Steve’s Note: The following is a guest post by Seth Cain, about his father’s lifelong battle with addiction, and how it marked Seth’s life. It’s raw, painful, and redemptive. If you love someone who is an addict, I hope this post is helpful and hopeful.
Seth and Ashley Cain are planting The Village Church on the diverse and distressed westside of Greenville, SC. They are part of KARDIA, the church planting initiative of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Seth came to faith as a junior in college, an angry, agnostic wretch moonlighting as a fill-in bass player for a gospel choir. God’s plan was pretty slick. You can follow Seth on twitter here and check out their website here.
It Costs Everything – by Seth Cain
(This isn’t meant to be a memorial. I write this as a bit of a catharsis for me, but also for anyone who has always really loved someone they have never really known – and lost them for good. To addiction or something else unworthy).
During the summer after my 19th birthday, my dad and I worked at the same marketing company. We commuted together most every day, an hour and some change between endless rows of pines from Palatka to Ponte Vedra, FL. We talked about everything and nothing. We listened to music and sang, talked about women way too much and argued more. He shared vivid stories of his youthful escapades and told jokes that aren’t funny to most 19 year olds. Later that summer, I started staying with my grandparents in Jax Beach to make the commute shorter, so Dad drove by himself. A month away from starting graphic design studies at Flagler College, my excitement was building. One morning, Dad’s boss came into my cube and said, “Where’s your dad?” And so it went. Dad. Flagler. Any hope of building a real relationship. Gone. Again.
I don’t think I ever really knew my dad. Maybe it’s because, at some point, he lost the ability to be truly present, even when he was in the room. Maybe it was during his first stint in prison when I was an infant. Or maybe the degradation and abuse he endured as a child hollowed him out before he had an opportunity to truly give himself to others. Like every troubled life, there are layers and layers of complexity. Maybe his impulsive decisions, their consequences, the swirling justifications and endless deceit swelled behind him like a rogue wave he felt he couldn’t escape. Always bigger than the people in front of him. Maybe he hated himself, because he always seemed to settle for being a persona instead of just a person. I don’t know.
I loved him and I hated him, but he was more or less than a real person for most of my life. He was a feeling – a childlike thrill or a molar-grinding frustration. He was larger than life to me when I was a kid: mythical when he was gone, magical when he was present. He was a force – energetic, inquisitive, whip-smart and playful, but also prideful, manipulative and blind to how he truly affected others. He was magnetic and smiled with his whole head. And he was an IV drug user. An addict.
Life with my dad went as follows: He came. He went. I had him. I lost him. I rejoiced and embraced one season. I mourned and grew bitter the next, learning to accept unpredictability and loss with an ever-thickening callous around my spirit. He was emotional whiplash for everyone in his life – new and old. He tried so hard at times to right his ship and start fresh with us or a new love interest, but his addiction and the dizzying barrage of lies he conjured up always swamped it.
Over the 37 years of my life, the cycle of addiction that he refused to acknowledge tightened until it consumed him. It became the deafening song in his ears, while the slow and steady rhythm of relationships and “everyday life” apparently faded into silence. Addiction isn’t just the loudest voice. It becomes the only voice. And an addict will do just about anything. To anybody. At any time. Meanwhile, I learned to temper any outward joy or inner hope, even becoming suspicious of them. “Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t trust it. Don’t feel too good about anything. It won’t last.” I was nearly consumed along with him.
As I watched my dad agonize in his hospital bed over the last few days, I think I finally accepted (or glimpsed) his personhood again, watching end-stage cirrhosis and hepatitis do their worst. His moaning, his jaundice, his blank stares, his delusional outbursts, constant hunger and erratic grabbing made him real to me – more real than I ever wanted him to be. All my life I wanted him to really be there so we could, at the very least, be imperfect together, if only for a season of my adulthood. To admit his mistakes, show some humility and own his choices, his addiction. On Saturday, when I saw him for the first time since his release from a medical penitentiary, it was heart-rending beyond description to see how his choices had come to own him. But he was my father. And he was real. A real man who built a reality made for one, a prison in itself. And I loved him. He was in pain most of his life, but couldn’t find a way to admit it or assuage it. He had so much to lose and he lost it. All of it.
What I always wanted from my dad pales in comparison to what I truly wanted for him. This certainly wasn’t it. But it is what it is. His story and, by extension, mine. I’ve forgiven my dad and I’ve felt a deep compassion for him that once seemed impossible to me. With my own sins and flaws in view, I’m no better than him. By God’s grace, I have hope in something lasting, a reality that you can’t be talked into, taught with cold propositional truths or persuaded by a series of thrilling spiritual moments. My something is a Someone. He is personal and present, and in my darkest moments he is more real to me than every tangible, stable blessing he has made possible in my life. And the older I get, the clearer it becomes that Jesus was always present in my existence even when I was skeptical of his.
Drug addiction is ultimate and very few escape it. I don’t pretend to understand it fully, and I don’t have an addictive nature (which is a real thing). But I do understand what it means. It means everything to everyone involved. Because, more often than not, it costs everything.