A Painful Goodbye
What I’m about to tell you is a personal encounter with the only thing I’ve found deadlier than the drug, Enabling! This article is from my personal experience, I have no college education, as you may notice in my writing lol. I’m no Harvard or Berkley grad nor do I hold any outstanding awards in this field. No, what I have in my resume are years of hard ache and pain. A story of a private school altar boy turned homeless hopeless heroin user. This article is not about war stories; you will not read the script of a Hollywood horror or action movie. My focus is to bring to light to what many have a hard time talking about. Today I am a couple years free from this insidious dis-ease so please be aware, there is a solution to this nightmare…. you may just not like it.
Growing up I lived the life of a fortunate kid. Of course there were issue in the home, as everyone has. Monday through Friday, my younger brother and I were well dressed and sent to Catholic school, racking up 9 years with perfect attendance. We did well in school minus my brother almost knocking himself out on the front steps and I displacing a fellow classmate’s teeth with a Frisbee (sorry Michael). I excelled in sports while obtaining the Presidential Physical Fitness Award almost every year. Then came the weekends; No longer playing religious ambassadors – we joined the party. My parents made sure to keep the fun alive while having two boys, a new life, and full time careers. I’ve seen things a young kid should never see; I’ve seen substance use disorders in many fashions stick its ugly head in the front door from time to time. Bottom line, we were loved unconditionally and well taken care of. A few years pass, I’m now a young adult and feel I can take this world by the horns. Long story short and a few painful years later, a short lived 7-day coma and over 20 treatment facilities, I found myself surrounded by people who loved me, yet I felt utterly and painfully alone. I used to have this nightmare as a kid; I would be in a room filled with friends and family, yet no one could hear my voice, no one could see my tears. In this dream I have no recollection of the reasoning behind it but the feeling was the same. I found myself a father of 3, an unstable shell full of inconsistencies. I became the once athletic honor student to the person mom was planning a funeral for. My father, whom quit drinking for his family some 20 years’ prior, got to see his son slowly dying in front of him. A man I never witness cry, the strongest human on earth. Now a man ridden with anxiety, 3-time heart attack survivor had to cringe when the phone rings past 9pm. I was lost, drowning in the idea of having to live another day. Finally, that all came to an end.
The day was May 13th 2014. I was packing my bags and heading to what would be my, God willing, final treatment. I spent the hours prior screaming at my mother like she was my worst enemy, being shaken down by park rangers because my evil screams at my father scared the crowd eating their Sunday lunch. Telling my idol, the man who changed his life for me, that I hated him and I wished he was dead. On this day, I unknowingly tattoo their faces on my mind. I packed up and was on my way to treatment, but before I was going into my usual routine facility tour I made a pit stop. Driving on minimum gas I found myself contemplating, no planning, the robbery of the century (so I thought). As I hide my truck on a side street I quickly cover my face with a white t shirt. The smell of this shirt was as if I borrowed it from a homeless man living in a dumpster, it was covered in blood from previous heroin use and in some twisted way, gave me comfort. I walked myself to the front of a hotel, in my hand was a note that stated “All the money in the safe, I have a gun but don’t have to use it!”. I’m a few steps away from the door when I see the cashier is no older than 18, she resembled my daughter. Tall lengthy dirty blond with a shy complex. Stopped in my tracks I found whatever bit of clarity I had at the time. I turned around and left. My hands shaking and my body in so much pain, my mind consumed with getting another fix, another encounter with the love of my life. Driving on fumes, I managed to make it north where I somehow yet again convinced my daughters mom to let me stay the night. Sleeping outside in the cold garage I found my way into her purse, stole here credit card and flew to the ATM. Of course, I snuck her card back into her purse because I mean, I’m a good guy. What happened next is when I stepped out and God stepped in.
After meeting my favorite dealer, I made sure to keep my promise and head off to treatment. I parked my truck at a local college recreation center, proceeded to grab my pen and paper and I began to write my goodbye letter. The feeling I had while writing those letters are impossible to describe, unless you were ever in a place when the greatest scenario was finally dying and no longer having to hurt the people you love, then I can’t describe it. I was finally about to not only set myself free but everyone around me. I finished my last goodbye letter, I made up my final batch of death and proceeded with the act….
I woke up in a familiar place, a place I’ve been before. When I went out from the heroin a group of nurses could hear my exhaust blaring. My heavy foot while in my slumber was my last cry for help. I was in the nurse’s station at a treatment center that I’ve “graduated” from several times before. My initial feeling was of utter anger and rage; the fact I was alive made me hate God that much more. But, I was alive. I was diagnosed with Hep C and was told my liver was shot. I was given a bed in the facility and one option. Live another day or leave and start this hell all over. That night I was in my room and I did something strange, I fell on my knees, filled with desperation I asked God why I was alive, why he didn’t even want me. I begged for a way out. The next morning, I was confronted by staff and my therapist. I was given the option of a lifetime. “Rj, we found you a facility in South Florida that’s willing to help you with your trauma! Would you like to go? My eyes filled with tears and my legs gave out. I again hit my knees in front of everyone and thanked that same higher power I just met the night before. To this day I have not found a reason to go back to a drink or a drug. Now that I’ve given you a little back story I’d like to tell you exactly which part of all this was the breaking point. Which part I HAD to hear, comprehend and accept in order for me to make lucky number 23 my last treatment.
Throughout my active use nothing scared me. A gun to my head or a verbal death threat had zero influence on me, losing all my belongings and resorted to living out of a trash bag, nothing. A lot of people think that just because you may die from using that that will somehow have an effect on ones thinking. Honestly the only care, the only love of my life was that next high. “So why does my child yell and scream at me but treats his dealers like there gold?” Well to be honest they are gold, they hold the only possible thing that will encourage someone to live 20 more minutes. A lot of times the drug itself is not the high. For me, when I was withdrawing and I received a text from a dealer letting me know they had heroin or pain meds, I immediately no longer felt sick. Just the simple thought of using was enough for this disease to allow me comfort. Substance use disorders are the only diseases that tells you that you don’t have a disease. So going back to that day when I was screaming at mom and dad, contemplating armed robbery and then committing credit card fraud I heard one thing that stuck. I heard a word that was so painful to this day it hurts. For the first time in my life I heard the word NO! No you cannot live here anymore, no you cannot have any money, no we do love you but we hate this disease. To someone like me, this word is the hammer on the thumb, the checkered flag at the end of a gruesome race. For so long whether it was my partner at the time, parents, friends I always always had a manipulation plan up my sleeve to get what I needed. And if I stole than I would be quickly forgiven by using the disease card. For someone in active use, please understand that nothing or no one matters. Yes, we love you, yes we would love things to be different, no we do not like living like this. As a friend or a family member it’s a whole other story.
I am a father of 4 amazing kids. My oldest Hannah is 13 going on 25. She is tall, smart and beautiful. She is also the child of a man with a substance use disorder. She didn’t get to hear dad read her bed time stories, walks to the park or daddy daughter trips. No she got to see a man struggling to keep his life together. A man who was either too inebriated or sick to leave the house. I remember days spent when it was 78 and sunny, all she wanted to do was go outside and play with daddy. The two short days we would spend together never left the couch. “Daddy, the movies over, can we go play now? no sweetie play another movie I don’t feel good. Ok dad, maybe next time.” Or I would be intoxicated or using and I was her best friend, driving her around in the front seat, unable to look over the dash she would cry as I drove like a mad man. Thinking I was being cool. Either way I was never really there for her. I didn’t know how to be a father, only an inebriated friend. Today we have an incredible relationship where she brags to her friends. She tells me she is proud of me. Wants to come spend summers with me and have her daddy back. Today I get to do that, today I am a father in recovery.
Every day I speak to at least 2 to 3 parents who have children with a substance use disorder. Most times I hear the same story. On the most part the crying voice I hear through my phone is of desperation. If only their child had that same desperation. To tell someone that they need to detach from their child is one of the most difficult tasks of my job. Having said that I can only offer what I know. What I know is that it wasn’t until the day I heard no, the day my parents and friends said “no more” I always had a lifeline to hold onto. Once that line was cut, I hit my bottom. “So what if my child is homeless and has no food or money?” Than that’s honestly what they need to feel in order to reach a point of desperation. Not everyone needs to hit bottom. That’s a false statement made that I for one think is dangerous. Having said that, there is no easy way to determine when someone is truly ready and willing to find recovery. I do know that it will prolong as far as the enabler will allow. I know this sounds harsh and cruel but it’s what needs to be said. They say detach with love, work your own program. Most times the family members are worse off than their loved one using – justifiably so. The amount of sleepless nights, the anxiety, endless tears of hearing that police officer call. The traumas are endless and only bring more pain each time. My advice, and again I’m no doctor, I am a person in long-term recovery that lived it. If you’re a parent of someone with a substance use disorder, you need to take a step back, ask yourself how is your child, husband, wife affected your life? Has your life become as chaotic as theirs? Are you losing sleep at night and losing time at work? Think about it. Is this lifestyle any different than someone actively using substances? No, it’s not! Just like your loved one in active use, you need to have a desire to want a better way of life. Of course you want that for your child. Who doesn’t? there’s only so much you can do without trying to play God. Your loved one must want to seek help. As long as you’re their lifeline things will only get worse.
Please have faith and hope that your loved one will find their way. The day my father told me to leave was the hardest thing I had to stomach, today I thank that man for that day and I give my recovery to him. He saved my life that day. By saying no, my parents saved my life. There are many programs out there for families affected by substance use. There are approximately 28 million Americans with substance use disorders. Multiply that number by five – That is the amount of people affected by it. You’re not alone, you are strong enough. Who would have thought, the best thing you could ever do for your child would be to say no, goodbye, get help and we will be here after? It’s hard to stomach it really is. But who knows what my tombstone would have said if mom and dad kept feeding my disease.