By David “R.J.” Vied
In the past, I have written personal testimonies of my days as an active drug addict. My reasons for writing with vulnerability and honesty are to educate families on the mind of an addict, during and after active addiction. This article, in particular, is very difficult for me to write. It hits my gut and my heart in a way that I can only describe as painful. I'm willing to share in detail my life as a father, one in active addiction but also in recovery. Please keep in mind I am still quite new at being a father, and every day, I get a little better. My biggest gift today is my family, my wife and my recovery.
I was 17 years old, a Catholic boy with no idea what divorce was. My parents, grandparents and relatives all stayed together no matter what. So when I found out I was going to be a father, well, marriage, a full-time job and a mortgage were in my very near future. I had become a daddy to a beautiful little girl. My world changed, and I was going to be the best father to ever live. Well, that was the plan at least.
My drinking started to take off. I was basically living either at the oil refinery or the firehouse. If I wasn't chasing a burning house, I was drinking. I remember nights I would be playing with my daughter outside the firehouse, the alarm would go off and the closest person not fighting to get on the engine was babysitting. I remember her screams of terror from the loud sirens, Daddy running away and leaving on the big red truck. This didn't last long, for the blackouts and domestic troubles at home resulted in a divorce.
The guilt and shame of being the first of my family to separate sets in. The little to no time I saw my daughter created a hole in my heart. Weekends became months. My daughter was growing into a woman as I was diminishing into a scared little boy. The days we did spend together consisted of endless movies in the dark and no quality time. I became a boring friend rather than a father. My addict behaviors created embarrassment and tears in her pretty blue eyes.
One day at a gas station we walked in, Daddy was buying her all the snacks she wanted because that was my way of showing my love. The gas attendant yelled at us for running around the store. He came from behind the counter and approached us. With my mindset at the time, it was always fight or flight. I proceeded to pick the man up from his shirt and slam him into the coolers. I threw the man to the ground, grabbed my daughter and ran out the store. She smiled like she was proud of me but then started to cry as we drove away before the police could arrive. Her hands were shaking as she begged me to never do that again.
I will never get the opportunity to be there for my daughter at that age ever again. I will never forget the feeling of hearing her beg me to take her to a park or even out back to play, seeing her disappointed face as I’d restart the same movie over and over. She never complained. She was just happy to even see me, watching those movies and holding tight to my arm for hours at a time. My addiction had forever taken her childhood away from us.
I would later find myself in a relationship that gave me my son. My drinking had reached its max, and my opiate habit stuck its ugly head out. Before my son was even born, the domestic violence and constant fighting led to me live 100 miles away from my family. I found myself completely alone in a house that had no water, electricity or food. I would wait for the neighbors to go to work so I could steal hose water. I remember choking on the breadcrumbs I was limited to. I found myself at a breaking point.
In the closet was a 12-gauge Remington. I sat at the edge of the bed and completely accepted death. There was no way I was going to destroy another family. I pictured my daughter's face and all the days I wasted drinking and drugging. The feeling of pure disappointment filled my body. Just before I pulled the sweat-covered trigger, my phone went off and wouldn’t stop ringing. On the other end was the desperate voice of my father. He begged me to come live with him.
Given this man is my mentor and idol, to disappoint him was the ultimate low, so to hear his trembling voice asking me to come see him was enough to put the gun down and start driving. Not to mention, he sat by my side for days and days, waiting for me to awake from a drug-induced coma. The man is a three-time heart attack survivor, and all he wanted was to see me before I died.
Months go by, and my son’s mom and I decide to give it another shot. Everything was great for a few short months but quickly led back to the yelling, screaming and plenty of calls to the police. I found myself in an apartment again with no lights, no water — just a pile of Percocet and a candle. It was Thanksgiving, and there was not a thankful bone in my body. This is where my disease took off onto a level I never expected.
Giving a Shot
It would be a few years of partying and sleeping around until I would see my beautiful son and begin a relationship with him. You're probably asking why I didn't put the bottle or needle down and be a father. Unless you have lived it, I find it very difficult to describe how this insidious disease takes complete control. Pain only begs for more drugs as my kids begged for more Daddy.
I finally found myself in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I found sobriety and happiness. A few months into it, I met someone, also in recovery. We started dating ,and the relationship grew fast. Now sober and on the right track, I saw fit the timing was right to make right. I took the opportunity to be a better dad and spend time with my kids. I started building my relationship with my daughter, and life was good.
It wasn't long until I find out I was about to have a third child. Not even a father to my two kids, my anxiety was through the roof. I went into panic mode. I worked day and night, started my own business, and made money. I thought staying clean and making money would make a good dad. The stress and fear of creating and losing yet another family were haunting me daily. It wasn't long before I was yet again hopeless, homeless and alone.
This time, I had no access to a gun, just a stolen credit card, a needle and a pile of heroin. I wrote letters to my family and was, this time, committed to dying. I put all my pain and regret in a needle and quickly overdosed into a final resting place — or so I hoped. God had, yet again, stepped in. A long and painful story short, I was given another shot at life. A decision was made to put my recovery first and my kids second.
To be honest, they were always second to my drug addiction anyway, so why not really buy into myself and this program. Why not give them a daddy and me a sense of purpose. I've had days in active addiction that you would have to see to believe. Some of the darkest, most evil days that I wish on no one. So I gave it a shot. I gave me a shot, and I flew a thousand miles away to seek recovery. And it worked!!
Being a Father
I now have multiple years clean and sober. I have taken the time to find my true self. I worked on my traumas and core issues. I found myself a woman who also shares this beautiful thing called recovery. Today, I have my firstborn calling and texting me, telling me how proud she is, how she forgives me for the hell I put her through. She is coming to spend time with my wife and me this summer, and the words of gratitude are hard to describe.
My son is now 8 years old and on his way to breaking a lot of hearts. Handsome to the core, he is very smart and calls me daddy. They both now have braces, and I was able to provide them.
My second daughter is being raised in a beautiful home with loving parents. She has a strong stepfather and mother. She calls me and knows I'm Daddy and that I'm here for her. God has a way to bring light after self-inflicted darkness. Today, I'm a father, not a friend, not a stranger and not the guy passing out at the wheel or on the couch.
Today, I am a proud father of four amazing kids — yes, four. I'm a 32-year-old man with a teenage daughter and three others quickly making it there. I met my wife in south Florida. I was in no way searching for another relationship, but, again, God had another plan. We committed to completing our time at the halfway houses we were living in. We dated and got to know each other. We both work a program ,and when two people love themselves, you find you can give the purest care and love to each other. We have a beautiful daughter to whom, God willing, never has to see her parents drink or drug, separate or fight. My wife is proud to be my kids’ stepmother. They love her and honestly ask for her first every time they call.
Today, I am able to take care of my kids and my wife without having to run to a drink or a drug. To all the fathers out there who are in active addiction, it’s not too late. To all the men who have lost their kids and are now in sobriety, please know God will take care of you, you will see them again and you will be a father.
To me, a father isn't a man who makes excuses or finds fault in others. I have made a thousand mistakes. I don't have to let them define who I am today. I have living amends to make, and it may take the rest of my life — as long as my kids know I was not a bad man doing bad things, that I was a sick man trying to get better, that this disease took my soul. This is no reason to give up. If you hear my whole story, my wife's whole story and you see where we are today, if we can do it, so can you. You can get sober for your kids all you want, but you will not be able to stay sober for anyone other than you!
I want to say happy Father’s Day to all of you. You’re not deadbeats because you chose heroin over your kids. But you do have a decision to make. You do have a solution. Your kids will grow so fast, and you will have teenagers calling you by your first name rather than Daddy. You don't want that. No one does. I believe in you, and so should you. Recovery is possible.
David “R.J.” Vied is director of public relations at Reliance Treatment Center.