There are those quiet, still moments when you stop moving, and your past burdens race to catch up to you. And you have to bear them again. Some of them are overwhelming.
When my daughter “C” was a toddler and later on well into her childhood, between about 2 and 8, I was heavily and mournfully addicted to prescription drugs. Mostly functionally addicted, albeit, just barely enough to hold down my job at times, but still deeply dependent on both opioids and benzodiazepines.
I loved her so, so much. I always have. I tried to be a good father, and everyone says I’ve been a fantastic dad all her life: present, adoring, supportive, involved, all that. But for those six years at least, I was also frequently zonked out of my fucking mind, and absolutely couldn’t stop. I suppose you can be a good parent while high, but only by a combination of the degree of relative mental blitzing of the particular meds you’re on, your determination to be a good parent, and sheer goddamn luck.
I remember one afternoon after work I had picked C up from daycare. M wasn’t going to be home until later. Suddenly I woke up in bed with the phone ringing. It was M. “So where is C?” she asked. I knew instantly from the tone of her voice that it wasn’t a question. It was a challenge. M had come home, found me stoned unconscious on the bed, and our toddler child awake somewhere in the house and completely unsupervised. M had taken her and driven elsewhere, probably to her parents’ house. I was instantly both sober and devastated. Crushed by my own parental failure and moral culpability.
But it didn’t stop me. The worst self-inflicted cut, with the blood reflected in the eyes of my precious daughter, was yet to come.
It was a few years later. When, I don’t know, but C was still more or less an older toddler. A young child. Maybe 5 or 6, I guess. I was in the habit of stealing M’s narcotic pain medication. She kept it locked in a zipping travel pouch, but like all addicts desperate for a fix, I had figured out a way to get into it undetected. One afternoon in the kitchen I was doing exactly that when C ambled in, gasped, and exclaimed, “But that’s MOMMY’S medicine!” Of course she didn’t know anything about narcotics or addiction, just that I was doing something genuinely wrong. Even little kids know that stealing isn’t OK, and she could tell that’s what I was doing. And that’s when I did something I’ll regret for the rest of my life.
Upon hearing her exclaim “But that’s MOMMY’S medicine!” I quickly shot C an angry look and put my finger to my lips in the universal SHH! gesture. M was in the next room and could have heard her, and I couldn’t risk my own kid getting me busted. So I silenced her. Forced her into complicity. Took her tiny young moral conscience and strangled it.
I’ll never forget that, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself.
All addicts have different stories, different scars. Mine are relatively tame. I never killed anyone or prostituted myself. But I lied, I stole, and worst of all, I endangered my daughter or betrayed her goodness.
So what I can remember of her young life, is soaked with that heartbreak.