An Addict and His Daughter
My name is Jeff and I'm an alcoholic and a drug addict in recovery and I haven't had to use or drink in 5.5 years. I sit here on January 1, 2014 in a warm house with my wife and some of my kids and my dogs and I feel like the luckiest person on the planet. You see, I'm a lifelong loser in my battle with addiction but a two-time winner in recovery because of my own sobriety and my oldest daughter Morgan's nearly fatal heroin overdose and her miraculous recovery.
First what happened to me: I grew up in a suburb of Boston with brothers and sisters and my mom and lots of friends. I was blessed with an amazing family and was super fortunate in that I was pretty good looking, smart, outgoing, witty and a great athlete. I had it all despite my parents' nasty divorce and my dad being a bit of a drunk. I swore I'd never be like him. And until I started drinking and using I was happy and healthy and could have done anything I wanted in life, just extremely lucky and blessed. Then I started drinking in 8th grade and partying with my friends in the woods or after basketball practice or at house parties where the suburban parents were out of town. After the first night of partying all together I knew I was in trouble -- nothing after that night was good enough unless it involved drinking.
Then I started in with the drugs. My allergy to alcohol made me crave harder and harder drugs the more I experimented. By the time I graduated, I was drinking every day, I had quit the basketball team and I was doing drugs every chance I got. I got arrested and in fights and no one knew what to do with me. I remember being miserable a lot and always wanting more more more of everything and anything that got me wasted.
The next 25 years were a gradual progression into hell. I moved around from place to place and got in the same trouble everywhere I went. Booze, drugs, jails, court, blown opportunities, lost friends, etc., etc., etc. At times I was a functioning addict/alcoholic, but there was always a downward spiral on the horizon.
Along the way I met Morgan's mom and we, in a crystal meth stupor, got married after knowing each other for about a month or two. A month after we were married Morgan's mom was pregnant and out of my life forever. I tried to get clean, even went to my first treatment center for 30 days, in order to be a dad and family man. I couldn't do it and didn't follow through with my recovery OR my responsibilities as a father. For the next 12 years I saw Morgan at the most once a year, briefly, and not by my doing.
The whole time I told myself, "This is the year, this is the year I clean up and be a dad to Morgan." During this time I also had three other kids with another woman and continued to drink and drug and barely hold it all together. I felt guilt and shame and remorse ALL THE TIME. I thought the only thing making my life bearable was the alcohol and drugs when in fact that was what was causing ALL my problems.
Five and half years ago it all came crashing down around me. It got worse than ever before. Three out of my 4 children were living with my mom and Morgan still didn't know me at all. I thought I would simply cut down and get it together and go get my kids from mom and get a nice place with the picket fence, etc. and live happily ever after. I could not do it. I was supposed to go see the kids every day and spend weekends at mom's taking care of them. Couldn't do that either. By now I was strung out on heroin and shooting cocaine and drinking every waking hour. I stole beer and scammed drug dealers. I neglected my kids. I left them at my mom's for a year and a half and stopped visiting them. The last straw was my 2 boys were on the same little league team and I never went to one game or practice the whole season after promising to be there every night.
I hated myself and I saw what I was doing to them and knew I was going to lose them. So, I went to yet another detox and stayed for 37 days in their transitional housing. I started to feel better and cleared up for the first time a quite a while. Then I got out and for once in my life did what I was told: I chased my recovery like I chased drugs and booze for so long. I was reunited with my kids and saw the look of relief and pride in their eyes.
Within a few months I was on a plane to go get to know Morgan. I finally was able to be a dad to her and it was great. The guilt went away the more we all spent time together. Being a dad, a GOOD dad to ALL my kids is the greatest gift of sobriety and there are SO many others. I have everything I could possibly want and a life second to none.
The second part of my being a double winner happened over the last six months. This being a family disease, I was not shocked when a few years ago Morgan started experimenting with drugs. Her disease took hold fast and hard and her drugs of choice were meth and heroin...at 15 years old. Her mother, my wife for a month, was out of the picture fighting her own demons, so Morgan's Gramma Ann was raising her in Portland, Oregon. We were flying her to Boston for Christmas and summer and we all took her to meetings and she was in and out of treatment centers. She was running away and started to get in big trouble. What we thought was her rock bottom was when she stole her gramma's credit cards and got caught in possession of heroin. She went to juvenile detention until a serious long-term treatment center became available to her. This was great news to us and we were happy to see her starting to thrive and even be one of the leaders of her group in treatment. She said she wanted it and I could tell she meant it.
Then she earned a weekend pass for Mother's Day and went home for the weekend. Sometime that Saturday night she made a phone call and decided to get high "one more time" and then go back to treatment and stay sober. That one more time, $20 worth of heroin, caused cardiac arrest sometime during the early morning hours of May 12th. Gramma Ann found her at 8:30 Sunday morning, blue, unresponsive and with no heartbeat. She did CPR until the ambulance got there and saved Morgan's life. We got a phone call around 1:00 pm in Boston that every parent dreads. We were on a plane within a few hours and the six-hour flight was torture. We didn't know if she was alive or dead for sjx hours then when we got there the prognosis was terrible. She wasn't supposed to live through the night. If she made it they said she'd be a vegetable from all the brain damage she had. They said we should consider taking her off life support and to be honest I thought for a long time that was the kinder, more humane thing to do FOR her.
The next three months were horrible and we were back and forth between Boston and Portland and had weekly conference calls with her medical team. We held on to a glimmer of hope and asked everyone who would listen to pray for our girl. The beginning of August saw her take a turn for the worse and she had respiratory failure and got pneumonia and ended up back in the ICU. At this point, we decided that this was no life for Morgan, she'd be better off going peacefully and she'd be so unhappy living the way she was being kept alive by machines. This was probably the worst day and the worst feeling I've ever had, but we thought it was best.
The very next day, I got phone call from Gramma Ann saying that, out of the blue, Morgan had started responding!!! At first I was skeptical, but each day she improved a little bit and the doctors told us it was literally a miracle. Since that day, Morgan has made amazing strides and we were out in Portland in October helping her move home after almost six months in the hospital. She's learning to walk and talk and her spirit is strong. She knows what she did and is dedicated to getting better and staying sober and using her story to help others. I could NOT be prouder of her and we've gotten much closer as a family and as father and daughter. The outpouring of support we received all over the country is awe-inspiring and gives me more hope and faith then I??ve ever had.
Miracles DO happen, don't ever give up, and sober is a million times better. I'm a two-time winner against all odds and this can happen to you, too, if it can happen to me.?
This Story of Hope was created in celebration of recovery and to let families know that there are pathways to hope and healing. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families who are struggling with their son or daughter's substance use. Please consider sharing this page so that families know where to turn to for help, and that there is always hope.