A Story About Addiction: The Family Disease that Doesn't Discriminate
This story was submitted anonymously for publication on this blog.
I am writing this anonymously. Not because I am ashamed, but because I can only share my side of the story. You see my 91-year-old father is an addict, and until he recognizes that fact, it is not my story to share. By all accounts, he was successful. Married for 65 years until his wife passed away. Eight children, all of whom are happy, healthy, and leading good lives. He owned his own company and made good money. Unfortunately, he was plagued with chronic arthritis pain. He managed pretty well, until he was advancing in age and more aches and pains came. So, he sought relief from prescription painkillers. Coincidentally, this came at the same time the drug manufacturers were flooding the market with the same painkillers my dad was seeking. And there begins his story. My father started to need the painkillers like he needed his morning coffee. The changes were subtle at first, but then his wife of so many years, my mom, was diagnosed with dementia. At times, I thought my father seemed neglectful of my mother. I honestly thought he was just overwhelmed. He said he didn't want outside help, and he didn't want us kids "babysitting" them. Then, one day, my mother fell on the ice and my dad didn't notice she was having problems until the brain bleed led to her inability to walk. While taking over the care of my mother, I noticed my dad had become so focused on his pain issues, he couldn't see or live much beyond it. I decided to speak to my father's doctors, concerned that maybe he, too, had an undiagnosed medical issue. Only after describing his symptoms to his doctor did I realize that my father was an addict. When I asked the doctor about it, he responded with dead silence. He admitted to me then that he hadn't really realized my father was exhibiting classic addictive behavior. He asked me what I wanted to do. Me? I just wanted to pretend this wasn't my life. I had a mother in the last stages of dementia, needing my help 24/7, and now I had an elderly father addicted to drugs. Not exactly the picture of the normal family I had in my head. The doctor told me my father would not live through detox. My dad had had a quadruple bypass and multiple heart attacks and strokes in the previous 10 years. So, even though my dad had had multiple health crises in the past, and had managed to pull through every one, the doctor had nothing to recommend at this point. I didn't know what to do or where to go. Some of my siblings didn't want to see the truth. Neither did I. Who wants their elderly father to be a drug addict? I continue to have odd conversations with my father’s doctors, who understand their patient is an elderly man with many physical issues and chronic pain, as well as being an addict. Together, we try to find solutions without offering him more painkillers. Some have been successful, others not so much. In the end, I know I will keep trying because, well, he's still my dad. The end of the story for my family hasn't been written yet. Years later, my dad is still with us. Still an addict. Sometimes, he is a dad like anyone would expect. Other times—too many times—he is a man I don't recognize. So, as we reach the end of National Recovery Month, you may wonder why I am writing. This story isn't about my Dad's recovery—there hasn't been one. It's about mine. I have learned that addiction is a disease, just like diabetes or cancer or Alzheimer's. I have learned that addiction does not care if you're rich or poor, black or white, or young or old. I have learned that the face of addiction is not what most people expect, but it is very much like the one in the mirror. I have learned it can start anywhere, including a doctor's office. I have learned compassion for my father and for all those suffering. And today, and every day, I continue to pray for other families and other addicts, so that they may have a different outcome, a better outcome. There is help. There is hope. There is a better end to a story about addiction.