My dad was the ultimate superhero. He instilled in me a love for reading, surfing, the Grateful Dead, fine dining and sportfishing. He attended every single dance recital, science fair, parent-teacher conference and volleyball game. When I close my eyes, I can imagine the warm feeling of his bear hugs after coming home after a long day. I can still smell his cologne and hear my mom and him laughing in the kitchen while they make dinner together. My dad was my whole world.
Until two years ago.
Two years ago, life as I knew it was snatched away in the blink of an eye. Two years ago, I lost my father. He’s not technically dead, but the man I knew no longer lives in his body. Heroin took him away from me, and to this day, there is nothing I can do or say to bring him back.
I came home from my sophomore year of college eager to start my first internship at a local magazine. Summer is my favorite season because I get to come home to sunny Florida and spend quality time with my family. My dad and I had planned a trip at the end of the summer, too.
I was at my grandma’s house in Texas right after school ended. Everything was normal until I came home from a morning run to find my grandma talking with my mom on the phone. She shot me a glance that made my stomach drop. After handing the phone over to me, my mom calmly told me that I needed to return home the next day. As it turns out, I was going to be the key element of an intervention — an intervention to force my father to go to rehab for a heroin addiction. I didn’t know whether I was going to cry, throw up or pass out. “This can’t be happening,” I kept telling myself. How could my dad be addicted to drugs? Just like every other dad, he had warned me about the dangers of drinking and doing drugs.
But when I thought about it, I realized the truth. My family and I sensed some strange behavior. When he had come to visit me at school, he was too sick to move the whole time. I felt terrible for him and was pretty shaken up. He claimed it was the stomach flu, but he would wake up in sweat-soaked clothes. As it turns out, he was going through withdrawals. He left his drugs at home for a couple of days to come see me, but clearly, this took a toll on his body. After that, my brother would call me from home in a rattled state saying that Dad was falling asleep at the dinner table and sweating excessively. We got scared and, to be honest, thought maybe he was developing some type of serious illness.
Once my mom told me he was addicted to heroin, it all made sense. Common side effects of the drug are heavy breathing, sweating and grogginess, especially when coming off a high. But I still struggled to accept it. My parents’ marriage seemed flawless, and our family life was incredible, so why did he have to do this to us? Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself that question.
The intervention was emotionally taxing. My entire family and some of my dad’s friends had to write long letters to him, encouraging rehab. There was a professional intervention mediator who oversaw the process and told us how to act and what to expect. The morning of the intervention, we had to trick my dad into showing up at his parents’ house. He acted like a caged animal. He yelled, bucked, tried to escape. The mediator ran outside with my uncle to calm him down and read my letter to him. That’s what did it. My dad agreed to go to a treatment center.
He could only use the phone on special occasions, so I resorted to writing letters. We wrote back and forth on a weekly basis. I ended up visiting him over a fall break my junior year of college. He seemed like a changed man. I was so excited to finally have my father back. However, it was all too good to be true.
My dad left that treatment center to go to another just before coming home. He was to live in a sober living house in my hometown, but he refused and decided to try to move home. This was a grave mistake. He spiraled out of control and suffered a couple of overdoses that could have killed him. So for the past year and a half, he has been in and out of different rehab facilities. I have been to countless therapist appointments; Al-Anon meetings, which are for families of addicts; and even one Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
It has been long and painful. None of us really know why he started, but it is not uncommon. And that is to say nothing of the stigma. People think heroin users are all a certain kind of person. This is false. One time is all it takes to get hooked. I do not speak with my father anymore. There are too many lies, too many secrets. He has broken my heart. If time truly heals, I hope it does so for both of us.
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, call the SAMHSA hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or find an Al-Anon meeting.