When I was five years old I spilled a large glass of milk on a shiny glass table after my father had pleaded with me to use both of my hands. Not fully paying attention (did I ever in those days? Was I even able to?), I reached for the glass, picked it up with one hand and dropped it by accident. My father lost his composure and yelled at me in a manner, which was inappropriate given the situation. Right after he finished ranting, he realized he had over-reacted and quickly came over to make up. “I’m so sorry, Tommy,” he said as he reached out to hug me. I pulled away from his grasp and yelled back at him, “I hate you. I hate you.” My dad fell to his knees and started crying right there and then. I was utterly shocked. I ran back, threw my arms around him and told him how much I loved him and how sorry I was that I had said that. After a few minutes, we stood up and the moment seemed to be over. For me, though, the emotional shockwave from that moment would carry itself to the end of my father’s life thirty years later.
From that moment forward, I wanted to do whatever I could to prevent my father from ever crying again. Right there, I had developed a pattern of co-dependency with him, which grew in shape and size over the years. I wish that I could say that my dad and I found the tools to unravel the enmeshment between us. Unfortunately, sometimes the work can only be done by one party in absence of the other. And, of course, sometimes, in really unfortunate situations, the work does not get done at all.
For my dad and me, we had one of those father-son relationships that was incredibly loving and protective, but with an immense shadow side to it. As a young child, it worked well. Our closeness was intense and our loving bond, amazingly strong. Sometimes it was painful to love someone so much. It became overwhelming.
Throughout my childhood, my father would come to all my sports games and support me in every way possible. One thing I will always remember about my father was that no matter what his problems were and despite any challenges we would later experience, when I needed him he dropped everything else in his life and showed up for me 100%.
About 15 years after the spilt milk event, I was at the tail end of my addiction to crack cocaine. I had taken drugs and alcohol about as far as one could and on this particular morning I woke up without anyone to turn to and without anywhere to go. I had no next move.
I thought to call my father, the person I had relied upon for care and affection when I needed it most.
I told him how bad things were, how I had no girlfriend or friends to speak of. How this had happened and that had happened. I told him everything I could – except for the truth. Then he simply stated, “You’re on drugs. I know you’re on drugs! Aren’t you?”
I said, “Yes, Dad, I am.”
He said bluntly that I was going to have to go to rehab. I then bluntly replied that I would not go. There was a silence on the phone that lasted about ten seconds. Then I realized my father had started to cry. In his own way, he was as defeated as I was.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. All of my arrogance and stubbornness fell to the side as I glimpsed what effect I had on him. The next day, I flew to his home in Los Angeles. He had insisted on seeing me first. Four days later, I went off to rehab to begin my life anew. The nightmare of acute addiction was coming to an end.
Addiction is a mysterious thing. You never know what it will take to break the forcefield of denial, allowing a person to change their course and survive. My life is the story of second chances. Had I not spilt that milk and gotten hooked into my father’s pain when I was five years old, I am not certain I would have surrendered and gotten sober when I heard his cries for the second time in my life. My recovery was initiated upon the tears of my father.
In the final analysis, love heals addiction. I know my recovery is a gift, part of a mystery that has defined my life. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever received. My father and my mother (who I will write about next week) passed away some time ago. The only way I know of dealing with it is to say thank you to the Uni-verse, live as full a life as possible and support others to do the same.
Sending Love and Gratitude.
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Tommy Rosen is a yoga teacher and addiction specialist. Check out his website here.