On Friday nights, I’d invite about 10 of my friends to my dad’s house. He lived alone in a semi-detached two bedroom and rarely minded the company. Before arriving, they’d chant football cheers and stop at the liquor store to flirt with the cashiers. They spent the money they were getting on the dole buying fifths of vodka and forties of beer. I’d hear them coming from half a mile away, marching down the street like a parade, chewing Twix bars and lighting Camel cigarettes. The neighborhood parents would call their kids in for dinner as we began our weekend ritual.
I was conscious of the fact that I was using drugs to fit in and feel loved—specifically with and by my dad. He’s long been a functioning drug addict and I was desperate to find a common interest. When I was sober, spending time with my dad meant sitting around for hours, not knowing what to say. But when we used together, judgments vanished and his defenses lowered.
The first time I used drugs with him, when I was 20 years old, it felt as though all eyes were on me.
“Do you want some?” he’d asked, holding a glass tray in his lap with coke divided into lines next to a razor blade and a rolled up note. The over-crowded living room was heavy with chain smokers, all of his friends and mine sprawled out on the sofas obscured by gray haze. Yet for a moment, it felt as though it was only the two of us. He was sweating from his hairline to his cuticles; the black cotton shirt he never took off clung to his sallow, freckled skin. The smell of the roast chicken he cooked for dinner permeated the room. My jeans felt tight against my waistband as he watched me with eager eyes. I wanted to be a dutiful daughter and do what I thought any loving child would to please their parent.
“Sure, why not?” I responded and snorted two lines—one up each nostril. (I had tried cocaine before but he didn’t know that.) Then I held the tray for him and watched him take a long sniff of coke. Every time we used together after that, he seemed genuinely proud to share the experience with me. We were bonding and that was something that I had missed.
On the weeknights, we’d snort lines of coke, get antsy, and move around the sparsely furnished room. He’d play the guitar and sing Robert Johnson. I’d try my best not to cry in front of him because my tears made him uncomfortable. I’d tell him that nothing was wrong, having convinced myself that, despite my tears, everything was all right. As long as we spent time together, I told myself, it didn’t matter that we got high. If I wasn’t getting high with him, he was doing it without me and spending quality time with someone when they’re high and you’re sober is about as much fun as closing your eyes at a strip club.
I was eight years old when I first remember my dad going to rehab. I think it was his second time but it didn’t matter because rehabs only left him with a negative impression about sobriety; all he ever said about it was what a horrible place they were and how he didn’t feel that he belonged there. Eventually, he moved thousands of miles away from my younger brother and I—to England—and surrounded himself with people that enabled and tolerated his addictions. If I ever told him that I was worried about him and the way he was living, he’d get upset and give me the silent treatment. Feeling like I had little alternative, I risked deceiving my mom, gambling with my health, and not living up to my potential by pretending to be okay with his addiction; I’d silently committed to lying to protect his secret, which had become our secret.
I took on that responsibility without questioning why I felt the need to try so hard. I’m not sure that most people would have made the same decision. To do it, I had to reject everything I’d heard—all the stereotypes and stigmas—about drug addiction. Before I’d ever used drugs, school programs such as D.A.R.E. taught me that drug users were morally deficient. I knew that my dad was a drug user but I didn’t want to believe that he was a bad person. He’s always said that he chooses to live in a world of his own because it makes him happy. I used to doubt his logic but that left me feeling inadequate so I tried to accept that it wasn’t for me to question. Watching my dad’s addiction inadvertently taught me that it was okay to not give a fuck—that other people’s feelings didn’t matter, that someone will undoubtedly be there to pick up the pieces of the mess left behind and that the blame can always be placed on someone else.
Eventually, I realized that I needed him to be more of a father than a friend. Although I wouldn’t take back the “quality” time that I spent with him, I decided that in order to prevent the recurrence of addiction, I had to stop recreating the patterns of addictive behavior. My dad will never change. He will die in a blissful state of denial, with his disease by his side. Five years ago, I moved thousands of miles away from him. We don’t talk on the phone but occasionally I write him letters about my interpretation of addiction and its impact. When he’s read them, he’ll text me to say that he has no idea what I’m talking about and I laugh because I know it’s true.
[Photo courtesy of Clearview.]
Lindsay Lees is a writer and San Fernando Valley native but for several years she lived in England and currently holds dual citizenship. She is working on her first novel about growing up in a family system of addiction.
Categories: Addicted Loved Ones