To my son Baker,
Daddy and I met when we were 19 through a girl I met in a lift. A chance encounter, the universe doing its thing. From the first time we met, it was magnetic. I felt it. He felt it. We were both seeing other people. It would only be a few years later that our time would come. He came to celebrate my 22nd birthday; both of us now single. We spent a few weeks chatting and then had our first date, movie night at home. He never left. We fell madly in love. It was like we’d been together in a past life and picked up right where we left off. We moved fast, but it always felt right. Not rushed. Just two souls meant to be together.
We were as thick as thieves, always together, rarely apart. We just got each other. Everything was better when we were together. He calmed me. He was my yin. The safest place on Earth was wrapped up in his arms. I knew one day he would be my husband. I could feel it in my bones. When we stood at that altar and said our vows in front of our family nearly six years later, my commitment was unwavering. For better or for worse. When I thought of worse, I always thought of health. Cancer. Something life-threatening. Something I couldn’t fix. What I never thought of was addiction. I never once thought that would be our worse. That became our reality around the time you were born, I just didn’t find out about it until after your first birthday.
From the time you were conceived to when we found out you were inside by belly, instability hit our world. Redundancy, tough house sale, Daddy was diagnosed with type two diabetes. We decided to stop trying for a baby. Everything felt so out of control. But you, our baby boy, you had other ideas. You knew before we did how much we needed you. Daddy was struggling with the job loss and diabetes. He was hurting, more than I realised. Six weeks before you were born it got worse. Daddy was diagnosed with type one diabetes. The exact thing everyone had told us to be thankful for not having earlier that year. As it turns out, the original doctor was wrong. From that day forward, Daddy would need to inject his own insulin to stay alive. It rocked us. He’d had a tough year and that diagnosis pushed him over the edge.
The storm raged, and into it you were born. Daddy unravelled. I couldn’t catch him. I tried, desperately, but that following year became hell on Earth. He became despondent, withdrawn. He lost more weight. He looked sick, really sick. I watched the man I married disappear in front of my eyes. My heart ached, physically. His eyes grew grey. There was no life in them. It's as if he died but his body was still walking around. I mourned the loss of him every day. Consumed with anguish, I would always tell him that I wanted my husband back.
I lost count of the nights I spent standing over your cot watching you sleep. Filled with anxiety, fear and despair, wondering if you would ever know your father as the man I fell in love with. How desperately I wanted you to but the reality felt more like I was going to have to tell you about who he was. That you wouldn’t experience him the way I had. You wouldn’t know the joy he could bring. The calm he created. The instant warmth you felt in his presence. He was kind, generous and charming. Loyal to his friends, dedicated to his family. People were drawn to him.
It's as if he was showing me his cards one at a time. I couldn’t help him when I didn’t know what was going on. The day he showed me his full hand changed our lives forever. We were on the phone and he told me he’d been using ice everyday, for over a year. In that single moment, our world crumbled. Tears falling from my exhausted eyes, my legs gave way underneath me. I watched you play on the carpet and my heart broke a thousand times. Like your innocence had just been ripped from you. For a year I thought it was the diabetes, him not taking his insulin, fatal sugar levels seeing him hospitalised for a week. But after that phone call, all the missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Everything finally made sense.
I couldn’t live through another day of the instability. The fighting. The hours spent awake at night wondering where he was and when he was coming home. To know that you deserved more than this, that we deserved more than this, I couldn’t sit idly by and watch him fall further down the rabbit hole. There was only one option. I packed up our home with the help of family and friends and gave your Daddy a choice. He could either follow us interstate and go into long-term rehabilitation with our complete support, or divorce. The boundaries had to be firm. His life was on the line.
We boarded our flight to our new home on February 25th, 2015, you tucked up on my lap. I stared out the window as the wheels lifted, slowly closing my eyes. I didn’t want you to see me cry. Silently I shed tears. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if our marriage had just ended. I didn’t know if that was the last time we would be a family. I didn’t know if we would see your father again, alive. All I had was my faith knowing that I was making the best decision for both you and I. We needed a place of refuge. Somewhere we could start a new life, a place I had the space to heal and put myself back together. Nanna and Pa welcomed us with open arms. To this day, it was the best decision I ever made.
It took six weeks for Daddy to arrive but the morning I got confirmation he’d boarded the plane, I sat on the bathroom floor and wept. You were sound asleep, none the wiser what that day would mean in our lives. It’s been one thing I’ve constantly been thankful for during this journey, how young you are. You will never remember what happened. My prayers were that your Daddy would get better, accept the help he needed and heal his broken body and mind. That he would be better by the time you had your first memories of him.
I was always scared that if Daddy couldn’t get better that you would grow up thinking you weren’t enough. You didn’t mean enough for him to get clean. But you were his driving force. Even in the first few days of recovery when he was in detox and I couldn’t speak to him, the nurses said he was focusing on you to get him through. Daddy described detox as the worst seven days of his life. He cried himself to sleep every night, amongst the screams and pain of other addicts trying to face their demons. You were his light, my innocent boy. You.
I knew the day I took him from detox to rehab would be the hardest of my life. The anxiety sat in the pit of my stomach from the time I woke. He was a broken man. An emotional wreck in a ravaged body; unstable and unable to cope with his feelings. It was a vision I never thought I would see. Of course I wanted to take him home but he needed professional, round-the-clock help. I repeated his options to him, treatment or divorce.
Rehab took all the tenacity and courage we had. It was the time that would either make or break us. All the lies, deception, hurt, we couldn’t hide from it anymore. We had to face it and decide if we could work through it. When I was at my lowest you were my reason to get up in the morning. To keep fighting, keep pushing, to just hold on a little longer. I wanted to make you proud. That you would grow up to know me as someone who fought for you. Fought for a better life. That we wouldn’t settle for anything less that we both deserved. I wanted you to know that I fought for our family with every morsel of my being. I fought for your Daddy because he was worth it and as it turns out, he fought his demons for us.
Sitting on the other side, I’ve looked back and wondered what our lives would have been like if that one thing never happened, if Daddy hadn’t become an addict. I don’t have the answer for that but what I do know is this: We discovered ourselves through his addiction. It made us better humans. It made us stronger. It made us the parents we now are to you. It put us on a new path that feels more like home than anywhere we’ve ever been before. It hasn’t defined our lives in a negative way. The cracks his addiction made in our world let a new light in. A light that shone in places we didn’t know existed. That fills the deepest parts of our souls. I wouldn’t take back the last few years for anything. As hard as it has been, I found a person inside myself I never knew before. I found a level of resilience I didn’t know I had. Daddy’s addiction gave us a chance to start again. To build and live a life we didn’t have the chance or vision to live before. We are both better humans for having gone through it.
Addiction is a shame minefield. It might be easier to pretend it didn’t happen, to keep it a secret. You are so young you would never remember anyway. But this, this is our story. This is our life. This is our truth. This is the truth of so many families out there, struggling every day through what we have. And for those people, we need to be a voice, a story of triumph, a glimmer of hope in a tunnel devoid of light. Not all addiction stories end like ours has. But it is possible and that is worth its weight in gold.
Cameron Daddo opens up to Mia Freedman about his battle with addiction, on No Filter. Post continues.
The grey of Daddy’s eyes has disappeared and its been replaced with calm. Eyes that see a new future, bright and hopeful, one where life’s possibilities are infinite. Filled with a renewed sense of passion and self worth. An urge to be the best father and husband he can be. This will be a life long journey, something Daddy will never completely recover from. But for today, he is 266 days clean and I couldn’t be prouder.
I realise now you were heaven sent. Given to me exactly when I needed you. You were my saviour. Without you, I would have been broken beyond repair. Daddy says I saved his life. You, baby boy, saved mine. Together, we saved each other.
If there is one piece of advice I can give you, my son, it’s that no one is perfect. Not even your parents.
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Courtney is a wife and mother, currently on maternity leave with her second son. After growing up in country SA, she chased the anonymity and bright city lights of Melbourne at 18, before moving to the Gold Coast 13 years later. She shares her writing voice with the world, and is what she was put on this earth to do. Find out more about Courtney on her blog, A Lyrical Mind..