how I came to be on this bridge at this hour of the morning is a story unto itself. I hadn’t planned on it today but it had been in my mind like a favorite old song for quite a long time. Longer than I realized. I had just walked out to my car, telling myself I needed to go for a drive to clear my head – to quiet my mind which had been racing lately in the early hours. I’d wake up at 3:30 from fitful sleep and be thinking about the trouble I was in. Not any specific trouble mind you – but a litany of problems that seemed to have no ending I could be satisfied with.
I had left my job of twenty years a while back. I was a salesman which is ironic because I don’t really like people very much. Not because I’m any better than most but because I am not. I see myself as more of the same and that depresses me. I look at the difference between the natural world, a world of color and life and beauty versus the world that man has made, a world of business and profit – of poverty and excess – of bullshit, lust, greed, and tyranny and I am slowed by it.
Some days are better than others…don’t we all say that to ourselves often enough, but some days are just too goddamned heavy.
Why did I leave my job? How many times have I asked myself that one. The circumstances were not helpful. I worked with tradespeople, that was our client base. I worked in the wholesale distribution and sales of building supplies and hardware. I made a decent living after many years of warehouse work by moving up into sales. I did what I had to do to support my family. Namely – I overrode my comfort zone and sacrificed most of my peace of mind in order to make more money. The additional income came at a hefty price. I was not unhappy in my work but I was miserable in my free time. The micro management our new corporate ownership group favored was counterproductive on workdays and required massive commitments of free time at home on the laptop, populating spreadsheets and filling in forms and logging calls etc..but hey – who needs sanity ? .. so overrated.
But all of that was manageable until one day when I learned that my son had been smoking opium to ‘manage stress’ and ‘deal with anxiety’ and so on. They were well into their first pregnancy naturally so within a month or so of learning I would be a grampa I also learned we had a life threatening addiction problem to solve..
I kept working. I kept going to work anyway. Pretty soon I realized I couldn’t concentrate on my job. I didn’t give a fuck for it actually. Customers, deadlines, contracts, spreadsheets, email chains, phone calls. All of it would waltz in and out of the rain and fog of depression, fear, and pain I felt at the life I had thought I had made for us – and lost. My mantra had been to work hard, save money, live in one neighborhood and maintain a steady beat. Keep everything low key and consistent. My life growing up was none of those things and I knew that it had to be all that upheaval that had made my early life and childhood miserable. I was not going to let that happen to my son, to my family…and I thought it had worked. That was the big torpedo. I thought I had done it right. My son was doing well, and graduated high school. He had started a job and was considering college..sure he drank a little too much – who didn’t? But I had no idea he was completely out of his mind. I was in denial that so much could be so broken. I didn’t want to see the bits of foil or smell that strange odor at the bathroom door..it HAD to be coming from outside. The foil was for smoking weed maybe – right?
He wasn’t living with us so I didn’t know he was ‘nodding’ but when he tried to stop using and the sickness began I started to see something wasn’t right. Why are they both so sick all the time? Fuck!
So eventually – maybe three months after they came to us and said they had this thing they wanted to tell us. They said my son had lost control and couldn’t manage the addiction. That he wanted to quit but the withdrawal sickness was too much – that he was so so sorry. That they would need help…That was when I realized I couldn’t do my job to anyone’s satisfaction. I was letting customers down, the company wasn’t getting what they were paying for, and I was unable to find the ground..I was just spinning and falling – endlessly falling as the world I thought I had been standing on firmly was just come to be made of smoke and ash. Bad days.
Now all my life I had saved money. I had had profit sharing and a 401k investment plan that I had been committed to since day one and I was getting bonuses that just went straight into that net. I knew what bad weather looked like from my own history. My family had been a disaster growing up so I had made up my mind that saving money was the right thing to do. I thought “I’ll take some time off – a leave of absence – and get my mind right” I figured it might take up to a year maybe, to assimilate this new reality and figure out how to adjust. I knew I would need to do some soul searching and self-examination with a professional to find some firm hard ground to stand on again. What a cluster fuck. But my wife and I began to do the work. We went to al-anon meetings and I started to see a family counselor.
So as far as we knew at this point only my son had this problem which was bad enough, however we eventually learned that they were BOTH using. They didn’t want to overwhelm us so didn’t hit us with the full length of the 2×4 until after my sons first attempt at recovery. Let me warn you – these programs are not at all the same. Some are good and some are rotten. Worse than no program – in some cases far worse. The first program we tried was not good. He was there for eight weeks. Eight weeks of us driving the 150 miles each way on weekends for group sessions and visiting time. The conditions were poor – the supervision lax – the staff was uneven at best. He relapsed the first week he was home with us. Massive and expensive failure. This was the moment they chose to tell us they were both using. FML
I don’t want to be flippant – I really thought they would both die of this addiction – either by overdose or withdrawal or some criminal act surrounding the transactions. I wanted to hunt down and kill every dealer. I wanted them to set up a deal for me and then I was going to do murder. These thoughts were real. They wouldn’t do that. Seriously what would I accomplish? This is an epidemic. There are thousands of people just in this city who are dealing and distributing opiates in all forms on any given day. So we tried another program – this time for our daughter in law. She had had the baby, a girl – and the baby was healthy and suffered no withdrawal effects at birth. My wife and I would be the primary caregivers and nurturers of this beautiful girl until her mother completed her program. My son was still using but had initially made a deal to go into rehab at this same facility when his wife was released and they would live with us until things were ‘normalized’ – a great plan.
Now – the most important thing about recovery of any kind is the willingness of the addicted. This person must WANT to be saved. The problem with this disease is that it is a mental disorder. The mind is a tricky and conniving opponent, constantly whispering that all is well – there is no problem – we can handle this. That all has to be overcome in order for all aspects of the treatment to work, which is why so few are saved. A person must be secured from access to the substance. They must undergo conversational therapy and cognitive assessments. Usually anxiety and depression are the causal contributors to drug and alcohol abuse. So – the therapy is required to see how the person is thinking. Are they creating stress and anxiety by the way they perceive the world, other people, and ordinary challenges and can they be assisted in creating different ways of perceiving these things in a more healthy and thoughtful way.
It is a huge challenge to accept these concepts because our own conditioning or “how we were raised” is a significant amount of programming to rewrite or edit. The ego doesn’t like to be told it’s wrong.
It was at this point – about halfway through his wife’s treatment – that our son began to say that he didn’t think he needed to go in. He was changing his mind and in fact he said to me…he wasn’t even sure if this whole marriage and starting a family was right for him just now. I was holding his daughter in my arms when he said this to me or he would be buried in the garden and I would be in prison right now. WE got that sorted out another way within a few minutes but this situation was tenuous at best. I thought seriously that he might just disappear one day..just walk away. That was backbreaking for me. I didn’t tell his mother about it until after he was in the facility…
I was very despondent throughout these months as they passed. I kept coming back to the complete failure I had been at keeping this particular wolf from the door and especially vexed that I had thought our family reality was completely not fucked up. That I HAD done a good job as captain of the ship. That I had made a safe passage for us to this point. That was and really remains the deepest cut. So why was our reality so far from what I had thought it was?
This was where my own sessions with a counselor brought some light.
They told us in these group rehab sessions (the good ones) that family history plays a huge role in addiction. Certainly the mental predilection towards addiction are in some ways hereditary, but what they were really telling us and wanting us to hear was that is was the family social dynamics that were also critical. How do we communicate with each other? Do we listen to and give weight to our kids opinions and ideas? Do we let them in to our challenges in an adult and constructive way or do we wall them off? Do we use alcohol or drugs in a ‘recreational’ way? Are WE healthy? They made certain that we knew that if we said to them “this is your problem not mine” and “why should I seek counseling for YOUR problem” then we were guaranteeing FAILURE for their rehab. Conversely they told us that their own research had proven that if we approached this as a family problem and took responsibility for our part in it, and got some counseling too, the chances of recovery were very high..for want of a better word.
And this is where I was reintroduced to my own horrible past. Things I had forgotten or repressed. Things I had locked away in a room I never walked past or thought about anymore. Things that had changed me in ways I did not understand, did not ‘see’…