I had a sobering experience in a classroom this week. A young high school student came up to me and said her father was addicted to crystal meth and sometimes crack cocaine. What she told me was not easy to listen to but I knew it was true by her mannerisms and by her tears.
At 17, she’s the oldest of four children; the youngest is five. Her mother works two jobs and she herself works after school in order to help pay the rent and feed the family. No health care, no car, barely covering the basics in order to survive. Her mother insists she stay in school and graduate, I agreed wholeheartedly.
“Dad” comes home at odd hours and searches her and her mother’s purses for money. Then he crashes on the couch for a while or leaves without a word. Lisa says, “We have to spend every dollar we make as soon as we get it so he doesn’t find it.”
She still loves her father but only sees him once in a while when she finds him on the couch in the morning and still there in the afternoon when she gets home from school
He is all apologetic when he wakes up and promises to get it together for their sakes. But then he asks for money and gets angry when they don’t have any.
Finally, she asked me the question I knew was coming. “What can we do?”
I told her, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I went through a similar situation many years ago, but I was the addict. Thank God I didn’t have kids, but it wouldn’t have made much difference if I had.
You’re not dealing with your father. You only see your father on rare occasions. The rest of the time what you see and what you’re dealing with is the addiction. It is not your father who comes home and takes the money and ignores you and your siblings and your mother, it’s the addiction.
Now there is good news and there is bad news.
The bad news is that you can’t keep living with that addiction. It is killing him and it is killing the family. He’s on his way down and if you don’t cut him out of the loop, you will be dragged right down with him.
The good news is your dad is still there somewhere, somewhere under all the meth and the lies and the pain. You might even get him back someday, but only if he goes to get treatment, drug-free treatment, somewhere.
Don’t’ think it can’t get worse than it is now if he doesn’t quit using it will. It can get much worse and you and the rest of your family will suffer worse when it does. The best thing you can do for him is to take care of yourselves. Leave. Don’t tell him where you’re going and get back on YOUR feet.
Then you’ll be in a better position to help your dad.
We stopped by the schools counseling office and the girl went in to speak with the counselor there. I wished her luck and went a little late to my next assembly.
Addicted parents destroy the harmony of their families so often, there’s probably no one who hasn’t seen it happen at one time or another. But the families have some responsibility too. For themselves. It’s tough enough to survive these days without an anchor like a drug addict around your neck. If the family of the addict doesn’t do whatever it takes to protect themselves and get on with the business if living life, then the addiction might as well be theirs and they will go downhill right along with the addict.
A blues song I heard years ago said it best:
“If you’re tired of getting stepped on, get on up off the floor!”
Sounds right to me.