I once knew a staggeringly handsome man who wore high cheekbones and a goatee. An extraordinary extrovert, this man had a jovial laugh and a jubilant energy; a kind of energy that spread like fire and radiated to all who encircled him. He loved his kids and basketball and Chex Mix and and REO Speedwagon and slapstick humor like Billy Madison. He made everyone around him feel like the most important person in the world. He owned a lovely four bedroom home in an upscale suburb outside of Louisville, Kentucky where his perfect wife and his precious three children lived, along with their two Labrador Retrievers. He had a fantastic career in the home development industry and enjoyed vacationing in Destin, Florida each year. This man died of a heroin overdose on September 4th, 2013 at the young age of 53. This man was my father. That’s right, Julian Leon Westbrook, Jr., husband, son, father, brother, family man, heroin addict.
I share this with you, not because I am in search of pity, on the contrary, it’s because I yearn for the moment when those that suffer from, and have fallen victim to the horrific disease that is addiction will one day be given the memorial that their souls truly deserve.
Many of us, and particularly those that are lucky enough to have never been touched by this disease, are unaware that addicts are powerless against their addiction. Until recently, this has been a difficult concept for me to grasp, as I saw my father shift from a hilarious, confident, and powerful man to an individual quickly dwindling away, as if a cancerous python was slowly constricting around his neck. None of us are every in competition with that python. For addicts, there is never a choice to be made.
For years I wondered if I could have been a better daughter somehow, if I could have changed him in some way. I practiced tough love and sent him books and information on recovery. What I didn’t realize was that I am apart of the vast majority of humans that can have an alcoholic beverage or two and not feel the NEED to continue feeding that beast. I’ve never ingested a substance and yearned for something more powerful to fill the darkness within me. My father woke up every morning, physically ill, his body surging with pain until he would succumb to the desire to resort to numbness. True, unabashed addiction is a level of suffering I cannot fathom.