A New Look at Addiction to Consider

Maybe we’re looking at addiction wrong. Would it be insulting or hurtful to the addict if I said I am anticipating their 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.

Steve Olbinsky Sobriety

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 our 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.

Steve Olbinsky Last Phone Call

[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?

The Eyes of Honesty: Saying Sorry For Addiction

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Last year I wrote a blog post about my dads eyes when he was high and how the eyes never did seem to lie to me, even when he did. Now I want to share the truth that my dad give to me and still continues to give to me. Let me take you back to a time I remember vividly from when I was 16 and first opening up to my dad about my feelings.

My dad was never afraid to say sorry when he was sober and I think that is what made my heart grow two sizes when I was going through all of this. I knew he was in agony emotionally. How can you not be? Your life is crumbling below your feet and you want to hold on but you can’t and in your mind that’s your own fault and you begin to eternalize that. So to be able to let the words, “sorry,” come out while looking into my eyes is bringing all those emotions to life. That is ownership. My dad was taking ownership in what he thought was the shattering of my life. Truthfully, it didn’t ruin my life, it gave my life meaning. Especially on this day.

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My dad came into my room, my sanctuary that kept me protected from the life I had outside of those pink walls,  and sat on my bed next to me. He held my hands in his and shaking he looked up into my eyes.

“I’m so sorry” he spoke with what I can imagine felt like a spiked rock in his throat.

I can’t find the words to describe the way he looked at me. But it was something like a life or death thing. Like if he could run around the whole planet to show how sorry he was, he would’ve. It was as if every bad thing he had ever done, had been put into his words and he was trying to get rid of all of them with his eyes. What I guess I’m trying to say is it was the most sincere sorry I’ll ever hear in my life. And it puts the phrase, “Apologies don’t mean anything if you keep doing what you’re sorry for” to shame. Because that apology meant everything to me.

It wasn’t about if he would relapse again because I knew it wasn’t an empty promise at all. It was a sorry from the heart begging to be set free but knowing it wasn’t that simple.

When my dad said this to me, I began tearing up. I could tell he was choking up and the thought of my dad, the toughest Russian I know, crying made me crumble inside.

I’m not sure what I said right then but I’m sure it was along the lines of what I still say to this day. I love you, you’re my best friend and nothing will ever change that.

One of my favorite things about my dad is the interest he takes in my life to the minuscule detail. It never has bothered me because I find it really cute that a tough burly man loves the dainty details of a teenage girl. When I had my first boyfriend, he’d not only ask if I was treated well. He’d ask what we talk about, how happy I am and what makes me smile most. Once when I went on vacation and came back he was like Leanna did he give you a kiss when you came back? He better have missed you! I was like, dad! NO! But he was like C’mon, Leanna. And I bashfully said yes. It was embarrassing but it was sweet that he asked.

As my dad and I were sitting on the bed, I told him I kept a journal and wrote about my feelings when he was high. He asked to read them. My heart sank as I walked over to my Windows XP, and opened my Xanga account (what would be today’s Tumblr). It was my private account that I kept my day to day musings of a 13 year old living with the stress of other kids being mean, liking boys, worrying about being liked, and dealing with addiction.

There were posts about real suicidal thoughts in there and I mustered up the courage to talk about them to the man that created me. If you’re curious exactly what they said, I wrote a post about them a bit here.

I read them and it was no longer a spiked rock in our throats it was full on sobs. We cried together and absorbed our pain and in all that pain we found strength. We grew together even more than before.

After we both found tranquility in our comfort, my dad asked me, “Leanna, please print these out for me? I want to have them.”

I printed them out and my dad came to me a few days later. He read them at his Alanon meeting and told me the whole room went silent, “So silent you could hear a pin drop”. He said he could feel the way the words resonated with the group. My truths, my deepest feelings that I wrote for myself, were used in resonation and that is when I decided that I’d use my words and my feelings and my dads love to heal the world.

On a sober mind, my dad is honest, gentle, and caring. He is the most sincere man I know. My dad gave me the truth of my meaning that day. That we were put into this situation to help others with genuine honesty.

Yesterday my dad texted me “Sometimes I wonder what if but than I would not have the most perfect daughter in the whole wide world. I love you my BabySo.”

It hasn’t been an easy few months for my dad and I, but there isn’t a day that I give up hope. I don’t rely on change, but I cheer him on. I’ll always hold on to his sorry and sobriety. Because I know it’s still in his heart, fighting to come out.