It would either kill me, or change my life forever.
Mistakenly, I had believed I had a choice.
And until this moment, I have spoken to no one of the two weeks of my life that eclipse in importance all others.
My first glimpse of any hope or lucidity came at some point on Sunday, September, 11, 2011. Bedridden, unshowered, unshaven and in my pooled sweat for a week, I had awoken from week-long hellstorm of hallucinations. No idea if it was day or night…it didn’t matter anymore. Blinds and drapes had long since been drawn in preparation. Once the busiest front door in town, it had been unopened for a week. Voice and text messages were gathered in such numbers on my chargeless phone I scarcely cared to plug it in again.
But I was awake. And it wasn’t the kind of awake that I’d been accustomed to for so many years. I was awake and I could feel.
I knew I could feel because I had just turned on the television thinking I might catch up on what had transpired during the past week. I had been alone without a single visitor. The world could have easily ended escaping my notice. And fortunately for me, in a very tangible sense, it had.
The TV images were predictable for that day. The tenth anniversary of the terrorist bombings in New York and other points. Services, memorials, reflections of survivors. Not exactly the kind of programming to watch after a week of crystal methamphetamine withdrawal. I had not cried during the prior week but I could see I was entering that next phase and the TV news of that morning was to be the divine catalyst.
Lucid was probably an overstatement. However, something had changed. The fevered stupor of my addiction was breaking and I could actually reason from one thought to the next in succession. Despite this glimpse of hope though, it was ragingly apparent the worst of it was yet to come.
Two weeks prior, I had been wearing an orange jumpsuit and was confined to a hard metal cot in a large room with hundreds of very creepy men. I had little hope that my environment would change any time soon. A week before that, my arrest and subsequent discovery of my habit by my family and friends had been a forced hand thank you to the detectives and swat team that raided my hotel room, home and car after months of surveillance. The confiscation of thousands in cash and even more thousands in drugs of all kinds was undoubtedly their biggest bust of the week—perhaps the month—according to the detective who had first cuffed me at the elevator of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.
In total, I had saved around $23,000 cash, the remaining profit of what had been a highly lucrative illicit drug sales business from the past few years. But after the denied theft of my cash on hand by the arresting detective team and the documented $5,100 cash taken from my home during the raid by the S.W.A.T. team, I had about $15,000 in cash and other hiding places which I reserved for such a day. As I watched the footage of the 9/11 memorial events on the television, reality had begun to hit me as I started tallying the immediate rest of my life. It was the first hopeful thought I could muster.
The money situation had taken over my selfish mind for the moment, but as I watched the tragic recollections of the events ten years earlier, I was overcome by a reality more important. I put the pad of paper and pen down at my bedside and as I watched, I was overcome with feelings of loss and grief I had never before experienced. I no longer cared about the money. I didn’t even care about the future. The present, for all intents and purposes, was irrelevant. I had become fixated on the past.
The program host on the TV was doing a segment on the orphaned children of 9/11 whose fathers and mothers, police and firefighters, had lost their lives in acts of heroism and compassion on that day. The children, now a decade older, were recalling the fond memories of their parents with pride. It was that moment when the tears came. I wish I could say it was for those children of 9/11 pictured on the screen in front of me, but it was for my own.
I would have rather rewound the week and returned to that sweaty, hallucinatory hell than to have to face what I knew was the most profound loss in my life of addiction. The stories of the noble fathers and mothers, selfless in compassion, bold and courageous in their efforts, was as far away from my self-image as the east is from the west. The stark contrast between who they were, many posthumously, and who I had become as a parent, sickened me. I vomited myself. The hardest thing I had to face from here on out wasn’t going to be the possible 25 year prison sentence for eight felonies and a high level drug trafficking charge. It wasn’t what attorney to choose and how many thousands I didn’t have to pay him or her. It was how I was going to again face my own three children.
The moment of my arrest should have been a foreshadowing of this. I vividly recall the moment the undercover officer called my name, grabbed my right arm and cuffed me at the east elevator entrance. My second thought (my first was an obvious two words,) was “Andrew.”
Andrew is my youngest and my only son.
Now a vibrant, genius level student in his first year of college, he and I had remained closest during my addiction. My two oldest were already on their own, smart and perceptive women, who otherwise might have caught on more quickly to the secret I’d long been hiding. I had kept them, and my extended family members, at a distance. But my son was a minor still and custody arrangements with my ex gave me a couple days a week with him, more if I wanted. I rarely exercised that privilege.
In every father, there is an instinctive paternal concern to be with, care for, protect and support his children. I had never lost that instinct. Rather, I daily subdued it and pushed it down in deference to the drug, rationalizing that I was managing my dual lives quite well and without having raised any particular curiosities from my family. My son, I thought, was perhaps the easiest, albeit most vulnerable, of the marks of my deception. I still went to Boy Scouts with him on Monday evenings, often high, but he never seemed to know. I picked him up from school, shared a meal, a drive, a movie or some other activity to buffer against what might otherwise be detected by him until it was time to return him to his mother’s home and race off to make my next drug deal or host a drug party that would likely last for the next couple days…at the very least.
More than once, having suddenly remembered my commitment to him that afternoon, did I race to shower, dress and get out the door and shoo my guests so that I could meet him in time to have a nice, unsuspecting, quality encounter with him.
I vomited again.
The recollection of these kinds of deceptive events were now coming in waves and the steady progression of shame I felt through my tears was punctuated by an occasional glance at the TV to hear yet another story of a proud son’s word’s ten years after his father’s heroic death.
I had been no hero.
I believe it is a paternal instinct for a father to want to raise his children to think heroically of him.
Worse, I was not-only a non-hero, I had become the enemy from which fatherly heroes rescue their children and therein, become heroes.
I cried alone for hours, maybe days. It was still dark. I awoke crying. I cried on the toilet. I cried in the much needed shower I finally brought myself to take. I am crying even now as I recall this reality.
It would either kill me, or change my life forever.
The truth was, and still remains, that the choice for an addict must be both. The want to die to self and to drugs and addiction and the want to have a changed life are inseparable desires for recovery to be sustained. Singly, it is one of the greatest epiphanies I have ever had the pleasure of meeting to date.
Now, clean, sober and two years later, much of the healing has taken place with my children and family. Much is still left to accomplish. I’ve learned how to be a father once again. Unfortunately for me and my children, we both missed and cannot ever recover those years. Many important events happened during my addiction for my daughters and within my family. And when they come up in conversation, I am embarrassed without recollection of them. I simply wasn’t there. And even if I had been, I still was not.
Without having had a lifetime to build up resistances, mistrusts, walls and resentments, children can be quite forgiving. Mine have been when they didn’t have to be.
But the knowledge of the walls I created within them that I still am working to tear down make the tumbling and crashing of the twin towers of September 11th and the proud but fatherless children of heroes who also remember that day…vivid, visual reminders which will always make me contrite and somber and thankful, especially on that anniversary.
Today is September 12, 2013.
I am very glad it is.
I am very proud to be a father of three incredible heroes who survived my holocaust.