DOPEFIEND reviewed at The Internet Review of Books

Armed with two bits of advice from a former heroin addict–“Don’t get high” and “Change your whole fucking life around”–Elhajj climbed the twelve steps to recovery. Not without falling down a rung or two, but this is a twelve-step success story, one that should encourage others that there is a way out of addiction for those who really want it… Recovery programs are only as good as the desire of the addict to get clean, and relapses abound. But Elhajj had finally reached a point where he wanted to be clean more than he wanted the heroin he shot into his veins.

Ruth Douillette, on Dopefiend: A Father’s Journey From Addiction to Redemption for The Internet Review of Books

Newest Members of the DOPEFIEND Fan Club

My first reader! ;)

When the box of books arrived from the publisher earlier this month, Aaron, my youngest son (pictured) grabbed one from the stack off my desk and headed to his room. My daughter, Kennedy, grabbed one too, when I wasn’t looking. Later that night, walking from room to room to say our good-nights, I found each of them curled up on the bed, reading the book. How strange! I was still riding high that day from finally seeing the thing in print. I also felt giddy that my readership had increased by two right before my eyes. But I’ll also admit to feeling a little nervous. I mean, don’t get me wrong. My kids know I struggled with drugs and that now I am in recovery. And I haven’t shared anything in the book that I wouldn’t tell them myself, if they wanted to know. In fact, I’ve already told them quite a few of the stories, just sitting around the kitchen table. But still, I felt a little anxious about them reading the book. Would they like it? Hate it? Or—horror of horrors!—would they be embarrassed by it.

Kennedy finished her copy the same night she got it. She read it blazing fast, under two hours. At thirteen, she is an avid reader. She came into our computer room around 10 pm where I sat typing away at the keyboard. She stood by my desk, her arms hanging limp by her side. I looked over and she held the book up. “Finished it,” she said.

My first thought was: “You scanned? How could you?” Then I remembered something my AA sponsor always said: “It’s not about you, Tim.” She was standing there looking all wiped out, like a dishrag in a downpour.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“Great,” she said. She laid the book back on the stack with the others and turned to leave.

“Hold on,” I said.

She stopped.

“Hug,” I said. I opened my arms wide.

She is almost as tall as I am, but she doesn’t weigh nearly as much or have much bulk. She’s a lot of fun to hug because you can just fold her up inside your arms. I got her all tucked in under my chin and could smell the fruity shampoo she used on her hair.

“It’s a really sad story, Dad” she said.

I agreed. “It really is,” I said.

We held one another for a little longer. “You want to talk?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I want to go to bed.”

Holly told me that Kennedy asked her a number of pointed questions about our relationship from the later chapters of the book, which made me feel much better than it should have. I guess she didn’t scan after all. One of the questions had to do with the ceremony Holly and I had in our apartment when we got married. I had already relayed this story to Kennedy one night during evening prayers, but the book has the more adult version, where Holly (who rarely cusses) calls me a bastard.

I believe Aaron is still working on the book. Later this month, I get to pass off the a copy of the book to my #1 son, who hasn’t read it yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Sammy, Sammy, from Miami

I’ve been in touch with Sam, an old friend of mine from back home who has cancer and is dying. He is my age, bedridden now, and married to a girl who used to hang out with my little sisters when we were teenagers in Steelton. One time about thirty years ago, right after I got home from the military, I went on a double date with Sam, my girlfriend, and some other girl. Long story short – while we were on the date I robbed a guy. Got about two thousand dollars. I gave Sam five hundred, but then I blew through the money I had and couldn’t stop thinking about the money I had given to Sam. So I robbed it back. I asked around and learned that he had probably given it to his aunt to hold. I went to his aunt’s house and told her the cops were onto us and that I needed the money back. She had it hidden in the filter to her swimming pool. I remember because it smelled like chlorine and she had it wrapped in plastic. Sam and his aunt were both furious with me, and we didn’t speak to one another for a long time, and then I moved away, got sober, etc.

Sam is a good guy.

After I quit high school, I got a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant called Hot Shoppe at the local mall. I hated it. I remember going to apply for it and the woman doing the interview asked me about high school. I probably shrugged my shoulders. Up to that point, everyone who had asked me about high school would follow up with a short, infuriating lecture about “What a smart guy you are” or “Why do you have to be so angry?” But this lady said something about what a tragedy the current educational system was. I was smart enough to know that was the kind of thing you said to a fuck up. Someone who you could care less about, but you wanted to at least appear reasonable, because you needed someone to run the dishes through the machine. Didn’t make me mad like all the lectures, but it was certainly depressing. I remember how those dishes burned my hands. Sam got me a job at the Holiday Inn downtown. He was my boss. He said the trick to that job was to always keep the bathrooms clean. He wanted the bathrooms cleaned at 7am, 11am, and 2pm, and then he said I could “take a little break” in between. He broke into the hotel bar and we’d take our little breaks in there.

He called me out of the blue a few months ago. Saw me on Facebook. He told me about his illness, and we talked on the phone once or twice, and I went to visit him the last time I was home. Earlier this month, I sent him an advanced reader copy of the book, because who knows how long he’s going to last. This whole time we’ve been talking with one another, I wasn’t sure if I ought to bring up the stuff about the five hundred dollars. I was praying about it and giving it a lot of thought. Finally last night we were talking and I decided to bring it up. He totally rewrote history on me! He said, My aunt told you to kiss off and never gave you that money. Really? Ha, ha! I was going to argue the point, but then I decided to just let it go. If that’s how he remembers it, what would be the point?

Sammy, Sammy from Miami! Here’s to you, Sam.