Happy Father's Day! Turns out Fix columnist Amy Dresner had a pretty supportive Dad throughout her addiction and recovery.
DAUGHTER: I’m a bit nervous to be too honest here, papa. It gets pretty ugly.
FATHER: I think I can handle it, Ames. I ‘ve read your other stuff—the stuff that was not too sexually specific.
DAUGHTER: Wait a minute. That’s coming from the man who wrote The Man Who Wrote Dirty Books.
FATHER: That was before I became a parent. I’m probably not the ideal father to an addicted kid. There was some depression on my side of the family and I grew up to be a dour wise-ass who drank a lot, mostly wine, but I never bought an ounce of grass and I only sampled hashish once. Drugs in general seemed to be a downer where intelligent people lost IQ points and had their vocabularies reduced to 'Yeah,' 'Groovy,' and 'Wow.'
Generally, when you were growing up, I thought you were just a normal kid: smart, pretty (with incredible long blond curly hair), maybe a little moody, shy with boys but with great grades and an appropriate peer group.
DAUGHTER: Despite going to that pretentious all girls' private uniform school with the likes of Rain Pryor, Lauralee Bell and Tori Spelling, I never saw any drugs. I had no idea that 16-year-olds were doing blow off the dashboards of their new BMW’s in the school parking lot. Yeah, my friends were pretty straight, only swigging the occasional wine cooler. I once dared my best friend to smoke oregano to see if she would get high but that was as crazy as it got.
FATHER: It’s all coming back. When you were 16 and said that some of your set had started drinking and smoking, I, the controlled wino and reformed Viceroy addict, promised you a thousand dollars if you refrained from alcohol or cigarettes until you graduated high school. You agreed, got the grand and I thought I had managed to steer you through the most challenging times. Then you were off to college and mature enough to know how to behave, or so I chose to believe.
DAUGHTER: Your bet with me gave me a convenient excuse for why I didn’t “party” but the truth was drugs and drinking scared me. I didn’t want to be more out of control than I already was. I was already feeling depressed and insecure, living in my brain, over-analyzing everything. Remember those fun Saturdays when I wouldn’t get out of bed because I was “too ugly to be on the planet”? Good times. And what about that super weird obsession with “purity” and, even worse, Rob Lowe. I now wonder if my fear of drugs and drinking was really an intuitive reaction to my mom’s severe alcoholism and a protective device to what I worried, deep down, I was capable of.
But when I got to college, I felt like a freak. Never having drunk and still being a virgin seemed like they should be badges of honor but felt more like heavy albatrosses I couldn’t wait to ditch. I lost both my booze and sexual virginity at 19 and within the year I had body image issues and was eating less than 700 calories a day, exercising compulsively, skipping class to drink and blacking out. I’ll never forget when I got off the plane to see you that Christmas and I was so emaciated you didn’t recognize me.
FATHER: Oh I remember. We took a walk in the woods and you told me you were afraid to eat and you didn’t know what was wrong with you. And I said I think the terms were anorexic and bulimic. Or maybe they could simply name it after you—amyetic.
DAUGHTER: Ahh here come the bad puns. I know that your jokes usually hide your discomfort.
FATHER: Noted. But despite your problems, you still managed to graduate magna cum laude.
DAUGHTER: Yeah. I had to be “perfect” because inside I already felt lost and cripplingly inferior.
FATHER: Well, aside from your great grades, you even cast off your Beverly Hills princessdom to work part-time in a clothing store. A little embrace of reality. Then, after graduation, you came home to LA and decided you wanted to be an actress. I remember you took classes, half-heartedly because you didn't like to play anyone but yourself.
DAUGHTER: That hasn't changed.
FATHER: But you did get that job as a salesgirl at a tres chic boutique.
DAUGHTER: For a bit. I was too depressed to exuberantly fold shirts. I got fired for drinking on the job. In my defense, I was getting loaded WITH the manager. Also I was also taking too many “sick” days.
FATHER: Why is sick in quotation marks?
DAUGHTER: It’s like sick with a winky face. It means I was really depressed or hungover. I was drinking a lot of wine at hipster bars, dressed in iridescent vests, beads and suede pants. Don’t judge—it was the early 90’s. And then I started smoking pot with this surfer kid. It was fun a fraction of the time but usually put me in a stupid paranoia. This is about the same time I finally got put onto anti-depressants which started the joyful twenty year merry-go-round of “this new one will help."
FATHER: Oh yes. All those happy times are coming back. Since junior high school, we had tried shrinks who offered standard talk, hypnosis, NLP and rebirthing. Smirking incompetents, all of them. Had I been throwing money at your problem? Of course. But as a cynical writer, I was in the business of unreality. But soon Mr. Reality came knocking.
DAUGHTER: Yeah after I got canned from my sales job I decided to pull a ‘geographic’ and move to San Francisco. I wanted to “find myself." Fuck purity. Fuck fear. I was going to embrace EVERYTHING. Speed was very prevalent up in San Francisco. I mean it was “The Haight," for God’s sake. And the second time I tried it I was hooked and hooked good. Makes sense in retrospect as both my uncle and mom were addicted to prescription speed for years. But honestly, papa, it made me feel like I wished Prozac had: confident, happy, capable. Within seven months, despite my drug use, I was a star on the spoken word scene while living amongst junkie poets and bisexual skinheads. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I got blacklisted from the poetry scene because “she’s really talented but you never know how loaded she’s gonna be."
FATHER: I didn't know why you quit. I still have a copy of the ad that featured you in big headlines.
DAUGHTHER: Yeah I was good, a little dramatic but fuck, I was only 24…..And then I got that ferocious infection in my face from bad street crank. I called you and asked you to come up because I was "sick."
FATHER: There’s the sick in quotation marks again.
DAUGHTER: That's when the shit hit the parental fan.
FATHER: I remember, unfortunately.
DAUGHTER: You drove down from Oregon and took me to the clinic. It didn’t take long for the doctor to ask me “What have you been putting up your nose?” The jig was up and I came clean so to speak. Your expression said nothing but when we got to the parking lot, you absolutely flipped. “I don’t know who the fuck you are!” you said. “You’re dirty! Drugs? Really?! Drugs? Where’s my sweet little girl?” Tears poured down your face as you screamed at me. I felt so ashamed and misunderstood but I said nothing. I wanted to explain but I wasn’t even sure I knew what had happened.
FATHER: Well, at first, Ames, I was disbelieving—as if there was this crazy addict masquerading as my daughter. Or was it that you had been pretending to be normal? And then I felt anger that I had raised a kid so stupid. Didn't you know that drugs were dangerous, life-threatening, not something we do? Twenty-five years of laughs, great times, games, parties, trips vanished and I was left with an empty ache. On the drive back, I was tearing along at eighty when I saw a police car behind me. Instantly, I created a scenario where I would explain that I was slightly unhinged because I had just found out that my daughter was druggie. Surely, he'd understand, and let me off with warning. But he raced past and I realized then that no one else would really care.
DAUGHTER: Uhhh, you shipped me back to LA to get clean (which I managed for 3 months) all the while drinking heavily alone every night. I thought it was okay because I was reading Bukowski and Burroughs at the time and writing my own ridiculous drug memoir. But in just a few months, I was staying up for weeks at a time, having non-enjoyable hallucinations and selling speed to ravers and street kids. I was seeing that therapist who was known to be “very hard on drugs” but I hate to admit, papa, I was high every session. And he didn’t even notice and sometimes didn’t even care if I showed up or not.
FATHER: When I heard about that, I was furious. He was the symbol of every do nothing therapist you ever had. I thought of asking my cool Italian friend to set him straight. But a threat of legal action to expose his "technique" was enough for him to erase your outstanding bill.
DAUGHTER: You kept urging me, begging me really, to go into treatment but I resisted. And then one night, after being up for a few days, I walked into a market and I woke up in an ambulance. A doctor suspected a drug overdose and related seizure. After a long night of EEG’s, MRI’s, charcoal shakes and shitty tuna sandwiches, I was finally ready to go to rehab. When I called and told you, you said you already knew. You were on your way down. You had helped it happen with an exorcism.
FATHER: Exorcism? An educated, cynical, agnostic Jew who doesn't believe in multi-vitamins went to an exorcist? In my defense, I had moved to Ashland, Oregon, a small, refined community where people ask about the astrological sign of your pet. A simpler explanation that most parents of an addict will understand: I was desperate enough to try anything. The exorcism was really just a visualization. I saw - okay, I imagined I saw - a hand hovering over your sleeping face and I asked - imagined I asked it - to pull whatever shit there was from your mind. That night, you had that seizure and the next morning you called and said you were entering treatment. You were ready to get clean. Needless to say, I wasn't surprised and neither was my Gemini border collie. And that was that.
DAUGHTER: So I stumbled around that dual diagnosis treatment center filled with chain smoking schizophrenics. It was there that I was first dragged to AA meetings which I found creepy, cliquey and religious. They also did not appreciate that I was wearing vintage Schlitz t-shirts and had Budweiser patches all over my ripped jeans.
FATHER: You always had a contrarian sense of fashion.
DAUGHTER: Also, they didn't like my talk of drugs. One guy yelled at me at a meeting: "Are you an alcoholic or not? Go to NA!" Fucker made me cry. Of course, I was also detoxing off meth and sharing a room with a 400 pound black crack addict with sleep apnea. I was very sensitive. What did you think about me going to AA?
FATHER: Well after a dozen off-the-wall doctors and clinics and herbal shamans, I was pretty much tapped out of hope and funds. At least the AA approach was free and seemed to have little risk. And it would put you in the company of some realistic help-seekers. And did I mention it was free? Also, people said the program worked miracles. I didn't really believe in miracles except a few years before when your cat, missing for six months, was found thirty miles away, still wearing an ID chain and returned by the thoughtful finders. So if it can happen to a cat...Also, AA was free.
DAUGHTER: Yes we love free. Anyway, then I got thrown into that sober living in a converted convent run by a nun. But that didn’t last long as Sister Wino kicked me out after 4 months for having a “bad attitude.” Big surprise. It was there at the sober nunnery that I met that outrageous British fashion designer and we moved in together and started our own business. After six months, I stopped going to meetings but I still managed to stay sober for the next seven years...well, aside from that one horrific attempt to drink normally at one year.
FATHER: I think you spared me that.
DAUGHTER: You're welcome. Then the Brit and I moved to Paris and London where we spent the next three years hocking our avant-garde wares to weird Japanese girls. Oh let's not forget my big heartbreak - with that hippie Marine who dumped me resulting in a suicide attempt and a relapse. Not to mention some really awful poetry. Then of course, another parental intervention by you and mom and my cat and I were shipped back to the LA.
FATHER: When you moved to Europe, I fantasized that the change would help. Also, your new business partner was an older woman, experienced in the done-it-all eighties club scene and so, the perfect hip, maternal figure. A little further introspection might have revealed that someone who designed shredded clothes and persuaded you to shave your head might not be the essence of practical maturity. Still, your emails were upbeat and you were self-supporting for the first time in your life. So I maintained my denial until you crashed and burned and then there was nowhere for any of us to hide.
DAUGHTER: Once I had broken that seven years sobriety, I had the “fuck its” big time. I was under the common delusion that those years of sobriety had somehow tamed my addiction. Within eight months, thanks mostly to cocaine, I was back in rehab for the second time. I did my 30-day stint, participating in all the silly groups and going to all the meetings, but within three days, I dropped out of day treatment and relapsed. And this time I had a needle in my arm. See papa, sometimes rehab can be like the Learning Annex for drug addicts. It’s where you discover all the tricks to freebasing or how not to overdose or what to mix with what to get the most fucked up. I was a novice when I went in and a much worse and much smarter drug addict when I got out. After treatment, I think I shot coke for a few weeks, had a few more exciting seizures and then another geographic to my mom's place in Santa Fe.
FATHER: What I recall about that rehab was you confided that your roommate - a thirteen-timer - was getting drugs smuggled into the garden. Another member of the recovery family was an actor best known for filming his fraternizings with fans. And in a family session, you were asked why you didn't do the grown-up thing and you responded, frankly enough, that you really wanted to stay a child. And for this, I was paying $15,000?
DAUGHTER: It’s actually really common...it’s called “King Baby” syndrome. Be honest. Were you beginning to get the idea that I might be incurable?
FATHER: Well, when you visited me from Santa Fe, you displayed the needle marks in your arm. Even though it was summer and eighty degrees, I insisted you wear long sleeve shirts. Obviously, I was not as proud of your depravity as you were. But incurable? Psychiatric problems, yes. Difficult history, granted. In the grip of addiction, obviously. But - call it stupidity, denial, irrational hope - but I always felt you'd be okay.
DAUGHTER: Makes one of us! I adamantly refused to go back to AA at that point. I would try anything else and I’m pretty sure we did: “natural” detoxes in Mexico, acupuncture, herbology, DBT, hypnosis. Remember the glamorous super Christian therapist who did biofeedback and sprinkled me with holy water? But unsurprisingly I kept relapsing and then you started to get all "tough love" on me. You began drug testing me and threatened to cut me off if I tested dirty. I really wanted to stop but I couldn't and it was terrifying. A friend of a friend told me she had had a crack-induced stroke at 23 and her parents were so convinced she was going to die that they bought a grave plot for her.
FATHER: Well, I never worried enough to buy a grave plot for you. However, our family already had one.
DAUGHTER: Well thanks to AA, this ex-crackhead girl was three years sober. So, high, shaking and wrapped in ace bandages, I agreed to meet her at a meeting. I cried the whole hour. I identified with everything I heard and was hooked immediately, not so much on 12 step recovery but on hope.
FATHER: I bought in. I even started attending Al-Anon meetings. The people seemed warm, sincere but almost completely consumed by their roles as parent, child, partner or friend of an addict. You were attending AA meetings and, predictably, beginning to define yourself as an "addict." As a writer, I felt these types of limitations were simplistic and boring. Of course, you were still capable of upending me with the occasional threat of self-destruction. But I was learning and during one such conversation, I replied, "At one time I thought you could ruin my life. Now I'm not going to let you ruin my lunch."
The Al-Anon crowd loved it.
DAUGHTER: I bet. They love anything quotable that they can put on a keychain or mug.
FATHER: So enough with the past shit. Let's cut to the present which, I've been told, is one of best places to live.
DAUGHTER: Well, I just got 17 months sober. Again. But despite the myriad of ups and downs, including an arrest and stints in rehab, I never felt like you gave up on me. Sometimes I didn’t believe in myself anymore but I believed that YOU believed and that was enough. I remember when I was a little girl, you used to take me to the horse races. And you said it was more fun to bet on the long shots. Well, despite my privileged upbringing, I’ve always felt like the dark horse: long odds but it was possible… and how big and sweet the win would be. Every time I got sober again I would hear: “And here she comes from behind again...”
FATHER: And now let's hope that fucking race is over.
DAUGHTER: Amen. Any last words? Any lasting repercussions of being the father of an addict?
FATHER: Yes. I can’t watch Breaking Bad, Weeds or Intervention.
DAUGHTER: Well, you’ll always have Duck Dynasty.
FATHER: That’s my daughter.
Amy Dresner is a columnist for The Fix. Hal Dresner is a writer of novels and movies. Father and daughter have recently completed—and are marketing—a darkly comedic screenplay about celebrity rehab.