“I’m going fishing.”
That’s what my father told me the night he went to rehab. January 21, 1994. My mother, father, and our family friend, Tony, were gathered in our living room. As my dad crouched down to hug me goodbye and tell me how much he loved me, I was fixated on describing what kind of fish I wanted him to catch for me. On the wall of our den hung an eleven-foot swordfish my father had caught one summer in Mazatlan, and I wanted a fish that would rival that one. My dad promised me he would return with something suitable.
Looking back, I’d like to say that even as a 4-year-old, I knew something was wrong, that my father wasn’t going fishing, or that I could sense my mother’s conflicting emotions. The air inside our living room was heavy with sadness, desperation, confusion, and hope. Hope that rehab would help my dad learn how to live with his addiction and finally reveal the man my mother always knew was inside.
Recalling that night is the easiest way to make me cry. Contrary to reason, my tears aren’t a side effect of a traumatic experience, or a consequence of being lied to. I don’t remember the pain of my father leaving, because it didn’t exist; I never doubted that he would come back. My version of the evening holds a deeper sense of truth; that my father is a great man, that my mother’s strength is unparalleled, and that Narcotics Anonymous would change everything. I cry out of gratitude, faith, and most of all, happiness.
Living without my father wasn’t easy. Since he was a lawyer with his own practice, his income had provided our family with a certain lifestyle that proved impossible to maintain in his absence. Our cars were repossessed and sold, and my mom held yard sales in an attempt to make ends meet. My memory of our material losses is foggy and unreliable; perhaps it is because my mother never approached things with the slightest air of defeat or humiliation. In her time of need, she became even more charitable and resilient than ever before. At a gas station by our house, there was a homeless man that would wash our windshield and make small talk while my mother pumped the gas. To thank him, she would always give him money, or food and water; but one particular day, she gave him one dozen of my father’s suits, and any clothing he left behind. When we had nothing left to sell or to donate, we moved.
My relationship with my mother underwent drastic changes; prior to my dad leaving, our conflicts were based on my hatred of tights, or my resistance to changing earrings. My father’s absence naturally had a profound effect on my behavior; I became depressed and angry. My sense of time had completely dissolved, and the days and weeks I waited to see my dad seemed to melt into one another. I was used to my dad not being home when I went to bed; he would be out drinking or doing drugs, however, he was always there to eat breakfast with me the next morning. I was desperate to see him and to have my sense of normalcy restored, so I’d force myself to sleep as early as I could, but it never worked. He wasn’t at a bar, he couldn’t get a ride home, and we couldn’t visit him.
I lashed out at my mom and tried my best to blame her for my dad’s disappearance; and in that moment, she told me the truth. I knew my dad wasn’t okay, we went to the liquor store together almost every day, and when he had to step on the brakes abruptly, empty liquor bottles would roll out from under the seats. From that day forward, I never questioned my mother, or rehab, again. That isn’t to say that my appreciation was easy, or unwavering; in the first few months of his program, I was unable to visit, and our phone calls were limited.
Valentine’s Day happens to be my parent’s anniversary, and even though my parents couldn’t celebrate together, their love was as strong as ever. Determined to make the best of our situation, my mom and I baked a giant double chocolate brownie in the shape of a heart, which we would deliver to my dad after my icing decorations were complete. My mom and I walked into the reception area proudly carrying our gift and hoping we could give it to my dad in person. Our happiness soon diminished after the receptionist informed us that it was against the program’s policy to give clients food; after all, there was no guarantee that love wasn’t the only secret ingredient in our recipe. We walked out of the office deflated, yet not defeated.
As my father progressed, we were granted more visiting time, and on certain weekends he was allowed to come home. His mental and physical health could not have been better, in fact, he was finally able to feel: to surrender himself to a full spectrum of emotions. Experiencing feelings organically, rather than manipulating them through substance abuse, is something my father is still affected by. After numbing himself for thirty years, his new emotional sensitivity resembles a seismograph; his empathy is nearly off the charts.
After completing eighteen months of treatment and returning home, my dad chose to do case work at the treatment facility, helping other addicts find their way and maintaining his proximity to NA.
I spent the summer of 1996 running around barefoot, eating ice cream and drinking cream soda, going to the beach, and flying paper airplanes. But instead of hanging out with my fellow six year olds, I spent my time with recovering drug and alcohol addicts. I accompanied my dad to work each morning, and while he was in his office, I made my rounds visiting clients. I felt just like Eloise, but instead of the Plaza Hotel, my domain was a drug rehabilitation center.
Most mornings, I would play cards with a washed up Hollywood madame. Her jewelry was excessive, as was her makeup, and I mistook her fashion choices for eccentricity rather than desperation. She would chain-smoke and tell me stories about famous actors who were her clients, letting me know who was friendly and worth associating with. Her advice on love and understanding men went over my head, but our conversations were always pleasant. I listened to her stories with great enthusiasm, losing myself in her adventures, and then sharing my own with her. In the early afternoon she would attend group meetings, and at that time, we would part ways.
Before lunch, I would help set up the food with my best friend, Lauren, who had kitchen duties for every meal. We’d make sure the salad bar was stocked with fresh vegetables, fruit, and condiments; and for every crouton I’d steal, she mandated that I match it with a piece of pineapple or cantaloupe. Our friendship resembled more of a sisterhood since Lauren was only 18, and her entire family still lived in Marietta, Georgia. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up; she was smart, beautiful, and an amazing athlete. Each afternoon, we’d play soccer, conduct experiments with my chemistry kit, and make rafts out of coffee stirrers that I put in the pond.
In addition to attending meetings and working through the 12 steps, building a strong work ethic and sense of discipline was an integral part of each client’s treatment. Certain days were devoted to gardening and maintaining the grounds, and I approached them with unparalleled enthusiasm. A young rock musician was my gardening partner, and he’d always make sure to bring a plastic cup for me to collect worms and other insects I found. After our tasks were complete, we’d reward ourselves with Hansen’s juices, and he’d play his guitar while I cooled my feet in the fountain. A few years later, I’d recognize him and his music while watching an award show, and I wondered if he’d remember me.
Throughout my time at rehab, residents helped me learn my times tables, carved pumpkins with me, and roasted the seeds while exchanging ghost stories. They were eager to hear how school was going, and offered as much support for my extracurricular activities as my parents did. Helping me memorize my lines for school plays was particularly popular; the residents and I would gather round a table outside, and rehearse for hours. They always offered their opinions and were determined to help me become the great actress I aspired to be. My performances were never missed, and I was always greeted with flowers, cards, and stuffed animals. Being a part of my success was as important for them as it was for me.
The treatment facility was my version of paradise: I was surrounded by love, kindness, and people who were willing to not only teach me, but to also learn alongside me. I would tell the residents that when I grew up I wanted to live there with them, and each time, they told me that rehab was a place I wanted to visit, but never a place I wanted to live. I promised them that I never would.
As I got older, I was allowed to attend open meetings, and to listen to my father, and my friends tell their stories in a completely different fashion than what I was used to. In these meetings, I learned many invaluable lessons: the exact meaning of honesty, the power of listening, and how to love people in spite of their vices. I witnessed first-hand how far kindness, love, and determination could take someone, and how easily the products of their success could be taken away when a person lost sight of what was truly important in life.
Time went on, as usual, and the circumstances in my life shifted dramatically: the residents graduated from the treatment programs and began to rebuild their lives, my dad found his way back into law, and I grew up. I visit the center once each year, on my father’s NA birthday, to attend a meeting and present him with a cake. There are no more familiar faces, and any trace of the time I spent at the facility has vanished. New hands have sowed seeds where my garden used to lay; and fresh coats of paint make even the walls of familiar buildings seem foreign.
The power of Narcotics Anonymous doesn’t lie in the same sphere of recognition and camaraderie that most people are used to. The organization works and persists on account of one simple principle: the desire to change one’s life for the better. The moment someone introduces themselves as an addict, I find myself greeting them along with the crowd, and I’m reminded that Narcotics Anonymous still belongs to me.
My name is Bridgette Logan, and I am not an addict. However, I am aware that god has granted me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.