The sky has always been a big deal for me. When I was a child, my dad and I would lay on our backs in the park and gaze at the clouds, looking for shapes. “Elephant!” I would shout triumphantly, to which he would reply, “Monkey on a bicycle,” or something equally silly, and we would erupt in giggles. Around the age of six, I remember one summer bike ride through the Rockefeller Estate, where we stopped to sit on a hill and watch the sunset. I found it astounding that the sun’s slow decline over the horizon could create such extraordinary, vivid shades of pink, red, and orange…and then deep, sad blues and peaceful, wistful purples. This particular sunset was a memory we recounted together countless times over the years- how fun it was to watch the sun go to bed and take the color with it. My father was like the sun, in that way- so vibrant, and when he was around, the world had more color to it. We, his family, revolved around his warmth.
The morning I found out that my dad was gone was December 23, 2020. I rose early, as usual, to go for a run just before dawn. As I hit the path near my house and rounded a slight incline, I looked up and stopped short. The sky. I had never seen anything like it. The pink was so bright I lost my breath- the clouds looked like they were on fire with the rays of vivid yellows and oranges beneath them. I started to take pictures- the cell phone image you see above is one of them. I am so grateful that I paused to admire this scene- to breathe deeply and absorb the colors. And to record it. Looking back, I feel like it was my dad- letting me know that he was okay, wrapped in the warm embrace of the clouds and basking in the sun. I went about my busy day, two days before Christmas…it would only be a matter of hours before my life would change forever. Before the worst thing would be reality.
Dad was an extremely gifted drummer (he went by the name “Stiicky” professionally, as in two drumsticks). Blues, jazz, funk, and soul were ingrained in me since before I could talk. One of my earliest memories of music is dancing on his feet in the kitchen to Little Richard and Eric Clapton. I owe almost all my musical knowledge and tastes to his influence, and I am so grateful for the introduction to some of my favorites, like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Otis Redding. Being a musician, however, often comes with a “scene”- bars, clubs, gatherings…and from an incredibly early age, my father already knew he liked the taste of alcohol. As it turns out, that fondness for the buzz alcohol provided would turn into an almost lifelong battle with a serious addiction. This is the duality I speak about frequently on the podcast- between the person we know and love, and then this “other side” of them their affliction creates. The changes in personality, behavioral patterns, and deceitfulness that accompany addiction. Because that’s what happens- the substance is in control. After awhile, it transcends desire-it is now a need, and an outsider (such as me) will tend to wonder why this need is more important than we are. More important than our love for the person suffering is.
I know now, through my work on this show- my interviews, my own research- that this is not the case. The author/advocate David Poses recently told me that he frames addiction as a “complex medical condition”- and I appreciate this phrasing so much. Addiction is exactly that- complex, medical, and a condition. It is not something that anyone volunteers for, and no, it is sincerely not more important than you are in the eyes of the person afflicted. There are physiological and psychological things occurring within the addicted person’s body which they now cannot control without assistance. And this is exactly why recovery is not one-size-fits-all.
My dad and I were thisclose from the moment I was born because of the effort he put in to being my father, but also my friend. He taught me most of the skills and affinities I carry with me today, and we could talk on the phone or in-person for hours. My son and husband loved him fiercely as well, and he was dedicated to these relationships. 2020, and the limitations forced upon the world by covid-19, changed him irrevocably. The isolation and the depression brought on by not being able to gather freely with us, especially at Thanksgiving, was too much for my dad to bear. What had been a 60-year merry-go-round of abstinence, abuse, abstinence, hospital visits, hallucinations, stroke, abstinence…finally ended in abuse. When I spoke with him shortly before Thanksgiving, he answered the phone with that all-too-familiar slurring, and my heart sank. I knew he was drinking again, and who knew how long it would be before he got sick and landed in the hospital this time. I couldn’t take the stress. No matter that my father, my best friend, was clearly struggling with an inner turmoil that was influencing him to pick up again…it was too much for me to bear. Angrily, I hung up and resolved that I would distance myself from watching him go down this road until he was ready to quit. The last time we spoke was December 20th. I called him early that morning to check in, and he was so belligerent that I gave him a curt, “Ok, daddy, I gotta go now…I love you,” listened for the messy “I love you, too, kiddo” …and that was it. That was the last time I heard his voice. My mother called me the afternoon of the 23rd to tell me that the neighbors in my dad’s building hadn’t seen him for a few days (unusual, he was always in the front yard of the multi-family house feeding the birds). Something wasn’t right. I was annoyed, initially, and called the local police to have a wellness check performed. They responded to his home and asked me over the phone if they had permission to break the door down if necessary. When I didn’t get a return call from them in a timely manner, my heart sank. Somehow, I knew. I drove to my father’s house, 25 minutes away, in about 9 minutes flat. I was greeted by detectives who must have relayed the devastating news to me, but all I could hear was screaming- my own.
My father’s beautiful, vibrant, funny, creative, strong life was taken by his addiction. He did not deserve to leave this earth in such an undignified manner. What he did deserve was better understanding, more education, and trust from his loved ones. Trust that he did want to be in the depths of this affliction- there was too much light within him. Whatever the underlying cause was for my father’s discomfort in life, for his affinity for alcohol and its numbing effect, I will never know. And that’s what brings me here today. To learn about harm reduction, medically assisted recovery, and myriad methods in which we can support those who find themselves struggling with addiction. I am here to do my part to become better educated, advocate, and help erase the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction.
Eddie, my father, was the best human being I have ever known. I would venture to bet that a lot of you out there love and value a person who suffers, and you wish they didn’t have to. So, instead of judgement, allow me to help you pass hope. The more knowledge, the more tools we are equipped with, the more we will be able to step forward with compassion. The less people feel scrutinized and boxed in, the more open they will be to seeing that their lives are worth saving. When I look up at the sky, wherever I am…my heart aches. All I can whisper is, “I see you now.” And all I can do is better.
I hope you all find something useful in this space, either from my writing or the podcast. I welcome any opportunity to correspond with you, and hope that you will reach out with any questions/comments. This is a safe, judgement-free space. I am here to observe, listen, learn, and share.
I wish you all peace- be well.