I had the great privilege to spend time with Mr. Steven Spofford, Eric Spofford’s father.
Mr. Spofford shared with me his journey that began almost two decades ago, when his teenage son admitted to him he was a heroin addict. “Eric as boy, was always in the truck with me. I got divorced when he was 11, but even before that, during the summers, I always wanted him with me. I knew he was safe and I enjoyed his company. I loved him more than any father has ever loved their son. He was great to have on the jobs. And as you can tell, always very sharp. The day he told me he had a drug problem.” Mr. Spofford paused. “I get very emotional because it was a very tough time in my life. I knew he was having troubles because he was sleeping late. I just thought he was going through that teenage slacking time you know.”
“How old was he?” I asked.
“Maybe 16, teenage years. I wrote it off to maybe he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But the fact was he was hungry for heroin. He was already an addict. I didn’t see it though. I was removed from my life. I didn’t recognize it until he told me he was. But what I did recognize was that I had things missing from my life. Hand tools, chainsaws, lasers, anything that wasn’t tied down was gone. The addict is a rough guy to have in your household. What I would do was anyone who was the last person to see my chainsaw, I would fire.”
“So, you never thought it was Eric?”
“Oh my god no. He was the most trusted person in my life.” Mr. Spofford replied. “But then it all came together. I remember the day vividly. We were doing a job. I was on a machine and he was running a chainsaw. Eric was always a ferocious worker. If it was a difficult job and if you had to walk through a swamp and jump on a log to drop a pine tree, he would do it. And I remember that day yelling at him. ‘What is wrong with you? You got to do this and that.’ I ran the job from the seat of the machine. And Eric came up to me and said, ‘give me a minute dad.’ He sat on the track of the machine and he said, ‘Dad, I’m an addict and I need help. I have been using heroin for a while now and I can’t stop.’ I shut the job down. That was a pinnacle moment. It changed my entire existence. Because now the one thing that you have been building your whole life, is gone. But the one you love still needs your help.”
“What was that like for you, your son saying he is addicted to heroin?”
“Earth shattering. It did complete the puzzle though.” Mr. Spofford continued. “I made a few phone calls and it was recommended that I bring him up to Bedford for detox. And like a typical dad I was like well how long will this take? How long before I can get my kid back? No one told me that it was a change of life. No one could tell me about the road ahead and the process of recovery. I think one because they don’t think you want to hear it. And as a parent, you don’t want to hear that you will have to build a world around an addict. To help him, there are some adverse things you got to do. You can’t support his habit, you can’t enable him, give him a place to stay, or put money in the bank. I needed as much education as he did.”
“If someone had said to you at that point in time, bring him up to detox but this is going to be a year, how would you have reacted?” I asked.
“I resisted that. I was fighting the 30 days. I was like can’t we get this down to five days. I had a long list of things I had to get done. We had a family excavation and tree removal company and he was the main ingredient. And it wasn’t just taking my son out of play, it was taking my partner out of play. My protégé, the guy I was teaching every day to take over the business. I think with the right information at the time, delivered clearly, it would have been very helpful to recognize the problem for what it was. No one wants to admit that it has the magnitude that it does. But the truth of the matter is, it is a life changing minute. I brought him to Bedford, they put him on Suboxone. Initially I thought this is good, but he was really in a daze. When he was using heroin, he would be high, and he was the funniest guy to be with. What people don’t realize is when an addict is high, they are a riot. It is when they don’t have the drug and must get it that they become a thief. We had a big snowstorm one year around 2001 or 2002. I bought him a ladder, so he could get guys on the roof for snow removal. Eric used the money from the first roof to buy shovels. He made a ton of money on one snow storm because he knocked on doors. My kid made thousands on one storm. He attacked things with tenacity. The pride and the pain were incredible at that time. He did suboxone for a few months. I started to get anise, when is this going to be over, but there is no end to it. And then he relapsed. Then when he wanted help again we went to the methadone clinic. It seemed at the time it would be a better answer because you can function on methadone. But no. The methadone clinic is like the walking dead. We did that for a year and a half. And he was functioning but under the influence of methadone. I would pull him out of dangerous situations because I was afraid he was going to get hurt because of his clouded outlook. Then he relapsed off that. We went to a lot of places for detox and counseling. He did get some relief when he went to a program that was based in the 12 Steps. His mother was back in contact. I had called her, and we would visit and be as much of a family as we could be. He started putting weight back on. That program was a real step forward.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“He had better counseling. He had real people who believed in the program. It was where he was first introduced, I believe, to the 12 Steps and he was writing his fourth step. They gave him something to finally grab onto that wasn’t another drug.”
“There is a lot of time from that day on the excavator to the time he got into the program. I got a call from an owner of a company and he told me, ‘your son is dead in the parking lot.’ That was the first time he overdosed to a mortal level. The Narcan saved him. He went to the hospital. And seeing him with the paddles on him as they tried to revive him again at the hospital. It was worse than death. The most painful thing I have ever seen. He spent three days in the hospital until he was stable.”
“How many times did he overdose?” I asked.
“Five, thank God he was a strong kid and very lucky. And 911 really served its purpose. But two horrific phone calls that I got, one from the parking lot and another from a girl telling me he was dead in the hallway of an apartment building. Of course, this was also before fentanyl. The longer he was clean the bigger the risk for overdose and that was news to me. You have to really educate yourself as a parent. Learn from everyone you can.”
“There were a number of years that you were aware and trying to get him help. Did anyone ever speak with you about boundaries and setting boundaries with Eric?” I asked.
“It’s funny, I had a guy on my crew who was in recovery and he came to me in a dramatic fashion saying, ‘you gotta get him out of your life. You gotta get rid of him. You gotta make him feel pain. The only thing that is going to help him is the bottom.’ Eventually I did have to tell Eric I couldn’t have him in my house anymore. I sent him off, with plastic bags for luggage.” Mr. Spofford paused choking back tears. “This was after a number of years. But it was quite necessary. I didn’t realize the impact it was having on my life. The only help I could give at that point was to turn my back on him. Not allow him back until he was clean. It eventually worked. He got sober on his mother’s couch. He had been estranged from her for years. He got sober on December 7, 2006. I was blessed by God that day and we celebrate every year.” Eric did get sober and remains so to this day. However, it was after years of trying different things and multiple programs to get well.
“The hardest thing to tell any parent is that you got to get hard. You have to stop supplying them with money and a place to do drugs. Because that is all any addict wants, a place to do their dope. You have to chop that off. Piers Kaniuka was Eric’s counselor at a treatment center. And Piers was the biggest step forward for me as far as getting a grasp on what addiction is. I would sit in his office and we would talk, and I learned a lot.”
“And you did not ask Eric to leave until after several years, many treatments, and you living in fear.” I clarified.
“Constant fear. Sometimes in fear of him dying, other times in fear of him coming home. Because they come home to the family to get money to go on another run. No parent wants to call the cops on their kid. I have heard this from other parents, they change the locks on the doors or they move. It is a fear of pending doom. A fear of them harming themselves or harming you.”
“How did you get to the point where you were able to say, ‘Eric you must leave’?”
“Through the advice of many and Piers. I remember Piers saying to me that it takes about 11 times before you see success.”
“How did you let go of your anger?”I asked.
“I don’t know if you actually get it all out of you. I started praying more myself.”
“I imagine the anger complicates things. You can be so mad; but love them so much.” I added.
“Oh yeah, it is like juggling eggs, you can’t drop one. And the stress that loved ones feel, oh, yeah, I suffered. I had strokes and a lot of medical issues.” Mr. Spofford replied.
“Now you said you were in counseling. Did you seek your own counseling?”
“No, I just fed off the counselors at each place he went to. And Piers. A lot of it too is lessening your expectations. You have an expectation that you can fix them, but they have to fix themselves. You can pave the road, but you are powerless. Speaking with other parents is helpful.” Mr. Spofford continued. “When Eric got sober in 2006, he came back to the company and he hit it hard. And I remember around that time Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie Bunker, his son died of an overdose. He did a commercial and said do everything you can to stay between drugs and your kids. That struck a chord with me. At the time, Eric was living in a tough neighborhood. But still, I didn’t want to give him that spot in my life until he earned it. In about 2008, he asked me how much money he had. Because I had been banking the money. He said he needed to rent an apartment to get out of his tough neighborhood and I agreed. I was not one for renting, so we scraped together everything we could and put a deposit on a property that he started as a sober house. And, you know, Eric being Eric, the rest is history.” Mr. Spofford added.
Slowly Moving Forward…
“When did you start to trust him again? When you bought that first property together?” I asked. “You know (holding back tears), I never really could give up my trust. You want to believe it so badly. Down deep, he is a great-hearted man. Addiction is stronger and that is a hard concept to understand.”
“When did Eric make amends to you?”
“He still is. He made it his life’s work.”
“You told us about your worst moment, but was there a time when you thought okay, this might really work?”
“The day he got sober. You could see the change in him. Life got better immediately. He couldn’t do enough good quickly enough.”
“And that wasn’t the case in the past?”
“No. His efforts in life were pointed towards recovery. Meetings were his priority and I totally agreed with it of course. I would drive by the meetings and see his 1986 Volvo parked in the lot.”
“So, you checked up on him?”
“Oh absolutely. Constantly. You can’t support it, but you can’t let go of them personally. He also started helping others and sponsoring others. He put himself second. It is the only way. That 12 Step program is such a beautiful thing. In my opinion the only way out. We tried the suboxone and the methadone, but it doesn’t work.”
Words of Advice…
“What kind of advice would you give to loved ones?”
“Don’t give up. It is trial and error. Let them know you love them. There isn’t a crystal ball. Show them the sober world is a good place to be. When they get sober and come back to your table or into your house. Accept them. Educate yourself. You got to let go to get it back. It is the hardest thing to do.”
“Did you see any mistakes you made along the way or any ‘if only’s’?”
“In the short-term I was regretful, when things would not work, a year and a half at the methadone clinic was regretful. But, I tell Eric to this day, the entire path, every step was necessary. I would also say be a good example. They will respect you more and your opinion will matter more.”
A Proud Father…
“What do you think of about everything your son has accomplished at this point?”
“Oh my god it is surreal. His tenacity, knowledge and ability. I am so proud. And you know, everyone in town knows I am his father and they take the time to tell me what he has done lately. I say I know, I do talk to him every day. You know that is another thing, Eric calls me every day. Where ever I am, he will get through to me. Sometimes it is as short as ‘you ok? Yep. Good.’ He is a very busy man; but we speak every day. He got here the hard way. Yeah, another year in the bonus round, that is what Eric says. Now he comes to me about business and I am like ‘Eric, I got nothing.’ He has surpassed me. He is my son, my best friend, and my hero.”
Thank you Mr. Spofford for being so vulnerable and honest. For sharing the painful story, about a difficult journey, with the best outcome one could hope for. Contact us today to find out how we can help you or a loved one find life and hope in sobriety. Our dedicated and knowledgeable staff are ready to help. (866) 466-6138.