So, I’m of course missing our little chats. Running a blog is a little like sponsoring a coffee house conversation: I get to pick up topics that interest me, throw them over the transom and see who bites, how many times. There is an element of ego involved too: We count comment threads for a reason, and most of us are interested in our daily hit counts. For a few thousand looks a day these our efforts seem to make a kind of sense to a world where time is money. If it were five or a few dozen, we would judge our efforts here a failure and move on to other endeavors.
Because it does take time, and time spent here quite obviously is time unspent elsewhere. Not exercising, not working, not reading thoughtfully. Not being a father.
There are a few things I did not miss during my “time off” from this. I didn’t miss waking each morning with a sense of obligation to mainly strangers. I didn’t miss waking up to 40 or 50 emails – more, on a “good” night – that notified me of comments made after I’d pulled the plug, each of which I would have to sort through. Because someone spent the time to write them and they deserved to be read. After all, some would educate me, while others might make me smile. And comments are rather the whole point of the thing. Except where they are not.
But I cannot just come back and start uploading three to five posts a day – on average three before work, one during lunch, one after coming home: content matters – as though nothing happened. I feel I owe you an explanation. But these are private matters, indeed, these things concern the privacy of others and I could not speak about merely under my own will. Unasked, I have been given permission.
I have been in many ways blessed. I’ve had a great career in the world’s finest Navy, had the opportunity to serve for, with and above some true heroes and had at my side a world-class partner every step of the way. She supported me in all my aspirations while delivering unto us three beautiful, intelligent children whom I love with my whole heart. One of whom happens to be a heroin addict.
Nothing in life is inevitable, except in the harsh and uncompromising light of retrospect. So I have spent many a weary and heartsick hour wondering at which critical turn in the path could I have helped to steer a more favorable and healthy course. We did as our parents did, there was church on Sunday and Sunday school, there were sports and activities. We spoke openly about the existence in the world of good and evil, and about the importance of making choices. What did I say, or fail to say? What did I do, or fail to do? Was it one of those deployments that ran into months, or the accumulation of them that ran into years, years that I spent in the uttermost parts of the world when I was needed closer to home?
It’s a vain and futile exercise of course. Certainly there were warning signs along the road, at first ambiguous, later much less so. But while little children are visual joys, they tend to be uninteresting conversationalists. And when they finally get old enough to have something interesting to say, they tend not to spend their pearls before their parents. We intervened when we could, there were rebellions and restrictions. Attempts at conversation.
But the very first thing an addict learns to do is lie. They lie to themselves that they can “try it just once.” Then they lie to themselves that “it’ll be OK, I can quit when I want.” Then they lie to themselves that “it doesn’t really matter” that they wake up in the morning dope sick and have to get high just to feel normal. Having woven for themselves this opaque web of deceptions, all the other little lies – the ones they tell to others – come easier. And the retrospective does have its purpose: A point in space has no vector, you have to know where you’re coming from to know where you’re going to. To see if things are looking better, or worse.
So when it came to light in January 2010 that our daughter had a problem, and a real one, we sent her to a rehabilitation facility. Detox first, then outpatient care. Drug tests once a week. She came out clean, and – she said – committed to the twelve steps. Boyfriends were changed, and harsh restrictions were imposed and then gradually eased as rewards for good behavior. She graduated high school healthy and clean, and was awarded a partial scholarship to Portland State University for academic performance. With some misgivings we sent her there to freshman year, because it had always been her dream and kids only have so many dreams that parents can actually make come true. Only to find, having flown her home late last spring, that we had spent nearly $30k to bring home a full-fledged addict, with all the paraphernalia: Cookers and rubber bands, cotton balls or q-tips, needles and track marks on her arms.
And this was not something I was reading about in a book, not some television special: This was and is my beloved, beautiful daughter.
There’s a good inpatient clinic not far from here, and we took her to get registered. The new boyfriend’s parents had beaten us to the punch, and it was thought that having them together in their rehabilitation was unwise. By the time a new window opened up, she refused to register. She was then 19, and the law was on her side. Too late to register for courses locally, we paddled about in circles over the fall term. She finally got back to school in January of this year, and got a little job on the side as well. But many of the same people she had run with before were there at the community college as well, and she fell back in to bad habits. The day after her 20th birth day she surprised us by telling us that she needed to go into detox and residential care, that she couldn’t do it on her own. Two weeks after having started, I had to pick her up, sobbing on the curb. She had had a panic attack, she said, and had taken some illegitimate thing proffered by another patient. He was kicked out, and she followed. There was nothing we could do, no one to talk to, all decisions were final.
Love may be infinite, but patience is not. The car keys were taken, the cell phone too. There’s food in the house if you’re hungry. Last week we found more paraphernalia, and had us quite a little scene. Her begging us to let her get high just one last time, what did it matter? Me flushing the lot down the garbage disposal, having to beat her hand out of it prior to activating the switch. Let’s sleep on this before making any decisions, I said, at two o’clock in the morning. The next day she left, we didn’t know where nor with whom.
Her new boyfriend – that’s three, for those keeping score at home, and this one the first really decent one of the lot – found her and picked her up the next day. She’s been at home since, and we’re all just sort of dancing around the elephant in the room. She’s got some ideas she’d like to try, a change of venue. She’ll have to pass a drug test first. Distant friends have recommended a treatment center in Florida that has a great reputation. She’s considering it.
Recovering addicts have this thing they call, “rock bottom.” The concept is different for each person, but rock bottom is the moment that they realize they can go no further on the path they’ve been on without ending up dead or in prison. Rock bottom is where you have to go before you can start to climb back up again. They may not know or care that, being loved, they don’t hit rock bottom alone, that they bring everyone else with them, at least as spectators. And for those on the sidelines, the hardest part is not knowing, never knowing, if we’ve gotten there: Whether dawn is coming, or whether it will get darker yet.
When she was little she had a laugh that burbled like a mountain brook, and which was so infectious that everyone joined in with her, perhaps not even knowing at first why they were laughing. With that laugh she could change the mood of a room, the light on peoples’ faces altered and everyone seemed happier with everyone else, deeply pleased in each other’s company. We don’t get to hear that laugh much any more. Perhaps that pearl too is spent elsewhere.
I hope so.