A dad’s road to sobriety and managing mental illness leads him back to his daughters.
He was 27 years old, a single dad with custody of his seven-year old daughter. He was awarded custody about six years prior while his daughter was still an infant. He got married when his daughter was about 3, welcomed another child, but the marriage was heading for divorce. He was a good dad and provided for his little mini-blended family. He would say, “The divorce was 95% my fault.” He seemed honest and sincere with himself, and was trying to move forward.
He was far from being what we’d call a perfect dad though. He was addicted to oxycodone, as well as other pain relievers, and it was common for him to mix this addiction with alcohol. He said that upon his first dose of oxycodone the high lasted for almost 12 hours. Eventually that 12 hour high turned to nine, then fizzled to six, and soon he’d be lucky to get three hours out of it. He popped other pills still, but oxycodone was his favorite. It was a euphoric drug, eliminating pain, especially the emotional kind. He had friends that could get him anything, easily and discreetly.
I was sitting on a park bench in March 2009. His two children were playing and making new friends. He turns and says, “I’m going to stop. The booze, the cigarettes, the pills… everything. I’m going to eat right and get in the gym. These moments with the girls are never going to last if I keep doing this. I just want to be a better dad.” Even though his tiny pupils created a sense of doubt, there was a bigger part of me that believed him. I knew he was high, but that didn’t make me less convinced. If anyone could do it, I knew he could. I had faith in him; and even though he was an addict, he was a good dad and I knew he didn’t want to risk losing his kids.
Six months passed by and I found out he lost his kids. Big time. He was ordered to submit random drug tests and that his new visitation would be supervised. The police were involved, and I heard he did something weird at a church, yet I wasn’t sure exactly what happened. The possibilities were endless if he was doing drugs. He must have done something wrong, really wrong. I felt so bad. I hoped his daughters were okay.
Come to find out, my assumptions were wrong. Dead wrong. He actually followed through with his word. He got a gym membership and used it often. He ate healthier, took vitamins and drank lots of water. He never used oxycodone or any other drug illegally since then. He quit drinking alcohol. He quit smoking, and even gave up coffee because coffee and a smoke was his typical breakfast at the time. He sought the help of a therapist who would keep him accountable, and listen. He received a full physical, blood and STD screen from his primary care doctor when the withdrawals got painful. She told him everything came back normal, offered him a lesser potent drug, but he refused. He was willing to deal with the pain. He deserved it and knew why he was doing this. Like I said before, if anyone could do it, he could. And he did it, until one day in October.
He checked himself into a mental health facility… kind of. The facilities of these sorts don’t really have an open door policy. It’s not like you can walk up and say, “Hey, I’d like to check myself in today. Can I get a queen-sized bed please? Here are my shoelaces.” It doesn’t work like that. But he did have to say he was going to kill himself. He wasn’t going to, but he knew he needed to say the words so he could get in. He knew he needed some type of help, but in his state of mind, he wasn’t sure what kind.
Earlier that October day, he smoked a cigarette inside of a church and the police were called. It freaked a bunch of people out. It was the first smoke he had in six months. It was his church. The pastor had provided counseling for him in the past. He didn’t have a gun, or a knife, and wasn’t on any drugs. He asked for the pastor and when the staff said that the pastor was not there, he said, “I’ll just wait,” and lit up a smoke.
His daughter was with him at the time. The police questioned him about why he was smoking a cigarette, and why it was so important to see the pastor. He said, “Regarding the cigarette, I didn’t see a No Smoking sign,” and, “I just need to talk to the pastor.” He was unaware that the police had taken custody of his daughter and sent her to a juvenile facility to stay overnight. A mental health evaluator from the county came out and asked a few questions but ultimately cleared him and released him into the custody of his brother to go back home. Everything was cloudy and weird, and he was completely out of sorts but he wasn’t satisfied yet.
He made it home that night but still felt the need to talk to someone. He knew he was off-balance. As he and his brother sat in his living room, they started talking about the events of the day. As they talked, he got angry with his brother about something and it created an argument. He kicked his brother out of his house. As his brother left with hesitation, he also left behind the most life-changing words he’d ever hear: “You need to go check yourself in.”
That is the story on how I lost custody of my daughter.
The guilt, shame and embarrassment hit me when I walked into my home after being released five days later. The medications they gave me were made to suppress emotion and zombie me out. Nothing could suppress that feeling of “I lost custody of my daughter.” I could have easily dehydrated by crying, and yet I wasn’t depressed. I was remorseful. The feelings wouldn’t go away for a very long time. I stayed in a hooded sweater for the majority of winter, ashamed to show my face and embarrassed to tell the true story.
My therapist told me that it took six months for my body to catch up to this new soberness, saying that I have been self-medicating with drugs and alcohol for most of my life and it took time for my body to react to the newness of sobriety. The psychiatrists said that I’d be on medication for the rest of my life, a life full of medicine management, including antipsychotics because of my bi-polar condition. A marriage and family therapist said that it was likely the stresses of divorce and finances could have triggered this breakdown.
When people say that there is good in everything, I can attest to that. Losing custody of my daughter was the toughest pill to swallow. The side effects of losing custody included guilt, shame and embarrassment. I swallowed those too. I’m not embarrassed of what happened that day, nor am I any less of a dad because I don’t have custody anymore. I’m better today than I was yesterday. I hope to always say that. I have amazing relationships with my daughters that continue to grow in a way I could have never imagined.
All I wanted was to be a better dad, and though it didn’t happen exactly the way that I planned it, it is working perfectly.
—photo by mrbill78636/Flickr
—first appeared at fulltimedaddy.com