I can’t look back on a life filled with success upon success. The work/career that I found myself in for nearly 30 years, I did because I could. Does that make sense? What I wanted to do and loved to do, and felt “called” to do, was to be a father. A father to my two children, Nick and Vanessa. Nothing so resonated with me as that. Nothing.
But all that changed nearly 16 years ago when Nick opened a door that could never be closed. Slowly at first and then more rapidly at the end, we witnessed a destruction of a life. I have called it a death of a thousand cuts and nothing could be more accurate.
Attempting to find long term affordable, quality care and recovery for a son with mental illness and addiction leaves both the ill and those who love this individual in a state of absolute despair. The recovery community says to “detach with love”. Has anyone ever imagined how difficult that is? I could “detach” with anger ….and did, many times during the struggle for Nick’s life. But to “detach with love”….that was a ongoing struggle. In the end, the disease won. Nick died in his addiction although for years, both he and we, alongside him, struggled repeatedly to find the care that he so desperately needed.
In the process, we, all of us, became sick ourselves. How do you not when you find someone you love and someone so beautiful being repeatedly savaged by these diseases? Can you imagine someone you love being ravaged by metastasized cancer and you being absolutely powerless to not only stop the advancement of this disease but receiving no understanding at all from those who should normally love and care for you?
Father Greg Boyle of HomeBoy Industries, who has seen his fair share of addiction and death, has coined the phrase that these individuals live with a “fatal absence of hope”. I can say that not only is this true for the mentally ill and the addicted, but it is absolutely true as well for those who love this person. But how does one go one without hope? I don’t know.
There are days when it’s simply enough to lift your head off the pillow. There are days when even that, is too much. But go on, I must. I must. Because as I write this to you, whoever you may be, there are 12, 13, 14 and 15 year old children who will open these same doors that can never be closed. There are ten of thousands, hundreds of thousand and more, whose lives will forever be changed by this one decision.
How is it that some things “stick” in your memory while other from just yesterday are lost forever? After Nick died, I recalled with clarity a conversation I had heard months before on CNN. An individual who had suffered enormous loss during Hurricane Katrina was being asked by the CNN host how it was that she was able to go and help others. What she said “stuck” deep in my heart and soul. She said “at some point in my grief, I stopped asking ‘why me’ and began asking ‘what now’. That brief conversation coupled with loving and then losing Nick, changed everything for me. Things that once satisfied no longer did. That which mattered had now changed.
Around this very same time, I lost my job and turned 60. Not only did I have overwhelming grief, but I experienced that sense of ‘lostness’ repeatedly. I did have time to read, to pray, to journal, to reflect and to write to others, on all that now mattered to me. Which led me to make contact with several individuals within the field of addiction such as Dr. Mimi Silbert of Delancey Street, Dr. Nora Volkow from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Thomas McLellan from the Treatment Research Institute, Gary Mendell of Brian’s Wish, Bill White, an incredible chronicler of addiction history, Denise and Gary Cullen of GRASP and Broken No More, and Greg Williams who has produced “The Anonymous People” and on and on.
What I began to find out once my energies were no longer needed to try and keep Nick alive, was that there is a large army of good and decent individuals, many who have worked for decades to bring better understanding, empathy and services to those afflicted with these diseases.
During this same time, I decided to produce a film about Nick and our story, titled “Beautiful Boy: More Than An Addict”. With the creative help of my son-in-law, Michael Fryer, it was an effort by me to honor, despite overwhelming obstacles, the courageous work of recovery encountered by Nick and so many others, that I witnessed firsthand. It was also an attempt to, hopefully, open up a larger conversation about the “culture” that surrounds us and that has led to an epidemic of drug usage and drug death.
As you can imagine, I have lots more to say. For now though I need a nap. I look forward to sharing more thoughts with whoever finds value in what I have to say.
For a better day,