My son calls me from a city far away where he has gone for an athletic competition. When I see his name flash on my phone, I think he is calling to say he is about to compete, and I will wish him luck, and he will thank me for my support, and I will tell him I am proud of him and happy for him – all the usual things.
But he is calling to say he cannot compete. He went into full opiate withdrawal before the competition, and then, in the city far away, he went to a methadone clinic. It was closed. Outside the clinic, he bought black tar heroin.
You took heroin? I ask. I am thinking there is some mistake. I am thinking that a hole has opened and swallowed the world. At the same time I am thinking, people can take heroin once. The first time can be the last time.
But it will turn out this is not the first time. In fact, he has been taking it for a month or more. Not the first time, not the last time.
In the beginning, several years before this call, he took Percocet or oxycontin three times a week at work. He said he respected the drug. He would never use the drug outside of those times. It was a work aid. And I let myself be lulled by this. He was an athlete, always reading about health and fitness, citing the benefits of various supplements: “This is not bro-science, this is from a peer-reviewed journal.”
But about a month before the call, I started to notice. Something had changed. Sometimes when he called, his voice was slurred. When we met for dinner, he kept going to the bathroom. In my journal, I wrote, Does my son have a drug problem? But I couldn’t bring myself to ask him. I was too afraid of the answer.
The question itself was the answer.
On the phone, he says he needs to go to medical detox as soon as he comes back. He asks if I can find out about detox. I say I will find out about detox.
I hang up and call my sister, who has been clean and sober for years. She says, It doesn’t seem like this now, but this is the best thing that could have happened. I know what she means. She means this is the first step to recovery. But it does not seem like the best thing. It seems like the exact opposite.
I call to find out about medical detox. I write down the numbers. I call friends: my oldest friend, my friend who is in Al-Anon, my friend who knows people. I try to hold onto my sister’s reassurance. This is the best thing. It’s out in the open now. This is the first step to recovery.
But the day of the call is not today. It has been 34 days since the call. In those 34 days, there has been a first treatment attempt with Suboxone, a switch to methadone, a decision to stop using methadone and start using heroin again. (Note the avoidance of pronouns.)
In those 34 days, there has been hope and despair and terrible fear. My son dying of an overdose. My son in jail. My son suffering the innumerable consequences of addiction.
It still seems like the worst thing.
Today I decided to write this diary. I am a writer. I don’t know what else to do.