I have many good memories with my dad. My second birthday was his first day of dental school. Old photographs show us hard at work: Dad with his textbook and model teeth, and me with my clay dental set. I also remember reading the scriptures with Dad. I knew words like and, the, and I, so he would read everything else and pause when he came to words I knew. I was definitely a daddy’s girl.
After Dad graduated, he worked as a dentist in his hometown. As his dental practice grew, so did our family. But over time, I noticed that something seemed wrong. Dad was always gone. And when he was home, he was sleeping. Mom cried a lot, and I could tell she was upset. When I was nine, I demanded to know what was happening.
It was then that I learned my father was severely addicted to narcotic drugs.
At first I didn’t understand the situation. As I learned more, I grew angry with my dad. How could he be so selfish? Why wouldn’t he just stop? Didn’t he love us more than he loved the pills?
I felt so scared and lost. You know how when you lean too far back in a chair, there’s a fraction of a second where you know you’re about to fall, but there’s nothing you can do about it? That’s how it felt. I felt helpless and angry and uncertain all the time.
Dad went to rehab, which didn’t work. He started falsifying prescriptions to feed his addiction. A pharmacist reported him to the authorities, which prompted a criminal investigation. Dad was arrested and charged with several felonies.
He began his prison sentence on my little sister’s ninth birthday. I remember it clearly. Our family went to Grandma’s house for a birthday breakfast—she made homemade orange rolls, which I don’t think she’s made since that day. After breakfast, we tearfully hugged Dad goodbye and watched our parents leave for southern Colorado, to drop Dad off at prison.
I can’t imagine what that drive, and the lonely trip back home, was like for my mom. But she didn’t let herself wallow in negativity. Instead, she decided that our family was going to succeed. I rarely saw her falter in her faith or her resolve to provide for us.
As for me, I didn’t care what happened to Dad—I wanted him gone. I wanted my life back. In my eyes at the time, all the turmoil, heartache, and tears we experienced were his fault.
For a while after Dad left, we kept our heartbreak to ourselves. Then our family’s story hit the front page of the local newspaper. When details were publicized, vicious rumors about my family started floating around. People started treating me differently, as if they pitied me. Girls in my sister’s class at school bullied her. I felt embarrassed for me and my family.
But there was kindness too. Family members took my siblings to school, took care of my little brother while Mom worked, and helped pay bills. My Young Women leader drove me to activities every week. Mom’s coworker bowed out of a job opportunity because she knew Mom needed it more. Members of our stake wrote to Dad every week. Several dentists helped with Dad’s patients. Teachers at school offered to be an emotional “safe place” if I needed one. So many people emulated the scripture that says to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5).
Dad was in prison for about 18 months, at a halfway house for three months, and then on house arrest for three more months. We visited him and talked with him on the phone from time to time, but his homecoming was still a time of anxiety for me. He had been gone for so long! We all had to get used to each other again. I felt uneasy about letting Dad back into my life, as I still felt so angry toward him.
I don’t remember a specific day or moment when I felt whole again—it took time. I didn’t know where to turn, so I learned to pray like I’d never prayed before. I learned to listen to the promptings of the Spirit. I learned to take the spiritual “leap of faith” we sometimes hear about.
Over time, I realized that the plan of redemption is based on Heavenly Father’s understanding that we will all struggle. We all need to be redeemed and to be made whole again. That’s what Jesus Christ can do for us. And that’s what I finally allowed Him to do for me. As I trusted Him, He helped soften my heart. He put me back together again. He helped me heal and forgive.
Today my family’s trials haven’t ceased, but we’ve learned how to do hard things together. I’ve learned that every family, and every person, has struggles and imperfections. I’ve seen how we can use those experiences to strengthen one another rather than hide from one another.
Because of the Savior, my dad has become one of my heroes and trusted confidants. He’s used his experiences to strengthen others around him. He works at his dental practice and serves in a branch presidency, guiding others through their struggles. In many ways, he’s still the same dad I used to read the Book of Mormon with as a daddy’s girl. He’s with our family again, and that’s what matters to me.
Recently, we celebrated 10 years of Dad’s sobriety—that’s how powerful the Atonement of Jesus Christ is. We’re no longer consumed by pain. Rather, my dad and I have grown closer to the Lord. We’ve experienced a mighty change of heart (see Alma 5) because of the Savior. And I know that regardless of what you might be going through, He can always do the same for you.