Maybe we’re looking at addiction wrong. Would it be insulting or hurtful to a person struggling with addiction if I said I am waiting for their next relapse? Maybe not anticipating but maybe I’m sort of expecting it, but not in the way that I am wishing bad things or not believing in the person to fight the battle full force.
In the last months of my dad’s life, I no longer felt a pit in my stomach that my dad was using drugs. I anticipated he was. The scariest part of his addiction wasn’t the drug use anymore, it was his desire to die. He was using drugs not to get high but to feel like he could hold on for just one more day. Physically he was down to almost 100 pounds, and mentally he couldn’t stand himself. I recorded the last conversation we had where he painfully told me his desire to close his eyes while weeping for my forgiveness. He said, “I tried to like lay down and I started to stop taking all the pills and everything.”
I anticipated that my dad would use drugs again but is that really even the issue? Because an addiction is the disease but is the drug use even the day to day issue? We’re all living to find a reason to continue living. With this disease, living becomes a dependency to a substance. So to fight that dependency it takes giving up something that you depend on and that takes a kind of power that we shouldn’t put so much pressure on to achieve unless we’ve been in those shoes before. Why can’t you just stay sober? It’s only like holding your breath from the moment you wake up till the moment you fall asleep. And good luck catching your breath and have a pleasant dream at the same time.
I had 5 years to decide how I was going to handle my dad’s release from prison and his freedom to make good or bad choices with the tough task of re-entering society. We wrote to each other every week just about and we talked about the things we wanted to do and the way we loved each other so full we could take over the world if we wanted to. In a way, I think that’s why it didn’t work out. Our love was way too powerful.
While he was in prison I wrote this blog post, why I won’t be upset if my dad relapses. It was my eternalized emancipation to his addiction. I wrote about the realities. A drug addiction shouldn’t ruin a bond like the one my dad and I had. I knew I couldn’t enable him. I wrote about the emotions. I understood I’d feel a bit heartbroken inside if he were to relapse. But most importantly I wrote what I would hold on as a truth. I would never let his addiction measure how much he loves me and the chapter doesn’t end until the day that I give up. And here I am continuing to write about my dad even after his passing.
I loved and love my dad more than anything in this world. I don’t even fear death anymore. That’s how our strong our bond was. He fulfilled my life and he gave me my riches- his love, his advice, his heart. I hold onto his letters, photos, and notes like treasured artifacts.
Despite this crazy love, I can confidently tell you that I anticipated his relapse. And to be honest, it made my life so much easier- and maybe his too. It wasn’t something I ever said to him. It should really go as an unspoken truism if you choose to adopt. I no longer had the ups and downs and celebrations with every day that passed that he wasn’t using. I also didn’t have the disappointments either.
When my dad and I went to Bruno Mars, he was excitedly choosing which outfit he should wear for his big night. He had on one shirt but when he decided he wanted to wear something Bruins related, he threw on another over. His frail body looked as though the shirt was weighing him down, but he was so excited to be back in TD Garden it didn’t seem to bother him much. He went over to his pills and he said, “Leanna should I take my pills?” I didn’t know what to say. My heart was beating fast and I had to take a big deep breath. He was looking at me so deeply and so desperately and yet I didn’t know the answer he wanted to hear. I really think he wanted to hear that if he didn’t take the pills everything would be okay and he wouldn’t be in pain but we both knew that wasn’t true. I calmly, with a choke in my throat, said, “Daddy, take what you need so that you’re comfortable at the concert.” It was such a scary feeling to know that if he didn’t take those pills he could’ve been in agonizing pain. He could’ve had a heart attack or a breakdown.
The day after the concert, he was so happy. The happiest I had heard him since he lost his license and totaled his car. He was singing, celebrating, and appreciating how beautiful life can be. He said, “This is what life is about, Leanna.” About 2 days later, I tried calling and didn’t get an answer. I knew that he was using again because if he wasn’t I would’ve had a text back instantly. Regardless, I continued to text him, “I love you, daddy!” I didn’t feel an ounce of regret, anger, or disappointment. I just wanted my dad to be okay, and I was waiting for his next call.
I was my dad’s reason for living. I gave his life as much meaning as I could. I would’ve given him my life. I would’ve traded my beautiful apartment, all my possessions, all my confidence and learned skills to let help him understand how much he meant to me. I tried articulating it in every way possible. The last letter I sent him I said if I could have the richest, smartest, dad that was a Doctor I wouldn’t trade him for you for even one second.
So what if we all stop putting so much pressure on sobriety as the solution? Could it potentially give loved ones more sleep at night? And more importantly, can it help an addict to feel like it’s as rare as it really is to not relapse? I just think it’s crazy that we ask so much. We think our love is enough to make a person want to be sober. Sobriety is desired by all addicts who’ve seen the pain they’ve caused. Your love is not a measurement of sobriety. Your support is, however, a measurement of love. But maybe we redefine support. Maybe we can accept that helping our loved one find meaning is more of the mission rather than helping an addict be sober.
In the hospital when my dad was pronounced brain dead, my grandpa with tears streaming down his face said, Leanna. You saw dad different. I never thought he would die, I thought every time he was sober it’d be the last time and he would stay. But you accepted him and loved him for who he was.
Here is another glimpse of the last call my dad and I had. One day you’ll hear the pain and see my reaction as I accepted this nightmare but until I’m ready, read our words and please understand that addiction is more than using drugs. It takes away your life and puts you in a prison of depression.
[Dad] I’m just so tired. I’m so… They took my f***ing license. Without a license, I’m like a fish out of water. I have no way of even attempting to even get a job. I don’t know how I’m going to get anything with the way my arm is. I’m… I don’t want to do drugs. I don’t want to have relapses anymore. I don’t want to have nothing anymore. I just like. I was really sick in bed for days. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t do anything. I just like…
[Leanna] It’s okay daddy I’m here for you
[Dad] if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t even want to live. I can’t do that to you. I just can’t leave you. That’s the only thing that’s stopping me from… from just … it’d be so nice to just go to sleep and not worry about nothing anymore. Not have any more problems. Not have any more letdowns. Not have any more you know?