At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

art theplaceMy friend died yesterday.

Way up in New York State, 1,000 miles or so away from me, my friend passed away. And he left us all for no reason. He didn’t save a kitten from a burning building. He didn’t rescue a baby from a car wreck. He didn’t give his life in an attempt to save others. He died, simply, because of drugs.

I’ll be the first to admit to recreational drug use. I’ve tried pretty much every drug under the sun, mostly out of curiosity, and, luckily, never out of desire or cravings. I did drugs because my friends did them. I did drugs because pop culture made me curious about what I saw in movies and listened to in music. I did drugs because I wanted to see what was over the horizon of my consciousness and sub-consciousness. 

And yet, I never judged my friends who did, and do, and will always use illegal substances. These folks are childhood friends, ex-girlfriends who hold a piece of my heart, and acquaintances that ultimately set the course for my existence and where I stand today, atop how strong a foundation I set for myself those many years ago.

My hometown area, the North Country (Upstate New York/Vermont), has always been a hotbed for drug use, and abuse. The winters are brutal, the job opportunities few and far between. Up there, you feel as if you’re in survival mode all the time, whether it be keeping warm at night or keeping food on the table. Sure, there are ample gigs that pay well, but, for the most part, you either leave town for greener pastures or you sit and wait for something, anything to happen — idle hands are the devil’s workshop, as they say.

With that atmosphere of struggle and bewilderment there also resides deeply rooted circles of friends. You huddle together and make the most of where you are, finding those rays of sunlight and adventure in the darkest of times. You cling to these people because interacting with them makes you feel alive, inside and out. You surround yourself with a cloak of human armor and emotion that protects you from the outside world.

And often within my friend circle back up north, drug use was prevalent. In essence, it was all pretty harmless if respected and enjoyed in a safe environment. Sitting on the dock of Lake Champlain at sunset with a joint and a cold one was a beautiful thing. 

But, as we got older, the drugs got harder. Weed and mushrooms transitioned into pills, opiates and cocaine. I’d dabble here and there with whatever was offered, but many of my peers would take it a few steps further, diving below the surface of casual drug use. 

After high school, I took off for college in Connecticut. After college, I headed for Idaho to start my first reporting job in the Rocky Mountains. While my vision was aimed ahead, I never forgot those who were still back at home, trying to figure out their next move. And when I would come home for a visit, I’d see the scene, our scene, get darker and more disturbing. Those joyous folks I’ve known for years were overtaken by their recreational habits turning into a full-blown addiction. The light was gone from their eyes — the window to the soul. 

I’ve spent countless days trying to help my dear friends exonerate their demons. I tried to get them clean, get them help, and most of all, make them feel loved. Addiction is a disease, one that ultimately takes down with more than just the user. There’s the family members, friends, co-workers, and people who just knew them in passing, but their impact was felt. 

Addiction can be a lifelong battle for most. The key is to never stop trying to find your balance in life. Every time you fall, pick yourself up and try again. I’ve lost too many incredible friends over the years to hard drugs. But, it hasn’t exhausted me from trying to find help for the next one who needs support and encouragement. I’ve seen what success is when beating addiction. It’s very real, and very possible.

I will never point fingers at those with addiction issues. When you do that there’s always three pointing back at you. I will, however, say that there are severe consequences to one’s actions. Your destiny is a direct result of your actions and intent. You hold the key to your own fate, for good or ill. Just remember there’s always a way out of addiction, as long as your heart is pure and your accept the help folks are trying to give you. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if entering it seems like an endless, dark abyss. 

Thus, my heart is heavy today knowing that another bright flame in this world has been extinguished. He was a beautiful, troubled soul, but also very loved by those who knew him best. He also was one hell of a dancer. Man, that kid had some moves. 

Rest easy, my brother. You are at peace now.

(Garret K. Woodward can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

 

 

Hot picks

1 The inaugural “Banana Dash” will take place at 3 p.m. April 11 at Tonic Delivers in downtown Sylva.

2 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will have the Ryan Cavanaugh Duo (bluegrass/jazz) at 9 p.m. April 4.

3 An evening of astronomy-inspired music will be held at 7 p.m. April 10 at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI).

4 Lost Hiker (Highlands) will have Mangas Colorado (Americana/bluegrass) at 9 p.m. April 4.

5 Writer David Joy will read and discuss his debut novel Where All Light Tends to Go at 3 p.m. April 11 at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville.

Go to top