Parenting on Cocaine
From Addiction to Recovery After My Husband’s and Brother’s Deaths
“You spanked us a lot,” declared my 31-year-old daughter the other day at lunch.
“I NEVER spanked you! I don’t believe in spanking!” I protested.
“Do you believe in driving drunk while your kids are in the car? Do you believe in screaming at my best friend’s bar mitzvah? Do you believe in snorting cocaine?”
I interrupted and protested again. “Why are you doing this?”
She stared at me blankly.
I guess she was making a point. Just because I don’t remember spanking them doesn’t mean I didn’t do it. I did a lot of things that I don’t remember and that I don’t believe in during my six years of self-destruction, starting when my daughters were seven and nine.
Let’s rewind a little.
In 1991, when I was 36 years old, my brother and my husband both became terminally ill. Within the year, my brother died of AIDS and my husband died of cancer. I was left on my own with a three-year-old and a five-year-old…and the roots of addiction sprouting in my brain. I kept it sort of together while working as a journalist, but there was that fateful night in October of 1996 when Mr. Wrong and I buzzed out on cocaine. That was it — the answer to all my problems — and those addiction sprouts blossomed.
I finally felt free. Well, I may have felt free, but I was now handcuffed by the grips of addiction and alcoholism. I continued working but my life was ruled by when I could snag that next fat, white line and/or large goblet of fine chardonnay and/or an Ativan and/or a Zopiclone.
I was what is known as a high-functioning alcoholic because I was able to juggle my using around my working. But when reviewing the list of irresponsible and reprehensible behaviors above — which is by no means exhaustive — it is clear I was not high-functioning at all. Oh God, the things I had done, the lines I had crossed (and snorted)! Driving to our weekend home in Whistler (a Vail-owned ski resort north of Vancouver, British Columbia), drunk and high…with the kids and their friends in the car. Stopping at the 7-11 for candies for them and cocaine in the bathroom for me and continuing on the highway, occasionally driving on the wrong side of the road when there were no cars coming. That one I do remember. When my children were scared by this, I said, “People drive on the wrong side of the road all the time.” What the hell?
Another time when good ol’ Mr. Wrong and I had been snorting cocaine, I was so high I started hallucinating that the small stone statue in the master bathroom — a Buddha-type figure my late husband had bought during his travels in Indonesia — was speaking to Mr. Wrong and me. I decided it was my late husband returning from heaven. My eight-year-old came into the bathroom and we told her the statue was her daddy and to get some cheese for him to eat. And these are just some of the things I actually remember.
Why am I divulging all this horrific behavior? Won’t you think ill of me? Won’t you judge me? Yes, I have to swallow that reality and there is a reason. I am making a point…which I will get to after this.
Maybe you, or someone really close to you, is suffering in the same way. Maybe they are possessed by the alcohol and drug demons and can’t break free. There are ways out, and here is the story of what worked for me. Then I will get to my point. I promise.
I planted myself in rehab. That first night lying on that bed in the Orchard Recovery Center on bucolic Bowen Island, British Columbia, I was consumed by guilt, shame, remorse, self-contempt, anguish, grief, heartache, and hopelessness…little did I know that this was a gift! Yes, a gift of desperation, because I was open and willing to accept help.
That help came in the form of an instruction manual on how to get (and stay) clean and sober. It was AA’s 12-Step program. It beamed in front of me like a beacon of hope.
I know the 12-Steps are not for everyone and that there are other ways to get clean and sober. What is important about the 12-Steps for me is twofold: They address the reasons one may feel the need to numb out, and they offer a healthy and humbling design for living for anyone. Many people in AA say, “Everyone should do the 12 steps.” They deal with tenacious resentments (and avoiding creating them in the future), and provide a balanced outlook on life.
In short, I found the 12-Steps helped me clear the emotional detritus and make room for grace.
One of the most important takeaways, if not the most important for me is — ah, now I’m getting to my point — acceptance! Yes, I did all this shameful sh**. I can’t change that. What am I going to do about it now? What I did about it was clean up my act and live as a clean and sober parent — a living amendment that continues to this day.
I am fortunate that, despite my bad parenting, I am close to my daughters, who both seem well-adjusted. They both are in fulfilling relationships and careers. I guess I did do something right. Who’d’a thunk it?
As I say in the last lines of my book, The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction:
“I know I cannot change the past. I know I will never lose my sadness over the death of my husband and the death of my brother. I will also never lose the guilt I have over how I parented the girls in the absence of their dad, but I have acceptance. It’s what I’m doing about it now that matters today.”