I have never known a day in my life not affected by addiction. I grew up knowing my family was different. It was the late 80’s-early 90’s and addiction was still taboo. It was not talked about. It was a dirty little secret.
“The program” was part of our lives. Three nights a week, my dad attended NA meetings. We grew up in a dry home. No one coming to our house would feel uncomfortable walking into our home and see alcohol. During his sober time, he worked at a treatment center as a counselor for teen addicts. He then started his own company and was a successful business owner.
My parents built a home in town. As my dad’s business grew, he started to hire people right out of rehab. He would pay them a daily wage to stay on the job site and take coffee orders. Anything to keep them clean.
My father was an addict before I was born. He was an active addict until I was four. He was clean for the next nine years. He was the tough tattooed guy who wanted everyone to like him. He went every year (even before he had kids) and would get his picture taken with Santa. He helped people in the neighborhood.
I remember my mom stressing because he would spend way too much money spoiling us or any other kid around. Even as a kid I saw the eyeballs rolling when we would go out to eat and it was time for him to pay. I know now why…. the tip he left would be ridiculous, we weren’t loaded.
An addict is never cured. Nine years of time under your belt doesn’t mean anything. Middle school was the beginning of the crash for my family. Heroin creeped back in. My middle school years were filled with manipulation, lies, stealing, and all topped off with a HUGE dose of embarrassment.
I watched them auction our house when it was repossessed. I remember wishing he would just OD and get it over with. It is easier to explain that your dad is dead then telling people he chose a needle over his own life and family. I would repeat that exact phrase in my head.
Jail. Restraining orders. Rehabs. It is all there. No matter how many years have passed-these things are burned into my memory. On the other hand, they made me who I am today. No shame. No regret. I can’t get into the reasons why or how he started using at 15-and for all I know everything he told us was a lie. And in the end this is my story-not his.
He left for the last time-Thanksgiving Day of my sophomore year of high school.
It was never a question of how my father would die. The question was when. All through high school I was so prepared for that phone call. It came the month before my 30th birthday. I was now a married mother of two. An aunt. All these things he never knew. My brother and I made funeral arrangements and then went to the Coroner’s office in Boston to go and identify the body of the man who started our journey. They warned us they don’t know how many days he was on the floor of the room he was found in, before they opened the manila folder to show us the neck up picture of a dead body.
A picture of the man who had left 15 years before. Then pages of questions that would “backup” the photo id. I asked: “why can’t you just finger prints for this? He is an ex con.” They had to “dot the I’s and cross the T’s” as I am looking cluelessly to my younger brother when they are asking if he was circumcised. This proved his identity. Not his three children’s names and date of births tattooed on his arm.
I didn’t drink when everyone else was experimenting. I didn’t do drugs. I knew the cost, and it wasn’t worth it to me. I watched friends party too hard. I watched as it spun out of control. I watched WAY TOO MANY of them fight to get clean. I watched them relapse and try again. And I have cried at FAR TOO MANY funerals when they lost their battle forever.
Addicts have families. They have people who love them, who lose sleep at night wondering if they will be the next person getting that life shattering call. The call that will rock your world off its axis and will never be the same again.
In 2020 and it is no longer taboo. It is not just the self employed, tattooed biker with an 8th grade education who is shooting dope in the bathroom. It is a middle schooler who is OD’ing on the walking path going to school. It is the stay at home mom next door. It is a school teacher at your child’s school. IT IS ANYONE.
I hate addiction. I hate that my family is not the only ones in the “secret club” anymore.
To all of you fighting everyday and working your program MINUTE BY MINUTE (if needed, count the minutes, because counting a day can seem like it is a leap over a tall building) KEEP GOING. Good days are just as dangerous as a bad day (you know if you have been in the fight). Never stop talking. Call someone. Hit a meeting. Do anything you can to avoid that one phone number missing from your contacts BUT BURNED INTO YOUR BRAIN----or make that all so FAMILIAR DRIVE.
I will never stop lifting my friends who are fighting to stay clean. I will be your biggest cheerleader. Because YOU MATTER. Your family MATTERS. Together we will beat this back until we don’t have to fight anymore.