By Dean Dauphinais
(Note: This blog post was originally published on The Fix's website on January 19, 2015.)
Parents of addicts live precarious lives. I know, because I’ve been there. My 25-year-old son started using drugs at around age 15 and struggled with addiction for nearly 8 years. In a quest to feel “normal,” he tried to alleviate his severe depression by self-medicating, using drugs like marijuana, Klonopin, “Spice,” cocaine, and, ultimately, heroin.
Needless to say, those years were a tumultuous period for my wife, my younger son, and me. When there’s an addict in the family, day-to-day life becomes a challenge, emotionally, physically, and financially. Addiction is the family disease that shows up uninvited on your doorstep one day and takes everyone in the house hostage. You have no choice in the matter.
When addiction came calling, everyday life in my home went from being normal to being anything but. I lost trust in my son. He stole from me and did things I never could’ve imagined. As bad as daily life was, holidays were even worse. What once were relaxing, joyous occasions turned into potential nightmares. My entire family would walk around on eggshells, wondering not if, but when the shit would hit the fan. I went from eagerly anticipating holidays to downright loathing them.
Fast forward to today.
After a long journey, my son is now two-and-a-half years clean, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He finally has the things he longed for when he was using: an amazing girlfriend, a steady job with benefits, and his driver’s license. My wife and I often wondered if things would ever get to this point, but we never gave up hope. We loved and supported our son unconditionally, and now, much to our delight, he’s living a pretty normal life.
And here’s the kicker: So are we.
The surprising thing about living a normal life, after so many years of not doing so, is that it’s kind of hard to get used to. I never would’ve thought that would be the case, but it’s true. While our son was getting high, my wife and I got used to living in a tornado of chaos. To us, that became normal. When that tornado finally stopped, the silence was deafening. It was like we had been dropped into a whole new world.
It was only natural that we would approach our new normal lifestyle with a bit of trepidation at first. After all, our son had had small stints of sobriety over the years, but none of them stuck. This time, though, things were different. When our son got clean on July 2, 2012, he was more determined than ever. Sober days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years.
Slowly, normalcy began to creep back into our lives.
I really noticed how eerily normal our lives had become during this past holiday season, the third in a row with a clean and sober son. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas were the best that I could remember. The family was together, things were calm and laid back, and there was absolutely no drama. Then I remembered: It was the same the year before, too.
Wow. Normal had been right under my nose for more than a year, and I hadn’t even realized it.
If you look in a dictionary, you will see “normal” simply defined as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” But I have other definitions.
Normal is being able to trust my son implicitly. Normal is having my son stop by the house, just to say hello. Normal is having my son and his girlfriend spend their day off of work taking my younger son out to lunch and to a movie. Normal is not having to worry about whether the phone’s going to ring in the middle of the night with bad news on the other end. Normal is being able to give my son money and not wondering if he’s going to put it up his nose. Normal is seeing my son mature into the wonderful young man I always knew he could be. Normal is hearing my son say “Thanks for everything,” and knowing that he means it from the bottom of his heart.
But best of all, normal is having my son say “I love you, dad,” and hugging me so tightly that I think I might break. And then turning around before he walks out the door and giving me another hug, just because he wants to.
Normal is pretty damn amazing. And I’m getting more and more used to it every day.
Recently I was looking through the personal blog I’ve been writing for the last six-plus years. (I like to say that I look back not to see how bad things were, but to see how far we’ve come.) In my entry for
January 12, 2010, I wrote:
Two questions popped into my head [today] and wouldn't leave. They are actually questions I've been asking myself a lot lately:
1. Will I ever be able to trust my son again?
2. Will my son and I ever have a good relationship again?
Those are incredibly huge questions for a father to ask himself about his 20-year-old son, and it hurts me to have to ask them all the time. But I really don't know the long-term answer to either one. Right now, the only answer I can give for either question is, "I hope so."
I am so incredibly grateful that today the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “Yes.”
"Grace means suddenly you're in a different universe from the one where you were stuck, and there was absolutely no way for you to get there on your own. When it happens, you really have to
pinch yourself." --Anne Lamott