Modest Money says:

    You’re completely right that addiction can cause all kinds of problems and really ruin lives. The big problem is that many addicts won’t admit that they’re addicted or they won’t be willing to seek out help. A lot of times there is underlying mental issues that are affecting those decisions.

  14. Leigh says:

    As much as I enjoy your blog, I have to take issue with your post today. As someone who has been in recovery for more than 20 years, I can assure you that an addiction is NOT a choice. No addict deliberately put themself “…in a position where [they] no longer have full control of [their] decisions.” Addiction is a disease, just like cancer or diabetes. Until a person hits rock bottom and becomes willing to admit they are powerless over their addiction (the first of the 12 Steps), there is nothing anyone can do to help. Despite the fact that there is no cure for our disease – we say we are in “recovery” because staying clean from our addition is a daily ongoing process – a great many of us do return to full, productive, happy lives. I hope this comment in some way helps you and perhaps your readers understand the disease of addiction a little more. Keep up the good work.

  15. Lydia says:

    Well said, and so true!

  16. Tracy says:

    Hah, Angie! I hadn’t thought of that, that makes me laugh.

    I do really appreciate Trent’s advice to seek out professional help if you need it (although it’s weakened by including friends and family under that label, so weird)

  17. Sandy says:

    Wow. Occasionally we get something decent to read and this is one of them. I had the same situation when I was a kid. Alcohol got someone whom I loved dearly, and he became so morose that towards the end of his life he wouldn’t even talk to me ( or many others). I became scared of him, and tended to avoid him anyway.
    Same thing happened to my marriage of 21 years. Alcohol got him, and the marriage died. I had met him at 16 and he was the love of my life. We have four kids.
    I have since remarried, to a wonderful man who doesn’t drink at all. Alcohol and drugs wreck people. Simple as that.

  18. Alan says:

    This reminds me of myself. I think I can say I have a few harmful addictions (Is it redundant to say that?) I’ve been a few weeks now drinking only water (and one lapse of soda) so I feel a bit empowered by that, but I still have a large, hm, ‘dependence’ on video games.

    I do count myself as a gamer and love the positive aspects of our community, but sometimes I can feel myself relying on the artificial relationships & feelings of ‘reward’ typical to video games. I know my social interactions suffer for this, which I hate about myself. Recently I have tried to be veeery cognizant about interactions with others while they happen, so as not to be mindlessly offensive by accident, but I know I come off weird or awkward sometimes; to say nothing of my behavior with women and “ability” to flirt (hah)!

    Whoops I spilled my guts to the internet. Well, this site’s followers seem very positive and supportive, and I’ve got to say it was an easy choice to favorite (lured in by the oatmeal article, which had a zillion comments, hah). Anyway, this article really spoke to me, and I like your candor in writing. An idea I just now had was to keep a notebook of Daily Embetterment (made upa word, yup), in which I keep ideas I think will be helpful down the road, especially as I become more stable in life. This site’s probably going to give me a huge leg up in that project. So, thank you.

  19. Melissa says:

    Very well said message!

  20. Marta says:

    Time and time again you write articles that keep me coming back.

  21. Not really, Tracy. Friends and family who have passed through the same problem and come out successfully are the best helpers. They generally will share what worked for them and encourage the person. It helps to have a positive role-model when one is struggling with changing old habits.

  22. Angie unduplicated says:

    Trent, this may be the most important column you’ve ever written.

  23. EJ says:

    Best article Ive read in my years of reading TSD, great job Trent.

  24. Jo says:

    A deeply felt and truly meaningful post. Thank you for writing it.

  25. Sandra says:

    Trent, thank you for writing this column.

  26. Joan says:

    #4 Angie, I agree completely.
    Trent, I had the opportunity to observe what drugs can do to a great person. The person in question had many (I mean MANY trophies) from his high school years. In college he got ahold of some bad drugs and at the time I met him, he had a hard time putting simple items together. I had taken him to his house to get something and he showed me his trophies. His father couldn’t hardly stand to look at him. It was a really sad waste of a good person. No amount of professional help would ever replace his lost brain cells. This is a very important column. Thank you for writing it.

  27. MizLoo says:

    Clear, compassionate and useful.. The mention of friends and family is important – sometimes knowing you need help and finding it don’t coincide. A trusted clear-headed friend can make the difference.

  28. Paula says:

    When I married my husband 25 years ago I found out he was addicted to cocaine. I have found I really hate drugs because I saw firsthand how the took a very good man and nearly tore apart his life and family. Luckily I stuck with him and it took 2 years to get him to stop. Fast forward 20 years and he is now an alcoholic that thankfully is sober. It’s been a long road but am very glad we stuck together. He is still a good man and his personality has not changed much. I understand the feeling of betrayal and don’t know if I ever could fully trust him again but I do love him and we now have a good life together. It is like you said, I don’t hate him for the mistakes he has made, but respect him for what he has overcome. Thank you for a great article.

  29. Vonnie says:

    Wow. That is a great post on so many levels. I see the slide into addictions around me too, and it’s heartbreaking. Thanks, Trent.

  30. mike says:

    “The single worst thing you can do for your finances – and much of the rest of your life – is put yourself in a position where you no longer have full control over your decisions.”

    You sold the website that you built. I don’t blame you for doing it and I hope it’s working out exactly like you hoped it would…but you made the deal.

    I consider your advice interesting, considering the situation.

  31. Susan says:

    As someone who has been in therapy and also participated in 12 step programs I can tell you that therapy is not for everyone. Not everyone has insurance, finds the right therapist or feels comfortable within that type of system. Psychology is newer than family and building community. Having good and solid relationships keeps people connected and healthy for the most part. There is no reason to put it down.

  32. Carolyn says:

    This is very true about people being willing to help when you ask. They are often aching to help you. I’ve been on both sides of the equation and find them each humbling.

  33. Matthew says:

    This was a very touching post. I am still not over losing a cousin to meth amphetamine addiction and my college room mate to alcoholism. he is homeless now. I feel they have been stolen from me. Thank you for sharing.

  34. BV says:

    Wonderful article. You can replace “drugs” with any other addiction or personal issue. Getting help is not only responsible, but removes your ego just long enough to get help and get on the right track.

  35. DannyD says:

    We need a war on addiction, not a war on drugs.

  36. Lou says:

    I too have seen addiction ruin lives, but I have also seen people come back from addiction and build good lives. In my experience, that takes both professional help and lots of support from loved ones.

    I suffer from PTSD, so severe that I am on disability. Sometimes I end up hiding under the furniture or in the back of the closet, weeping, for days at a time. The people who love me (not my family, by the way) drag me out, feed me, take me to my doctor or therapist. Eventually, I am more or less back in the normal range.

    Without these people, I would probably be living on the streets and self-medicating with any substance I could find. They have, quite literally, saved me. I can only be grateful. Strangely enough, they have no use for my gratitude; they say that when I am myself, I enrich their lives.

    I guess my point is that people who most need help can’t always get it for themselves.

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