The struggle against addiction isn’t only for the individual – it’s a battle for the entire family. Many fathers, who have faced or still do face drug or alcohol addiction, recognize that the disease can punch holes in more than one generation. It can affect relationships, and cause anger, fear, and destitution in the household. It can create chaos and divide marriages. It can leave children without their father – emotionally and physically.
But for the dads who have found strength and hope in addiction treatment, recovery can renew those relationships and reunite parent with child. Today, we celebrate one father who has found healing and brings us inspiration – David. David’s story may mirror your life, or the life of your father, brother, son or husband. We want you to know that addiction can be treated and a fulfilling life can be had. David is proof. Read on.
What is your background? When did you start using in relation to becoming a father?
I was using prescription pills and drinking long before marriage and children. I continued using while I was married and while my kids were young.
I was highly functioning in my addiction. I had a high level, corporate job and was still home every night to take care of my kids. My wife at the time traveled a lot for work, so I was the one at home in the evenings changing diapers, giving baths and bottles. My wife always knew our kids were in good hands while she was gone because I’d take care of them, make sure all their needs were met, I played with them, read to them, nurtured them – I really just ran circles around some of the other dads in the neighborhood. I loved the challenge of working and being a dad.
I took pills during the day while at work, and then once I put the kids to bed, I’d drink. I met my kids’ needs, but the needs of my addiction also had to be met. I really thought I had the best of both worlds.
Did you think about how raising children would impact your using – or how using would impact your relationship with your kids?
When my kids were born, I really did think having children would impact me. I was so high functioning that I didn’t think my addiction would impact them either. At that point, I didn’t have any consequences of my addiction, so I couldn’t imagine there would be any consequences to raising children while using.
What was it like to be around your kids while in active addiction?
I did a lot with my kids and we have a lot of pictures. But when I look at those pictures now, I don’t have any emotional attachment to the times that we shared together. I don’t have any euphoric recall, any feelings or great memories to go with those photos.
That’s where addiction robs people of nurturing and bonding with their children. I have a lot of regrets about that.
I feel like I cut my kids short. I would say I was going golfing, but I was really going to use. I was restless and discontented at times. I would score my drugs at work during the week, and weekends became very difficult. I couldn’t wait to use again and I obsessed over it. In my mind, I was checked out. If a soccer game went late and I couldn’t use when I had planned on using, I was irritable. It robbed me of quality time spent with my family.
What was it like when you went to treatment?
By the time my kids were about 3 and 4 years old, my disease had progressed. I was really sick and facing consequences. My wife was supportive of me going to treatment. I really wasn’t scared to leave for treatment, because I knew they were in great hands with their mom. But I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to stay sober when I came home. I wondered if I would relapse when I came back to a high pressure job and little kids at home. I didn’t know how I was going to manage the stress without pills.
My crutch was my drugs. It’s much easier in rehab, when you’re in a peaceful, controlled environment. But once you get out of treatment and the rubber hits the road, it can be much more difficult to manage the stress. I had to learn how to cope without the drugs, and how to not let the stress build and build.
How has your role as father changed in recovery? What is it like now?
In recovery, my kids have my undivided attention. I’m of service to them – rather than to my addiction. Now, when we go on vacations and do things, I have feelings and emotions attached to our time spent together. I’m emotionally attached to them. I’m a dad to them.
When you have kids, things change constantly. Now that I’m not planning my days around using, I’m able to go with the flow and be there for them. And they know that I’m there for them, too.
Is there anything you hope that your kids will take away from this one day?
I believe that addiction is hereditary to some degree, and know my kids have a greater risk for addiction.
I hope that they don’t ever use to cope. I hope they’re able to flashback to me stumbling or nodding off when we were out to dinner. I hope that one day when they’re older and they’re standing there with a choice to have a beer at a party or someone hands them a joint, that they’re able to think about me and where I’ve been, and make the conscious decision that they don’t want to use.
I’m going to take them to AA and NA meetings while they are young to plant a seed that addiction is real – and so is recovery. I’m trying to preempt it as much as possible with education and openness about addiction. I want them to be educated and informed, not only for themselves, but their friends as well. I don’t want to hide anything from them.
But, if they do become addicted one day, I want them to know that there is a solution. I want them to know that their dad was addicted, but found hope. Because there is hope and there is healing.