Dove’s story: Loving and Losing Ronnie
Last year my boyfriend of nearly a decade passed from a heroin overdose.
Ronnie had been using heroin for well over 20 years and knew all about how to prevent fatal overdose. He was so sure it would never happen to him, but it did.
I thought that Ron’s experiences with overdose would have made him over careful. He dropped when using on his own in a pub toilet when he was younger and swore he would never again use without someone knowing what he was doing and where he was. He had dropped at a dealer’s not too long ago and been brought back with naloxone. He knew the devastating grief and guilt of having a lover and friend die from overdose in bed beside him, as he slept. His girlfriend had come home after having a termination, they had a shot, and the drugs in her body from the procedure pushed her over her limits. That death haunted him every day.
That was when Ron learned that overdose was not always the drama of dropping at the time of injection, that people often die “in their sleep” – and it was how he passed. I had drunk a lot that night and woke to find Ronnie dead. Gone. Despite all his knowledge, all his experience. Such talent. Such a beautiful soul. Such a waste. I lost my lover and best friend.
I am of course grateful for the years we spent together. My first memories of Ronnie were of him strumming his guitar and singing his beautiful heart out. We were introduced by mutual friends and developed a friendship that grew into romance. Our first night of seduction was spent watching the Coen brothers’ movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” with Lindt dark chocolate, a quality Australian sparkling wine and ripe strawberries. It was a wonderful, magical experience and we never looked back.
At that time he spent his days busking on ferries – the Manly ferry was a favourite - with his best friend Ben. Ben slept on Ronnie’s loungeroom floor and they spent many nights drinking and listening to music.
Sadly, Ben has passed too. There is more than one way for people who use drugs to die. It’s a risky business. In Ben’s case, he was a big drinker on top of having hep C. Ron used to joke: “You can only have one glass of wine a day”, prompting Ben to go out and buy the biggest glass he could – I think it held about a litre. It was only a couple of years after I first met Ron that Ben passed from multiple organ failure – a domino effect starting from his liver.
The truth is, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost someone close from the harms associated with drugs and alcohol. I have lost friends as well. I just never expected to lose a partner. That’s the trouble, we never think it will happen to us.
His mother blames me completely for his death. Despite nearly 10 years together, I was completely excluded from funeral arrangements and the comfort of grieving with others who loved him. Even though Ronnie had been using for many years before we met, the family blames me as much as if I had put a gun to his head.
The idea that I would ever do anything to harm Ronnie is ridiculous, but of course I blame myself too. It’s true I didn’t put the needle in his arm, but I felt like I wasn’t watching out for him either. I was drinking too much. I was too drunk that night. I go through what I could have done differently so that I might wake up on that night in time to help Ronnie, and he might still be alive. I feel like I can never be happy again.
Knowing that most people feel guilt around the deaths of those closest to them doesn’t help one little bit. I was there. I could have saved him had I realised. I just trusted that his knowledge and experience would keep him safe. We had naloxone in the house, but I didn’t even realise he was overdosing.
The message? Never think you or your partner or friends are too old or too knowledgeable to overdose. We should all play by the same safe rules, no matter how experienced we are. It can always happen to you. It can always happen to someone you love.
Be careful. Watch out for each other.
Next verse, same as the first (as Ron would say):
BE CAREFUL. WATCH OUT FOR EACH OTHER.
I love you, Ronnie. Rest in peace.