I don’t know what drug causes people to just fall asleep standing up the way some subway junkies do (Is it heroin? Meth? All of the above?), but I saw one today that was as close to a walker in real life as I’ve seen. Stumbling around, drooling, and eyes occasionally showing nothing but white. And she was pregnant. Some people were pointing, laughing, recording. All I could think about is the child that’s gonna grow up with this and anyone in this woman’s life that’s tried to help her. She was just some woman on the train, but we’re losing people all the time to addiction or problems related to addiction that are more well known. Most recently Robin Williams and Phillip Seymore Hoffman lost their battle. I feel terrible for them, but I feel just as much for their loved ones whose lives were impacted by their addictions.
I’ve seen first hand the power that drugs can have over someone. My own mother and father were narcotics users. Their addictions ripped the family apart. Several times. After re-marrying and joining Narcotics Anonymous they both- we all- enjoyed drug free lives for a good while. My timeline might be off there, but at that age I wasn’t exactly paying attention to these things. They both attended regular meetings and made many new friends in the fellowship. Some people that I’m still in contact with occasionally myself. Then something happened and my dad started using again. To this day I still wonder what it might have been that pushed him off that edge. Some big event that made him reach for a bottle like in a lot of movies. I can’t think of any earth shaking news. No major death in the family at the time. No legal or work trouble that I know of. No zombie apocalypse. So I’m stuck with the feeling that the drugs just won the face off that day. One drink. One pill. Until its not just one. I guess any one day can have dozens of those face off moments.
My dad got back on the wagon and then he fell off. He got on and then he fell off. I used to work at a pizza shop. He’d show up there drunk, or the delivery guys would deliver something to the house and he’d be drunk. I remember watching him come home nights in his sky blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo- a car he might have loved as much as the drugs- and trying to park. Knowing that he drove that way was always one of the worst feelings to me. That he’d kill himself or someone else. It ripped the family apart one final time in about 1997. My mom moved and I went with her. My sisters followed after not too long. He was left at the house alone with our dogs until he couldn’t even keep the house. He moved back in with my grandma and the dogs came to live with me. I went to college that same year and I’d hear from my mom about how well he was doing or how bad he was doing and that he’d been in/out of the hospital. I was distanced from it all even though I was only about 50 actual miles away.
From 2002 – 2005 I was home from college and living in Philly. In that time there was a few incidents and of course some hope. Addicts are just as good at giving you hope as they are giving you despair. The last hope filled time I remember was when, after a hospital stay and previous diagnosis of cirrhosis, he let us talk him into checking into Livengrin. A live-in rehab facility. He got out, did well for a while, but eventually relapsed. In 2005 my mom was offered a job in Indianapolis. I feel that, had he been successful in getting his shit together, she might not have taken it. That things would have just gotten better and better for him and all around him and there would be no move to Indy. That wasn’t the case. She took the job and me and my sisters moved with her. First he was left alone in the house. Now he’s being left alone in Philly. I moved to Chicago in August of 2005- the first time I’d been really off on my own. Just like college I’d be updated on the ups and downs of dad from my mom, sister and sometimes my grandmom. A couple scares, but he kept on going like Frank Gallagher in Shameless. We talked here and there, but not much at all.
My sisters visited Philly in 2008. I talked them about the trip and they told me how bad he was looking. I hadn’t seen him in years at this point, but on the urging of my mom I booked a flight back to Philly for August 29th to September 1st. Finally going back to see my dad. On August 14th, 2008 I was woken up to a phone call from my cousin. My grandmom had been in and out of the hospital at this point, so I was fully prepared for the news she had died. Only it wasn’t her. It was my dad. His body just had enough. He died about two weeks before I was to visit.
My sisters tell me that I’m lucky to not have seen him in the state he was in when they visited. I guess I’m thankful for that. Though in a way I’m thankful for all the things that I’m also sorry for. Things like being in college and not having to deal with it. Moving out of the house. Moving out of the state. Being generally distant with him in thoughts or actual distance. Though I’m sorry I didn’t talk to him as often as I could have, I’m thankful that each time I did I let him know that regardless of what he does or will do or where he is or I am- I love him. That was the only support I had left to give.
Though I feel sorry for some of those things, I don’t regret any of them. I had to get on with my life. There’s only so many last chance’s people can give out. Those chances are based on love and hope and unfortunately the chemical addictions can override all of it. You can only do so much to help people who can’t accept their situation and lack the courage and wisdom within to improve it. Addiction is hard wired into some people. It’s who they are. It’s a constant battle. So when I see someone like the walker I saw on the subway I don’t judge them. I just feel sorry for them. For their family. I don’t know what lead hear to that point. I just hope she finds her way back.
So many times I thought things were my fault or my sister’s or my mom’s or the job’s or the dog’s or this or that or the other thing. And it’s not. It’s in the DNA. Some people can experiment and move on. Some people get hooked and the will to use overpowers the will of others for it it to end. There’s a prayer called the serenity prayer that my mom taught me that got me through a lot and help me realize, even very young, that none of this was in my control nor was it my fault. You can only control what you can control and what you can’t control you need to accept.
As a result of this you might think that I would avoid any sort of drugs or alcohol. For a while I did. I didn’t have a beer until I was a sophomore in college, which for the record is still under aged. I drink a few times a month, but never alone. I’m constantly aware of how much and how often. I have not and will not try any illegal drugs. Not because they are illegal, but just because I know how my DNA is programmed and the coding extends far past my father and mother. That would not be a wise move. I like to think that I have a will power built up due to all this that could overcome anything, but having seen what I seen I know too well that’s a battle I don’t want to face. Plus… things are going pretty well for me right now and one easy way to screw that up is to start using. This is one thing I learned well from my mom. She’s the bravest woman I know. To have been an addict herself, lived with one, lived through one several times and has been able to come out clean on the other side. At some point she just had it and knew that she could take no more and had to focus on herself. I know she never stopped loving my dad, because she never stopped offering help when he was he showed he wanted to help himself. At this point she must have at least 25 years clean. Me, my sisters and now my nephews and niece are where we are because of her choice that enough was enough. She helped us all recover.
I’ve looked online but I’ve been unable to find one day that celebrates people that are 1) currently in recovery from some sort of addiction or 2) whose lives have been effected by the addiction of a loved one. Of course if they are in recovery it’s probably in an anonymous group, so who’d know? Though maybe people that feel comfortable sharing their stories that day can do so. Sometimes it’s not going to be as easy it was for me today to spot someone with addiction issues. It’s even harder to spot the loved ones of those people. So even just knowing that people you already know are going through the same thing, that you aren’t alone and that could maybe even reach out to this person to talk could go a long way. Maybe that is the step toward one of the more organized programs. September is apparently “Recovery Month”, so maybe next September you can share your story. Screw that… if you feel comfortable share it whenever you want. It could help someone.
I don’t know. This started as a quick blurb about a walker that I saw on the bus and how bad I felt for her, her family and her unborn child. I didn’t intend on sharing as much as I did. It’s not usually my style, but what the hell. If you’re reading this and can’t even relate to what I’ve talked about then I envy you. If you read this and are currently living through someone else’s addiction and need someone to talk to, just let me know. If you yourself have an addiction please get help, because it is not just you that you are hurting, but everyone that cares about you as well.