My father, the drug addict.
After 22 years of life, it still doesn't sound right to me. How can somebody so full of life with so much potential, be filled with such negativity, so many toxins, so little care. Growing up the child of an addict has truly shaped me into the strong, independent, level-headed women I am today.
Drugs are powerful and all-consuming. The only thing most addicts care about is knowing where their next hit will come from. They don't care about their families or their friends, they don't care about their jobs. And clearly, they don't care about themselves. Families and relationships are sacrificed for one more fix.
Nobody ever tells the truth about addiction, and because of that, we have no idea how to cope with dealing with an addict first hand. How do you live with them? How do you support them to stay clean without giving up after the first day of withdraws? How do you continue to love the person who is killing themselves day after day?
The answer is simple. You don't. There's nothing you can do to save this person, all you can do is pray they get better, and work on saving yourself.
So, what have I learned growing up with a drug addict as a father, you ask?
1. I learned how to say no.
How to walk away from the peer pressure I came across in high school and college. How to cut people out of my life who were toxic and on this same path. I've learned how to say no to him. No, I don't want to come see you. No, I don't want to answer your phone calls after I've received so many where you were using and it was obvious to me, a young 17-year-old girl.
2. I learned how to make a promise, and keep that promise.
I can't tell you how many times I sat on the front steps waiting to get picked up for our court-mandated Wednesday night dinner. Or many dance recital tickets were set aside at will-call each year, hoping he would come through with his promises and show up for once. But I can tell you how when I make a promise to somebody, I keep it and do what I need to because I know the pain that not following through can cause.
3. I learned how to talk about what was, and is going on.
Years of therapy definitely helped this one. Luckily, my parents were divorced when I was very young so I was not constantly around his actions and screw-ups. But that didn't mean I didn't need somebody to talk to about the trauma I was surrounded by. Seeing a therapist allowed me to free the negative thoughts from my mind and get my words out right while not being judged for living this kind of life.
4. I learned that life could end in an instant.
There is truly nothing worse than seeing and hearing the man who gave life to me and how he acts and speaks when he's on drugs. I can count on way too many fingers how many times I woke up in the middle of the night, and panic that he might not wake up in the morning. That maybe he took his last hit, the one that would end his life. That, maybe, his life was taken instead of some innocent father who does nothing but love his children. Up until this point, my thoughts have just stayed thoughts. But they still haunt me, and I still wake up every morning wondering where in the world my father is and if he is still using. My father's illness consumes my thoughts and I constantly fear his uncertain future.
5. But most importantly, I have learned that it is not my fault.
It's not my fault that my dad chose drugs over me, my brother and mom. It's not my fault that he would rather shoot up heroin than move me into my freshman dorm room. And it isn't my fault that he is a nobody. A nobody who said yes one too many times. A nobody who is now bedridden and unable to enjoy life as a normal, middle-aged man because he beat his body up so much that even the drugs can't fix him anymore. No matter how many times he called me when he was using, telling me that me not seeing him or answering his phone calls was my fault and for that, he was going to push his limits those nights, it wasn't my fault.
It never was. And it will never be. And as I continue on this journey of living with the fears and hopes that it will someday be over, I make a promise to myself to never put myself in his shoes. To keep my head on my shoulders and strive to be the best me I can be. To be successful and keep reaching for the stars. To be better than the man that made me.