Watch out… Baby, who’s that… Don’t look now, there’s a monkey on your back…
Who remembers what that’s from? The year was 1987, so come to think of it; some of you probably weren’t even alive back then. For those who don’t know, or can’t figure it out, those are the opening lyrics to the George Michael’s number one hit Monkey, off of his smash album Faith (a major recommendation for those who’ve never heard it). On a side note… DAMN, he was hot as hell.
Back then, I was 12 going on 13, and I thought it was nothing more than an amazing pop song. But little did I know, the song Monkey had a much deeper meaning. You see, the term “monkey” actually is a reference to addiction. And basically, George Michael was asking his lover (we’ll skip the whole male/female thing for now) to choose him over their addiction.
Addiction is a topic I am all too familiar with. As I mentioned in a previous blog (Oh Father), I grew up with a substance abuser in my home. I’m not going to sit here and give a play by play of all the crap my father did, but I will say that I honestly don’t have a single memory of him that doesn’t begin with the words Remember that time when he was high. As much as I can laugh at some of these stories now, the reality is a lot of those stories were sick to live through, sometimes even scary.
I was pretty good at knowing when he was using, which people always thought was just me hating on him. But to be honest, he actually wasn’t really good at hiding his addiction. There were always tell tale signs when he was high, like he couldn’t stop scratching or he couldn’t stay awake. I do remember one birthday when my mother found his stash, and she gave it to me to hide until she confronted him. I hid it in the cassette tape case to Diana Ross’ album Take Me Higher (ironic, I know, but figured it would be easy to find that way).
He also was in and out of rehabs. I do remember one of his stays, mostly because it happened around my birthday (again) during my third year of college. For that birthday, I ended up dropping out of school and going to work in the family business, while he went for treatment. I wish I could say that it ended there, but it never did, and his addiction eventually killed him.
Many people would like to believe that the non-relationship I had with my father was due to his addiction, and the truth is it definitely didn’t help matters. I do remember the first time he had said he was going to seek treatment. We were living in a rental home near the beach, and I remember giving him a hug of support. I would love to have seen my dad sober, but unfortunately, his addiction totally overtook his life, and at times, I would even say his addiction took precedence over his family.
The final straw for me came when my family was moving into another rental home, and my father disappeared for a few hours. We all knew where he went. When he eventually showed up, and was confronted, he struck me on the front lawn of the rental house in front of other people. He would later tell people that I was the one who attacked him. He was playing victim to cover up his addiction. After that, I just never looked at him the same again, and it stayed that way until his death.
You would think that with all the crap that went down, nothing positive came out of that time of my life. But the truth is it changed my path. When I did go back to school (a year after dropping out), I decided to change my major from Pharmacy to Psychology. I wanted to learn about what made people tick, and I did end up taking a course on addiction. It was interesting to hear all the different points of view on addicts and their behaviors.
From personal experience, I have learned that with addiction, comes lies and manipulations. There’s a massive element of secret to addiction. To some degree it also comes with some form of abuse, be it physical, mental or emotional. But I wanted to dig deeper and figure out the root of the addiction.
Books (and now the internet) will say that many factors, from biological to psychological, influence the personality of an addict. But those alone would not take the person over the edge. It is felt that the greatest influence on an addict’s personality comes from their environment, and usually stems from a traumatic event or an extremely stressful situation. And because of this addiction, an addict would feel somehow shameful or less than others. They tend to have a victim mentality, push people away and isolate.
But as bad as the addiction is on the addict, the pain it can cause the people around them can be just as terrible, sometimes worse. Remember, they are the ones that get lied to and manipulated and abused. Sometimes, they are the ones stuck picking up the pieces. It can really fuck with someone’s head if they allow it to, and they can end up blaming themselves for the other person’s addiction. That’s why they have support groups; not just for the addict, but also for families and friends of addicts. The goal of these groups is not to help the family or friend with the person in trouble, but to help themselves and make themselves better. It’s kind of like when you are on the plane, and they say in case of emergency to put the mask over yourself first before another person. You can’t help anyone else if you’re not ok yourself.
I recently attended an Al-Anon meeting. Without giving any secrets away, the group focused on creating an inventory of your good and bad traits, with the goal being to see your own worth. It took me years of therapy to see my own worth, so I could see the importance of taking such an inventory. It was interesting to hear how some people had been stuck on this step for years, even if the addict was no longer in their lives.
They were also talking about secrets, and how they can destroy a person. I personally don’t like secrets, and do my best to live my life out in the open. In my opinion, if you have to keep something a secret (unless it’s a party or present), then you probably are doing something wrong that will eventually hurt someone, maybe even yourself. And why would anyone want to do that?
Without going into too many details, I am currently dealing with a situation involving addiction. I had an idea it was going on; there were definitely some signs. And after a period of lies, deception and denial, maybe even a little manipulation, the truth was finally revealed.
When this news was first brought to me, I was trying to figure out how I felt; would I end up feeling in this situation like I did for my father? Would I be judgmental, or even think less of them? After all, an addict is an addict. But after some deep soul searching, it really came down to this: this person IS NOT my father. This person took accountability for their addiction themselves, and decided to take the necessary steps towards recovery. And the truth is, I couldn’t be prouder of them for that.
Unfortunately, I have been cut out of their life without any explanation. They would prefer to ice me out as if I don’t exist, as opposed to leaning on me for support. I’ve tried to figure out why; could it be they are ashamed of themselves and can't face me? Am I untrustworthy? Maybe they blame me in some way? Whatever the case may be, their shutting me out has, and does, hurt deeply, and is completely unnecessary.
There is absolutely no shame in admitting to having a problem, nor any shame in asking for, and getting help. It takes a real person to own and want to fix their shit. It takes an even bigger person to make things right with the people they hurt. Unfortunately, I never got that with my dad. Our final conversation was all about how he resented me, and soon after he died.
I hope with this person, the storyline will be different.
If someone you love is dealing with addiction, there is help out there:
Help For Families with Addiction: https://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/families-and-addiction.htm