Addict Son | Addict Family
Where I share more than I wish to and less than is needed
This post is not my standard, “here’s some music and exciting things I’m working on” type of post. But it’s real and its important to me. It’s also long, so you may have to click the link to read all of it.
My son, Christopher, has given me permission to write about this.
It’s 5:40am and my planned topic, “I wish I was that organized” has been scrapped by an early morning phone call.
“I wish I was that organized” will be a good piece though. It was prompted by someone typing that phrase in response to a picture of my music production software (DAW’s) color coded project template. I responded with, “I wish I was that organized too.” Look for that piece soon.
At 5:30am, my phone rang. The incoming call said, “VA West La”.
That is the West LA VA Hospital on Wilshire. A terrifying and beautiful place I’ve come to know far too well over the past three plus years.
Seeing the call, I was tossed into two contradictory feelings. A touch of panic and an odd feeling of potential joy!
It was either a doctor or nurse from the VA calling with bad news.
It was my third child, Christopher, currently a patient at the VA, calling to say good morning.
Christopher: Hey Dad, what are you doing?
Me: Drinking coffee and writing. What are you doing? (oops.. Wrong question, he’s laying in a hospital bed… I know what he’s doing) You’re up early!
Christopher: They came in early to start new antibiotics.
We chit-chatted briefly. He told me he was excited about breakfast. He suspected he would be having French toast this morning.
Christopher: Dad… there are weird people in here.
Me: Oh yeah. How so? Patients or workers?
Christopher: Patients. There is this guy who plays with his poop.
Me: That’s sort of weird. Is he older?
Christopher: Yeah. I hear the nurses telling him, “Don’t touch it.. Don’t touch it.”
We both laugh…poop is always a good for some adolescent mirth!
Me: Maybe that can inspire you to get up walking soon, so they don’t have to play with your poop.
Christopher: Or wipe my ass.
Okay - that was totally uncalled for. As readers and members of Club Sage, you really shouldn’t be subjected to poop conversations.
It’s shitty writing! (ba-bump! Grim dad joke right there)
SPOILER ALERT: Christopher is addicted to fentanyl and has lived on the streets for most of the past four years.
Currently, he’s fighting an infection - MRSA & Septicemia - which attacked his mitral heart valve… and brain… and kidneys… and [insert internal organ here]. He’ll be having a valve replacement surgery in the next week or so. He’s 28 years old.
How did we get here
All my children are amazing! Of course! Every parent says it, they probably mean it, but I know it!
As members of Club Sage (that’s what I’m calling subscribers), if you have children, I’m sure they are amazing as well. Non-members… well… maybe but no guarantees.
Christopher’s mom and I used to say that Christopher was like all our children but MORE! More laughter. More tears. More compassion. More frustration. More.
Insert charming anecdote here
This may be a device on my part to encourage some compassion. Homeless addicts don’t get a lot of compassion. And I get it. They frustrate me too. But, if this is a cheap device, I hope it works.
I want to live here when I grow up
When Christopher was 2 or 3 he had to use the restroom while we were at the mall. I took him and was standing at the door to the stall as he did his business.
In Christopher fashion, as others came into the restroom, Chris would loudly introduce himself to the unsuspecting victim.
“Hello! My name is Chris. Who are you?”
I tried to let Chris know that the bathroom may not be the best place to make friends.
Then he said:
“I want to live here when I grow up?”
A couple of the other bathroom patrons laughed to hear this. I did as well.
Christopher: “Then people would always be coming to visit me.”
That’s cute! It’s weird. But it is also a little genius!
Did it work? Do you love him or at least find him somewhat charming? If not, check your pulse.
Parental Misgivings: Did we miss something?
Christopher has struggled with substance abuse since his teens. Kicked out of high-schools, arrested, you name it. We’ve been taking those phone calls for years.
And yet, even his teachers, the sheriffs, and others who have had to deal with his indiscretions, find him likeable. His teachers always told us that he didn’t fit the stereotypical mold of a troubled teen. He was happy. He liked talking to his teachers. He likes people generally - still does.
We were outgunned from the start - aka: What did we miss?
Christopher was kicked out of his first preschool - Saint Stephens in Chatsworth. He eventually found his way to Rocky Peak church’s preschool. They loved him! But they also struggled. He escaped on many occasions to hunt lizards. He often said and did what he shouldn’t.
No joke, we received more than a couple calls from the staff, panicked, that they could not find him. I would head up there find him roaming the rocks - often with a lizard in his hand. He was pretty handy at catching lizards.
We have some clues that maybe - maybe Christopher is on the autism spectrum. I will share those at some later time. I say all this to let you know I struggle with the guilt of knowing I may have missed something important.
Could the right intervention have staved off Christopher’s current plight? Could we have dodged our family’s actual and anticipated grief?
That question, “Did we miss something?”, has a special place with me at two o’clock in the morning. Restful sleep is often in short supply!
Where we are now and an idea going forward
In 2019 Christopher developed Cellulitis, a skin infection, on his arm. It’s pretty common among addicts who live on the streets.
He went to the hospital and was given antibiotics.
But addicts are not particularly good at self-care or keeping track of things. So, after a day or two, the swelling and pain on his arm goes away and the antibiotics are forgotten and lost.
Repeat, rinse, recycle.
You see where this is going, right? Complete your antibiotics people. Superbugs are a thing!
I’m going to share more in later missives. But here is the one minute recap.
Christopher’s infection became septicemia - just shy of sepsis. He’s had two radical back fusions due to destroyed discs and vertebrae. He’s got clean for almost half a year and then relapsed.
This last time the infection came back it took up residence on his mitral valve. It spread sticky bacteria, called septic emboli, all over his body. They lodged in his brain, causing a stroke. The infection destroyed his mitral valve.
The future… well, it’s cloudy.
Since 2019, I’ve spent considerable time on the streets. I know more addicts, drug dealers, gang members, support organization staff, hospital ER doctors and nurses, etc. than I would have thought possible.
When you raise kids and they are young, you stress about things like: Are they potty-trained in time? Are they reading at their age level? Do they say “thank you” to strangers?
I would welcome some of those stresses again? I would like to think I’d be a more patient parent. Those stressors sound pretty idyllic today.
Chris says he is not going to use ever again. I believe he is sincere.
Christopher is also an addict. I know too much about addicts.
People often tell me, “You need to stay positive. You need to have hope.”
But, spend enough honest time with addicts and addiction and you realize something. Hope and being positive is unhelpful. I’m not indicating I’m hopeless or negative either.
Rather, I’m in holding pattern. It’s the best I can do. I have no real power here. No solutions. No answers that I deem adequate.
This, all of this, will come down to Christopher. And not having control is the most terrifying and humbling truth any parent or person who loves an addict must understand!
An Idea: A Memoir?
I’ve been thinking about writing a memoir / journalistic piece about our story with addiction. Our experience as a family. My experience in dealing with bad policy and perspective in our society and in our elected officials. My experience getting to know people on the street and growing to like them.
If you want to stay informed specifically about this story and the memoir, please consider signing up here. One of my goals is to include stories from other families in this memoir. If you have an addict family story and want to be contacted about it, mark the appropriate checkbox on the form.