Tough Love: How My Mother Saved Me From Heroin

10/27/2017 12:27 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2017
<strong>Recovery is possible.</strong>
Ritchie Farrell
Recovery is possible.

I cannot move. My entire body is slop in the chair. My feet and arms are stuck in a tub of molasses. I’m all alone again. I can actually sense the holes in my arms from the prior needles—every puncture and vein I ever hit or missed. There is no way I can leave this place. I’ll wind up in jail or dead again.

My mother enters the small kitchen in slow motion, black and white. The hum in my ears removes the rest of the color from the room. Her face is so surreal to me. She’s aged since the last time I’ve seen her straight. It’s been some time I guess. The last time she sat with me I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Two bags of black heroin will do that to you. That’s if it doesn’t stop your heart. It’s crazy how you don’t notice certain things about a face when you’re just lookin’ to shake them down for money to buy heroin. I was glad to see her. I’d missed my mother. She was the one lady who’d always loved me.

Nobody ever visits in the kitchen. She’s the last person I’d expect to visit me here at Lowell Detox. Shocked, I don’t greet her. She sits gingerly across from me. I think she’s afraid. She’s seen me high. Horror has a way of replicating itself.

“Mom? What are you doing here? Dr. Levine said you were by this morning? How long you been waiting?”

“You can’t come home,” she says.

“What do you mean? I haven’t been home in years. Where the fuck is home?”

She cries and says she went to get help, talked to a shrink. Several. She talks about her search for a different answer, but none came. She tells me about “tough love,” how each psychiatrist came up with the same advice. She says my children need me.

“I don’t wanna come home. I’m going to stay for another week.”

“Don’t call me again,” she whispers.

I’m waiting for her to finish the sentence like I expect her to, waiting for her to say, ”Until I have a good foothold in sobriety.” But she doesn’t. I’m crushed. I love my mother; she’s all I have. I begin to cry. My mother, the last and only person who loves you forever has thrown me to the wolves, the streets, and heroin. I need her today because I understand how hard it will be to not get high tomorrow. Without her, I have nobody but heroin. She tells me I need a priest.

“A fucking priest?!” I scream.

“A priest could absolve your sins, set you free of heroin addiction.”

“I don’t believe in priests!” I’m hysterical now.

“Calm down Richard.”

She reaches her hand across the table and places it on the top of my left hand. It’s hot and wet from fear. There is something extremely soothing in a mother’s touch. It’s almost funny how mothers have an innate way of making all the badness drift away.

“You’ve have to start taking control over your emotions,” she continues.

I focus on her wrinkled hands covering my scarred hands. My mind flashes back almost twenty years. The night my dad beat me to a pulp. I was seven. Dad and I were in his bed watching The FBI on Sunday night. Mom and Sean were in the kitchen making cookies. It was during a commercial. Dad loved to tickle. The covers suddenly ripped off my little body and dad’s fingers began to dance on my stomach. His legs wrapped around my legs in a scissors hold. I was pinned, insane with laughter. I was going to die. In the struggle for my life, my elbow smashed against his nose. First, it was blood everywhere. Within seconds, violent slaps echoed to the kitchen. Mom ran in. My eye sockets were bleeding. I couldn’t hear Mom screaming. The monstrous blows to my ears had touched off bells inside my head.

I look up at Mom’s face and wonder if she remembers how she saved me that night. I want to know if she remembers how we drove around Lowell until 3 a.m. in the morning. I’m curious to test her memory. Does she remember how she promised she’d never let it happen to me again?

“Richard, a Catholic Priest is the answer.”

I don’t answer her. I have to leave the cafeteria now. “A fucking Catholic Priest.” It just won’t stop ringing inside my head. Mom sits clutching her purse to her stomach as if I might make a run for the door with it. I think, am I that low of a motherfucker to rip my own mother’s pocket book off?

I leave and the silence in the hall gives me a feeling of safety. My stomach muscles ache from crying but the tears have washed away years of pent-up, make-believe bullshit I fed myself trying to live somebody else’s dream.

That was 30 years ago.

In 1987, I beat a 10-bag-a-day heroin habit. Somehow, I pulled myself out and went on this unbelievable journey. I’ve seen the crimson-red-blood snow on the streets of a war-ravaged Sarajevo. I’ve directed a documentary film, won a duPont-Columbia, worked on and acted in a feature film that won two Academy Awards, wrote a memoir and a bestseller. I’ve seen everything in my career. However, the day my mom found the strength to stop enabling my addiction, was the day I found the strength to begin the journey to recovery.

Ritchie Farrell is the author of I am a Heroin Addict.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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