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I Struggle To Have a Relationship With My Father, The Drug Addict

Jan 27, 2020

I don’t remember how old I was when I learned what drugs were, but I remember refusing to get in the car whenever my dad was driving somewhere. I’d cling to my stepmother’s leg and say that I would wait behind, or that I wanted to go in the car with her instead. I knew it was unsafe to drive with my father — even if I couldn’t exactly say why.

In high school, when friends would pass around a bong at a party, I’d politely decline. When I heard about certain crowds using harder drugs, I’d avoid them like the plague. In university, when my older brothers visited me during frosh week, I allowed myself to get carried away at the bar — getting drunk for one of the first and only times. When my middle brother started asking around for LSD, I furiously shook my head. Even in my drunken state, there was no way I would touch the stuff.

“It’s not that bad,” he reassured me. But I remained tight-lipped and adamant. The answer was no.

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I have always been terrified of drugs; I blame them for everything that had gone wrong in my life. From the moment I was born, wrapped tightly in a hospital blanket and held by my weary mother, my tiny life had already started to unravel. My father was an addict, and while the names of the drugs have changed over the years, the damage has remained the same. Drugs became a powerful reminder of everything that was stolen from me.

"I felt myself soften, looking at my elderly father and coming face-to-face with the reality of the opioid epidemic."

I have never lived under the same roof as my dad. That is a tiny blessing, but also a painful reality. When I was a child, my father was a functional addict. And I visited him because his live-in girlfriend cared for me and made me feel safe. I was 13 when she left, and with her she took all sense of control and order. I haven’t seen my dad much since then. In the last decade we’ve crossed paths briefly, maybe a handful of times. Each visit I’d brace myself, wondering if he'd be violent or if I'd be safe at all.

The last time I saw my father was when he showed up at my door while I was cooking in the kitchen, wearing pyjamas while sautéing onions. I hadn’t seen him in years, and my children had no idea who he was. I nervously welcomed him in, after my husband and I agreed that he was sober and safe. His face didn’t even look like the face I remembered as a child — his clothes hung on his skeletal body, and he only had a few teeth left when he smiled. He wore dark glasses because he was going blind, and any kind of light caused him pain. I felt myself soften, looking at my elderly father and coming face-to-face with the reality of the opioid epidemic. The man in front of me was my biological dad, but I wasn’t even sure if I would have recognized him walking down the street.

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My dad held a box in his weathered hands. It was full of toys that looked like they’d seen better days. Most were broken and filthy. I cringed as my toddler picked one up. Later, I’d throw all the toys in the garbage, while my kids cried. I felt guilty, so I consoled them with promises to take them to the dollar store to pick out new ones. It felt cruel taking away the only thing their grandfather had ever offered them, but even then, it wasn’t good enough.

"He missed the opportunity to watch me grow up, and then watch my children grow up; he was absent from my brother’s funeral, leaving me to grieve on my own."

When my father left, maybe 20 minutes after he arrived, I felt my shoulders sag in relief. How long had it been since I’d seen him? At least three years, and even then the visit had been brief — maybe 10 minutes. Every time I saw him, I was reminded that I didn’t know this man. We exchanged pleasantries, but that’s about it. He would have no idea what my job was, who my friends were, how I spent my free time or what fears and insecurities kept me up at night. I’d learned long ago that drug addiction is all-consuming. In my father’s case, it stripped him of his ability to connect to others, even his own child.

It’s been over two years since I last saw my father, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever see him again. I love him, and care for him, even if I never had the chance to get to know him ⁠— or have him get to know me. But I know that even if my father is still here, I’ve already lost him. The opioids took him from me a long time ago. He missed the opportunity to watch me grow up, and then watch my children grow up. He was absent from my brother’s funeral, leaving me to grieve on my own.

And while my hope that he will ever return gets smaller and smaller as each year passes, a small kernel still remains. I think all of us with loved ones consumed by addiction carry that hope inside of us. Sometimes it feels more like a burden — the impossibility of it all weighing us down. But still, I refuse to let mine go. I cling to the hope that one day, I’ll have the father I’ve always wanted, and one day he’ll have me.

Article Author Brianna Bell
Brianna Bell

Read more from Brianna here.

Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based in Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including The Globe & Mail, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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