Zero. What an awful number. Especially if you’re staring at it, in blaring red neon on the heart machine. I was sitting next to my 86 pound dad in the hospital, listening to the slowed beeping of the machine. His gaunt, pale, sunken face haunted me, but it still didn’t stop me from climbing into his bed with him, knowing I would never get the chance again. The COPD he had battled for years had finally overtaken his lungs, causing him to go into unconsciousness when they wheeled him into the emergency room from the ambulance, a few days prior. The nurse had said, it was only a matter of time, until he would slip away. She soon came in the room and said it was time, he was ‘ready’. She left my mom and I to be with him. My sweet mama, stricken with her second bout of lung cancer, sat on the chair with her colored scarf covering her chemo ridden scalp, seemed nervous; scared. She didn’t know quite what to do. I laid my head on his chest and watched his lifeless body slip away as I stared at the machines. I told my mom to come over and say goodbye. Suddenly, I heard his heart beating again with my ear that was on his chest! I said, “He’s alive! Go get the nurse!” My dad raised up his right arm, as if it was once last flailed attempt to beat this disease, then dropped it to the bed. He was gone. Years of smoking would take his life and then my moms just 4 months later.
So why then, 12 years later, were my oldest daughter and I, standing in a convenience store, on an Indian reservation, in the middle of December, waiting in a long line of people who were all there for the same reason? To get a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes for half the price. It was for my son, of course-isn’t everything? He was in his first rehab-out of state. Remember, life with an addict has you doing things you never thought you would. Your standards drop bigtime as you celebrate small victories that are unexplainable to regular people with regular problems that don’t involve substance use. As it was, we were actually thrilled to have found these cigarettes for him because we had searched online on how to send some directly to him. Apparently that’s not an option, it’s illegal or something. So that kids can’t buy them online.
Turns out that even though both your parents died of lung related diseases-directly as a result of smoking all their life-the shock of finding out that your kids smoke, has completely worn off when you realized your son is a heavy IV drug user. To ‘Only Smoke” is HUGE compared to THAT dark world. We were thrilled to be able to do that for him, as long as he was in rehab, and they were allowing cigarettes to help with the absence of the drugs.
My son finished that rehab for a total of 72 days clean. Almost a miracle in the world of addicts. But as naively “first-timers to rehab” we were, we were shocked when it didn’t “cure” him. Our healthy brains could not wrap around this non-linear course of addiction and recovery. With any other mistake or unfortunate event such as a fire or earthquake, you process the shock, clean up the damage, and rebuild. What we didn’t know then, is that fire and and inanimate objects don’t have ingrained trauma or other mental health issues that continually fight against the rebuilding. Habits are engrained in humans to create safety and order. In the ADD, addicted brain it is no different. The path of least resistance, even after a break, and a few good counseling sessions, is to go right back into the fire. That evil, disintegrating , rabid fast burning fire that has shattered so many people and families’ lives. Do you run into it to save them? Or stand there in utter horror, hoping and praying that they walk out with most of their faculties intact…..