“Ding-dong…” that doorbell was music to my ears that bright and crisp Easter Sunday in early April of 1987. My sister and I raced downstairs and opened the front door to find two humongous Easter baskets filled to the brim with our favorite chocolatey treats, peeps, games, and stuffed bunny rabbits. My sister was too young to notice, and I hated ruining surprises, but I could see the fresh imprints of a man’s footsteps in the snow leading back around the house to the garage. My loving father conveniently sauntered in, just as we were stuffing our faces with marshmallow chicks and were breaking out the Mad Libs to give us a case of the giggles. I had suspected for some time that my dad always showed up (suspiciously) in the nick of time to watch us delve into our goody baskets with a huge grin across his face. I loved my father. He was funny, athletic, reliable, and always knew how to make me smile after a hard day at school. I always felt safe with him around. After our traditional pancake breakfast, my sister and I went upstairs to get dressed in our matching Laura Ashley dresses, and we properly followed suit by tying our bright yellow bows in our hair in preparation of the Easter Egg hunt at church.
Just as we were getting ready to pile into my father’s Mercedes, we heard a loud knock at our front door, which was startling and rudely interrupted one of my favorite holidays quite abruptly. My dad headed towards the front door, and I caught a glimpse of two police officers in uniform through the glass windows that flanked the front entranceway. I could see from the look on my dad’s increasingly tightening jaw that he knew what was going on… however, the rest of us stood dumbfounded in our Sunday best peeking out from behind the kitchen door. My dad turned around ever so nonchalantly and quietly advised my half-brother, 12 years my elder, to quickly hide in the pantry.
“Hello Officer’s, what seems to be the problem?” my dad casually asked, cool as a cucumber.
“Hi sir, sorry to disturb you on Easter Sunday, but we have a warrant out for your son’s arrest, and we would like to know if he is home for the holiday?” they touted back in unison.
“No, he didn’t come home this year. He’s still up in Boston at college,” my dad replied, lying through his teeth to protect his beloved son.
“Well, do you mind if we take a look around?” one of the officer’s asked as he began to let himself in, brushing shoulders with my father.
I don’t remember if my dad agreed to let them in or not, but the sheer horror I felt as the police briskly searched our home almost made me wet my tights. I thought you were always supposed to tell police officer’s the truth, as Officer Friendly had just visited my kindergarten classroom and explained to the class how the police are fixtures in the community to protect us from harm’s way. Why on Earth could they be looking for my brother? Next thing I knew, the police officers were walking out the front door, and my brother had safely avoided an arrest. I could hear loud expletives barreling out of my father’s mouth directed toward my brother, as he took him into the library to unleash his Irish temper. No one ever told me what my brother did to get a visit from the police two states away, and I never brought it up again. That’s pretty much how things were handled in my family. It was strange, as a six-year-old to witness this behavior from my dad, he was always so much fun, loving, and kind to us three girls. It frightened me to see him so angry.
Fifteen years later, we had just returned home from a cruise to Alaska, in celebration of my parents 25th wedding anniversary, and my brother was supposed to be dog sitting and holding down the fort while we were away. When he didn’t show up to the airport to pick us up from the flight home, and we had to take a taxi, I suspected that the scene we were about to walk in to wasn’t going to be pretty.
When we returned home, both BMW’s were missing from the garage, our liquor cabinet and wine rack had been ransacked and left entirely barren, with the cabinet doors left precariously wide open. My sister’s brand new laptop was missing, all of my parent’s checkbooks were gone, and my mother’s antique cane collection, which generally stood in an umbrella stand by the front door had been removed from its home and was dispersed in different places throughout the house. We found them in all of the different rooms, stashed under sofas or armchairs. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to identify this telltale sign of drug-induced psychosis. My sister and I began to cry. I couldn’t get the image out of my head of some legitimate gangster pouring Hennessy down his throat as he swaggered in front of my toilet to take a whiz. I shuttered with disgust. We had had such a fantastic trip. It was a devastating scene to uncover.
I can remember the hardened, distraught look in my father’s eyes as he stared blankly into space with the portable house phone in his left hand. By this time, I knew why my brother was always in so much trouble. What I never understood was how he failed to get caught for his shenanigan de jour. For the first time, I truly empathized with my dad. I knew he was silently weighing the pros and cons of calling the police to report the cars stolen.
On the one hand, my brother had gone exceedingly past the limit this time and deserved to go to jail, but I could see that his loyalty to his only son would probably win the mental battle. I had never seen my dad so quiet in reaction to one of my brother’s ridiculous scandals. It seemed as if he was finally broken. As if he finally felt the defeat tearing at his heart. His anger could no longer hold a candle to the evil that drug addiction causes when it has someone by the throat.
Day after day, I watched my dad take a taxi to and from work, where he was in charge of delegating risk for trillions of dollars. He was able to decide without a hitch if XYZ Company was good for a $10 billion investment, but the heartache of choosing between doing the right thing and betraying his only son was too much for him to bare. I often try, but can’t quite imagine how hard it must have been for my father to walk into that bank with the fear that at any moment an accident could occur… that in a moment’s notice, the news of the death of his son and one of the goons could be revealed. It was only recently that I learned how insensitive it was of my brother to steal my dad’s cars. Not because of their lofty price tags, but because if anyone were hurt in his vehicle, my brother would be directly responsible for jeopardizing every day, every dollar, every hour, every penny my dad had worked to procure his life savings and to protect our family.
The isolation, stress, and pure outrage that a parent, spouse, or sibling may feel toward an addict can be so incredibly shameful that I am dumbfounded as to how so many millions of Americans get up and go to work each day, performing their duties, without being overwhelmed by the life-changing events that could unravel in a moment’s notice. It is my wish that the stigma associated with loving an addict wasn’t so terrifying to admit to one’s coworkers as to explain why you may seem a little “off your game” one day. The innocent should not be held morally and painfully accountable for the blatant disrespect that addicts wreak in the lives of those closest to them. I want you to know that while your son, daughter, spouse, brother, sister, cousin, may never recover from the throes of addiction, you have the opportunity to disassociate yourself from the blame, guilt, and shame most parents bare on their shoulders, weighing/breaking down their souls into apathetic versions of their once valiant selves.
Be aware that most companies have what’s called, an Employee Assistance Program, as part of its benefits package. These confidential lifelines are designed to assist employees going through a crisis to seek guidance to help them stay on course and perform at their job, or depending on the situation, assist them in finding the help they need to recover themselves. Whether you are struggling with your own addiction, or are fraught with the vivid nightmare of living with or loving an addict, I hope you seek help from a professional, rather than from a bottle of alcohol or pills to help you get through the heartache of watching someone you love actively work towards complete destruction or ending their lives.
I once had a sponsor, who was very stern with me. One of my sponsee’s began dating another newcomer with only a couple months of sobriety, and typically the rule of thumb is that “they’ll get you drunk before you get them sober.” She told me I had to forewarn my sponsee of the danger she was putting herself in. The words she uttered have echoed in my brain for years to follow, “you baby them, you bury them,” she said. “Do you want to stand over Avery’s grave and stare her mother in the face and tell her that you regret not having the guts to be stern enough to save her daughter’s life?” Talk about scared straight… I will never forget the pit in my stomach as I imagined, if even for an instant, what it might feel like to stand in those imaginary, yet painstakingly real shoes. So, while I understand the stress, the powerlessness, the justified anger you may feel towards your loved one. I beg you to step aside, to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and to seek help for your enabling, codependent behavior. He or she will never get better if you keep bailing them out of trouble. Just look at my own family’s struggle for example. Your loved one may never get better at all, sadly, but wouldn’t you like to have the peace of mind to know that you did everything in the world you possibly could to save them… It starts by saying, “NO!”