-Submitted by a recovering family member
It was still dark when I woke up that morning. The air was still. The cold throughout the house felt as though the heat hadn’t been on in weeks. I quickly sprung from my bed and wrapped my blanket firmly up over my head to keep the cold from hitting my skin. I headed down the hall of our little apartment to the kitchen and poured some Frosted Flakes into a bowl. As I opened the refrigerator, a foul stench hit my face, filling my nostrils. The electricity had gone out and whatever food was left, went bad.
I took a deep breath, threw away my bowl of cereal, and trudged back down the hall to my dad’s bedroom. The door was locked, which happened quite often, so I knocked softly. He must’ve not heard me, so I knocked again, and again. Still no answer. “Great, he’s passed out,” I thought to myself. I went back to my room and got ready for school, my stomach rumbling with hunger. Before I left that morning, I made sure to grab 8 quarters from the change jar in the cupboard, so I could buy a bagel on my way in.
As it always did, school flew by that day. From there, I went directly to my after-school job at the local pizzeria; 4 more hours later, and I was back home. The apartment was still cold; it was still dark; the quiet remained. “What the hell?” I said to myself, “What has he been doing all day?” I knocked on his bedroom door again, still no answer. I could hear the T.V. on, so I knew he was in there. At this point, I was worried. Really, more than worried, I was terrified. I wanted to kick down the door, but I was afraid my dad would be really angry with me when he found out.
I called my cousin Janet and explained what was happening. She told me to kick in the door and call 911; she was heading right over. Janet is a few years older than me, so she had to be about 20 or 21 at the time. She was the closest thing I knew to a reliable adult family member. My mother left years ago; we don’t talk about her much. I proceeded to kick the door. Kick, kick, kick. At first it wouldn’t budge, until I lined my boot directly up with the knob. The door swung open and the rest is still a bit blurry. It was as if I was having an out-of-body experience.
He laid there, slumped halfway off of the bed, needle still in his arm. His skin was cold and blue. What had he done? How much could he have taken? He had overdosed once before, so I knew what I needed to do; “hopefully the paramedics get here in time with the Narcan,” I thought to myself. I laid him flat on the bed and proceeded with CPR, but deep down I knew it was too late. Soon after, the EMTs came rushing in, pushing me aside. They confirmed my worst thoughts. He was gone. My dad was dead from heroin.
Growing Up Alone
I was 17 when my dad died from a heroin overdose; 11 when my mom left us for another man. I had a total of five living relatives, one being a grandmother who was 92 and in late stage Alzheimer’s. Other than Janet, I was pretty much alone, all of the time. Although my father drove me crazy, almost every day, he was still my dad. Most of the time I felt like the adult, managing most of the bills, cooking dinner, cleaning up after him, and nursing him back to health when he would decide to quit the junk. For most people this may sound like a horrifyingly tragic childhood, but for me, it was all I knew; it was normal. Now, with him gone, I didn’t know what to do; I no longer had anyone to take care of.
Being strong was never an option; it was a necessity for survival. So why should now be any different? Months after the funeral, I still found myself drifting through life. I couldn’t feel anything, as if I was the one with the heroin addiction. His death still wasn’t a reality to me. I sometimes look back on that time, and wonder if my subconscious was protecting me from the guilt I was about to endure.
Yearning for noise, I moved as far away from the silence as possible. I finished high school and got the scholarship I was hoping for. I packed up the few belongings I owned and headed to college; getting away from that town, those people, that apartment. College would do the trick. The people there didn’t know who I was or what kind of family I came from. In essence, I could finally be whoever I wanted.
Although the numbness was just that, it was comfortable for me because I didn’t have to feel; I didn’t have to think. I thought the “noise” of college would help me become the person I was supposed to be, leaving behind all of the heartache and chaos. The first month or so was mostly a blur. Class, study group, work, sleep. That was my standard routine. I would occasionally go to parties with my roommate, but never had much interest in it.
Then, the night came that I thought would never arrive. My dulled senses finally came to life, as if every emotion I had stuffed for the last few months decided to have revenge on my lifeless soul. I’m not entirely sure why it happened when it did, or what even brought it on, but when the floodgates opened, the feelings began pouring in; I was no longer able to avoid them. The guilt consumed me. I wondered if I had done enough. What if I checked on him before I went to bed that night? What if I knocked on the door harder before school? What if I didn’t take so long to kick the door in? Would he still be alive? What if I made him go to rehab or stay in one when he got there? I should have never given him money to feed his addiction or meet his dealer when he was too “sick” to go himself.
I thought the noise was going to further drown out my regret and shame. It didn’t; neither did the silence. Work, school, friends, nothing could keep me safe from that torment. Heroin not only ruined my father’s life, but it ruined mine too, and I’ve never done a drug in my life! Heroin stole from me and cheated me. What’s more, when I thought I was finally rid of it, there she was, perfectly positioning herself back into my life again. Heroin, a drug with a life of its own.
Sometimes you’ll hear an addict say that their disease would talk to them. I believe that to be true. While I’m sure my father’s addiction spoke to him on a daily basis, it also whispered in my ear from time to time, especially so after his death. What I now realize as lies, I wholeheartedly believed at the time. Heroin would tell me I wasn’t good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough for my father to love. Heroin taunted me with my father’s love for her. She said my dad hated me and he would never choose me over her. She would convince me that he needed her, if I ever wanted him to be present in my life. And lastly, the “cherry on top”, heroin blamed me for my father’s death.
The Family Disease
My therapist says addiction is a family disease. I guess she is right. If by disease you mean a constant state of self-blame and torture, than yes, it’s a family disease. Although my father was the addict, continuously chasing something he knew would kill him, I was addicted to him needing me. I was addicted to the “noise” of it all; the chaos. When he died, and the silence crept in, I didn’t know where to turn. And then, after I thought I was rid of the beast many call heroin, the remnants of her came swooping in to destroy me further.
I have lived many years of my life blaming myself for his death, and still some days, that feeling remains. For the most part though, I have realized, no one is to blame but the drugs. Heroin has only one mission: to kill and destroy families. She almost completely succeeded with mine. Although she took my father, and held me hostage with her lies, I have been able to make it out.
This letter is for anyone struggling with the disease of addiction or the family members left to pick up the pieces. You are not alone! If you think your child doesn’t know what’s going on, you are wrong. We may not be able to explain fully what is happening, but our gut tells us something is not right. Or, if your child does know, and has taken on the role of the caretaker, please get help. They deserve a childhood; they deserve a family. If you are the child of an addicted parent, don’t blame yourself! While it may be difficult for them to show it, your parents really do love you. Like so many others, they are sick; they have a disease.
Contact Clearbrook For Heroin Addiction
For more than 40 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing effective drug and alcohol treatment to the suffering individual, as well as educational programs for the family members. If you or someone you love is struggling with the disease of addiction, get help today. Contact our Admissions Specialists immediately for information regarding our state-of-the-art detoxification and adult treatment programs.