Bill Ford started the blog Dad on Fire in July, feeling empowered after taking a leadership class with Landmark Forum in Phoenix. At the time, Ford was embarking on a new relationship with his 22-year-old son, a recovering heroin addict. The Tucson architect wants to create a resource and forum for others to learn more about drug addiction—and to perhaps create more compassion in society for addicts and their families. Check out Ford's blog at dadonfire.net.
Before your son, did you have any experience with addiction?
I started my life as a 13-to-14-year-old kid experimenting with things. What drove me to that is up for debate. My dad was a military man who was always stationed in foreign places. So I think it left a lot up to me. At the time, drinking was very acceptable, so I drank. I started as a teenager. That continued for 20 years. After college, I made a decision to end it.
Your son isn't the only child you have who has struggled with addiction, right?
That's right. When I left my hometown, I got married, just like that, at 19 years of age to a 17-year-old, and we had a kid right away. Our bad habits had not come to a conclusion, and we certainly paved the way for our daughter to get involved.
Do you think addiction is hereditary?
The problem is so difficult and complex. You want to say, "Well, the kid had a bad upbringing," and then you see a kid who supposedly comes from a good family. ... My 22-year-old son, who is a lot younger than my daughter, is a product of a (different) marriage. I was sober when he was born, and I swore that I wasn't going to pass this legacy on to him. But it still slipped through the cracks, and he still became a user. He is a heroin addict.
How did you first deal with his addiction?
I threw him out of the house about three years ago. He's been an addict for five years. His life after I threw him out in Tucson was, at best, chaotic. ... I sent him to California to live with his sister. He got involved in pretty much the same thing, even though the intent was to get him into recovery. He hobbled along for many months doing their methadone program. Eventually, things just kind of came crashing down on him. ... I honestly thought he was going to die if he stayed there.
His mother convinced me that he could live here and move back in with me. But so far, it is actually working. I'd say on a scale of 1 to 10, it is about a seven or eight, and I think that's pretty doggone good. I immediately got him hooked up with a private doctor who's a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. My son then took the initiative to sign up with COPE (www.copebhs.com), so he got into their Suboxone treatment program. ... So far, it has proven to be very successful.
Why does Suboxone work?
Suboxone is a much easier drug—(with) far fewer withdrawal symptoms, and they add another chemical called Narcan, which sends you into an immediate withdrawal and stops the effect of the heroin. ... It greatly reduces the possibility of getting high off heroin, so when an addict is taking Suboxone, and the dose is correct, and then he goes out and tries to shoot up some heroin, chances are, he's not going to get high. After doing that a few times, and spending money, he's going to say, "I'm not doing that again."
What is the hardest part of being a parent of an addict?
Just yesterday, I got a call from an obviously distressed father, about my age, with a son the same age as my own, struggling with heroin addiction. He's working with a counselor and being told to turn his back to his son. That is one of the hardest things for a parent to grapple with—to understand how to detach with love. There's always this feeling that when (you) detach, in a way, (you are) enabling him to go out there and die, because the percentage of heroin addicts who overdose is quite high. When you detach with love, you have to accept inevitable death. ... I have had to accept that, but I have also learned how to detach emotionally enough to stay involved without enabling. The conditions I set up are for him to be productive and recover.