Here is one man’s story of his family’s struggle with addiction. We wanted to share his experience to make people aware that an addiction not only hurts the individual, but the entire family.
No one can ever quite remember when the unwanted guest arrived. The unexpected house guest, unannounced, no formal introduction.
After a while this unspoken guest was no longer a guest but a disguised, yet familiar face. They had arrived long before the unexpected announcement that dad had yet again lost his job. There were always a thousand and one excuses, and always someone else to blame but the real source of the problem remained, in the house, unspoken as we scrambled to keep life normal or as normal as we knew it. But normal in our house, was, as I learned years later, far from it. The verbal spars between mom and dad, escalated, the accusations for the reasons of the job loss grew but the trusty pill cabinet with the “off limits” door knob continued to dispense brief moments of relief for dad and mom.
In the 1960s pharmaceutical sales jobs offered enticing salaries to those who could “charm” the doctors and nurses of influence. The job also came with some other perks that were not quite so apparent at the beginning. The availability of the latest medication was yours for the taking, literally or exchanging for other meds with other reps. On the surface it could appear quite legit. As a sales rep you had samples to give to doctors and nurses in hopes that these would lead to their prescribing them in the future. But there was also another audience, the unintended audience: the pharmaceutical reps. By swapping samples amongst different reps experimentation was easy and very accessible. The term “controlled substance” was unheard of at that time. It was a new age of innocence. What better way of knowing how the drugs you’re selling works than by trying them. Good salesmen doing their job. Addiction didn’t seem to be a consideration, as that was only for the illegal stuff like pot and LSD. This was legal medication prescribed by doctors so it couldn’t be harmful.
As more new drugs flooded the market the smorgasbord grew. Dad was an incredible salesman, the doctors and nurses loved him. He knew his products, and his good looks, and gracious personality made him a natural for the industry. He quickly climbed the ranks and became a top salesman for his company. His abilities were recognized and soon utilized for the major medical conventions around the country. Now in front of thousands and access to all the other manufacturers was a simple walk to the next booth. Samples flowed as easy as the cocktails. But the samples were flowing a little too freely and little by little began to consume the man who had the Midas touch for pharmaceuticals.
Getting your territory to number one required work and dad knew how to make it happen. Keeping the territory number one proved more problematic. Auto pilot only works for so long.
Then you either regain control or run out of fuel and eventually crash. What once had been simple samples of meds had now turned into daily needs. With drug enforcement agencies still an unheard of, there were ways of working around one’s needs. Trading off samples with other reps still worked to a degree but controls were slowly being put in place to monitor samples. Enter the new approach: get to know pharmacists on a personal level, build up a friendship and a trust, a new means of supply.
The vials in the “off limits” cabinet were a marvel, a prized trophy chest for my dad. My brother and I knew what it was, and we knew, like the knob said it was, “off limits.” Dad had a pill for everything and he was very knowledgeable. And he loved sharing his knowledge and friendly dispensing with friends. By the early seventies drug abuse had become a hot topic.
We were educated about it in school, we saw public service announcements about it on TV and it all began to click with me, with dreaded fear. I knew what my dad was doing and I lived in fear his “off limits” cabinet would have the cops knocking at our door one day. That never happened, and looking back it might have been a good thing if it had. Instead, that cabinet became the house guest that swelled with power and eventually brought a family and a house to ruin. And through it all to the very end it was never mentioned, that a problem existed in the house in the form of a cabinet that tore a family apart and would pit father against son over a simple pain pill. The ugly despicable face of addiction laughed, mocked and rejoiced in the complete consumption of what was once a thriving middle class family who on the outside looked like the perfect family. Behind closed doors and drawn shades the screaming, the crying, the longing for change never came it only got worse. The excuses grew but the culprit went unnamed.
Keeping the peace in my family would have proved a test for the United Nations. It was next to impossible. You learn to accept that living on edge is the daily norm. From as young as six there was literally not a week that didn’t pass without fighting between my parents. At the time, being a kid, you fortunately or unfortunately can’t see the entire picture or understand the chemistry behind the constant volatility. Instead you try to be the peacemaker, how can I keep them from fighting. You rack your brain trying to think of ways to stop the fighting.
If I could just find that one key I could turn it all around and we could have a happy family. Years go by and nothing changes, it only gets worse. You know it’s not right, but you don’t know what to do or who to talk to. It’s the 70s who’s ever heard of counseling much less intervention? Only crazy people go to treatment centers. You learn to cover up, make up, put up and just live with it. And you live in fear that the house of cards will completely give way and the world will see what a lie your family has been living. You live in fear, you live in shame. And you can’t mention it to a soul.
For me, something about age six sticks in my mind as a new sense of awareness came over me. It was at that time that I knew things weren’t quite right in my family but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Being a pharmaceutical rep, Dad’s job had him traveling throughout the Southeast. We often traveled with him during the summer months. What should have been fun family adventures became dreaded road trips. There is nothing quite like being trapped in a moving car while two adults sit in the front seat and wage a constant battle. Sitting in the backseat, I would begin to try and think of ways I could stop this chaos. Every time we’d load up the car we wouldn’t be two miles down the road when the fight bell would ring and the next match was under way.
The constant fighting between my mom and dad never stopped, and somehow we grew to accept that that was just how things were going to be. As the fighting continued over the years each family member developed their own coping mechanism and escape plan. Dad’s always revolved around the cabinet with the “off limits” nob on the door — the treasure trove of drugs that dad accumulated in his work as a pharmaceutical rep. The great escape was just behind the cabinet door.
As the years passed the cabinet filled with more drugs. The magic door practically fell off its hinges from use. Dad changed, his patience grew non-existent and our family was balancing on a very fragile thread. When dad was doing well, he could sell ice to the Eskimos but when the dark times came, an ever sense of panic fell over the household. And we knew dad’s job performance was going to suffer and put everything at stake.
A new twist came into play that strengthened dad’s prescription med consumption, an automobile accident. While working in Tampa one Friday, dad was part of a multi-car crash on the downtown interchange. He complained of back pain, found an attorney, won a lawsuit, had back surgery — that proved unsuccessful, and ultimately caused my dad’s consumption of pain medicines to increase.
The ups and downs of dad’s employment continued and the popping of pain pills seemed unquenchable. Dad’s glory days of pharmaceutical sales were starting to fade, he’d leave for work around noon and be home by four. We knew this wasn’t right and we knew his job wouldn’t last. “How can you work just four hours a day and expect to keep your job,” my mother would ask? And with that the screaming matches would ensue. After two years of just barely working, the charade was over and dad was out of work, for good. Dad’s once dynamic pharmaceutical career was over, at age 50 he gave up. It all started to crumble and nothing seemed to shake him back to reality. Vehicles were repossessed, jewelry was hocked for quick cash, and then the house was taken away, but he always managed to find the pills. Through all of this — which was years, no one ever uttered a word about dad’s problem. It remains undercover.
Now an adult and on my own, I learned of the process known as intervention. I went to counseling to find my own healing as an adult and to see if I could possibly help my family get back to some semblance of normalcy. Though it sounded good in theory it was met with shear fear by my mother and brother, they wouldn’t touch it. Afraid of my father’s violent response they continued to live with the problem and never said a word. After years of use, my father could tolerate incredible dosages of medication with, what seemed, little effect. Knowing enough to be dangerous not only to himself but to others, the over medicating persisted. And with it the consequences. My dad totaled three vehicles while high on medication and always managed to cover up his impaired state of mind and escape any kind of drug testing. Dad remained the consummate salesman and charmer — even with the police. Every accident was a little worse. The final one, he flipped the car twice and walked away from it. Completely strung out, he claimed the brakes failed and no more was said.
I have always marveled how through it all, the decades of abuse, loss and belittling, my mother stood up for my dad, never once admitting dad had a problem with drugs of any sort. An amazing bond and sense of protection my mother has carried for my dad — that I will never understand. He not only robbed himself of decades but my mother too. In many ways this has been the only normal she has known for 54 years of marriage.
I became the outsider once I left home for college and never returned. I would no longer play the game but challenge it. I was the bad guy. But in the end, I felt I was the only one who had had the strength to save myself from the clutches of a man’s addiction that gripped everyone else in its way.
Addiction is a beast, it has no soul, it has no heart and the human destruction it leaves in its aftermath — tattered lives with little left to celebrate. If they only had a pill for that. The healing pill.
Fairwinds Treatment Center helps individuals and their families get their lives back on track. We specialize in helping people overcome dangerous and deadly disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism and drug addiction. Being a dually licensed psychiatric facility, Fairwinds physicians and therapists engage an integrated treatment plan, incorporating several treatment models combined with psychiatric methods to identify the root of the disorder in order for specialized treatment to begin and to ensure a lasting recovery.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction, you can get through it and we are here to help you. Contact Fairwinds Treatment Center today to discuss your situation with one of our admissions counselors. Call 727-449-0300 or via web here.