A Father Stumbles, Then Rights Himself

As part of StoryCorps' National Day of Listening project, Alex Cohen talks to her father, Kip, about his addiction to methamphetamines and his process of recovery. The project encourages people to sit down with a loved one on Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, and record a meaningful conversation.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen. Today is the National Day of Listening. It's a new, post-holiday tradition where we invite you to interview someone you know. All week here at NPR, we've been sharing some of our chats with family and friends, and here's mine with my dad.

Mr. KIP COHEN (Alex Cohen's Father): My name is Kip Cohen and from 1968 to 1971, I was the managing director of Bill Graham's Fillmore East, the now still-famous concert hall in New York City where artists like Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Who and others performed live.

COHEN: You were a young adult in the '60s when, I think, there were maybe different notions about drugs and the role that they played in people's lives. What was that like?

Mr. COHEN: Growing up in New York right in the middle of all of that, both the cultural and the musical and the social phenomenon in the '60s, there was a very different attitude. And there was very little, if any, negative connotation to experimentation with drugs and, in fact, sort of a celebration of the process.

COHEN: My dad experimented with drugs back then, as he did throughout most of his adult life at various jobs in the music industry. But it wasn't until he was in his 60s that he became seriously addicted to drugs, especially methamphetamine.

Mr. COHEN: Well, it's a very sleazy drug, and one that I looked down on for many years. So it came as a surprise that I would even enjoy it. It lowered all inhibitions, and it produced a great, sort of hedonistic sensation of being in touch with things. But by the same token, it was very isolating. It was not very social. It was a very ugly, controlling, dangerous experience.

COHEN: What do you think caused your personal addiction to drugs?

Mr. COHEN: Well, I can look back with some insight now that I've been through it and come out of it. I have built into the way I think, in the way my brain works, every aptitude for thinking and behaving like an addict. As I grew older, that infatuation and focus on addictive behavior became much greater. It was quite manageable for a very long time.

COHEN: What happened when you got older?

Mr. COHEN: Well, I think that I discovered things were changing. I wasn't exactly happy with all the change, a little boredom set in. And I think basically, it all just got the best of me. And I sought the solace of trying to fulfill my addiction as opposed to keeping it under control - as though I could, and it's not something that can be controlled that easily.

COHEN: You decided a little over three years ago, just before Father's Day, that you were going to get help. What made you make that decision?

Mr. COHEN: It's interesting that you would note that it was just before Father's Day. I have no memory of that whatsoever. I had been joined at lunch by two old friends who I'd known for a long time, who didn't know each other, and both of whom were involved in their own long-term 12-step recovery. And following that lunch, both of them emailed me separately, saying basically the same thing. You are living a very dangerous life. You will die if you continue to do this. And by the way, you were really disgusting today. And I think the word disgusting really knocked me to my senses, the fact that it came from two separate people who wrote independent of one another. And that started the process of thinking by which I somehow figured that I probably should do something about this. I intervened on myself, in the sense, before things got completely out of control.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Was there anything that you learned about yourself in that process of recovery that surprised you?

Mr. COHEN: Oh, there are many things, and they're all sort of related. The first of which was that it's much easier to be completely, transparently honest than it was to live the life of addiction in which honesty isn't really very helpful. And that waking up in the morning relieved of all that baggage was actually a very comfortable feeling.

COHEN: You have been clean now for a couple of years. Do you ever worry that you might relapse?

Mr. COHEN: Well, I don't worry about it, but I think about it often. In other words, what I say is, I am in my fourth year of recovery. I am X number of days from the last time that I used. I'm also about 35 minutes away from the next time that I might use. And the option to do so is there all the time. Do I obsess about it? No, I no longer obsess about it. Do I think about it? Yes, as soon as I'm perturbed or uncomfortable or bored or whatever, the addict mind says, oh hello, I'm still here, what can we do to feel better quick? And I need to know what to do when that thought comes, and I do know what to do when that thought comes.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: We're talking about this now, and it's for National Public Radio. And so, that means that a lot of people might hear this. And I wonder how the experience for you of talking publicly about your addiction, how it feels?

Mr. COHEN: Well, it's really interesting doing it this way because I'm aware of the potential audience. But on the other hand, I don't have to face them or see them or hear from them, which is what's lovely about radio, I suppose. I certainly thought very carefully about whether or not I wanted to do it.

COHEN: What made you decide to do it, to say yes?

Mr. COHEN: You know, two things. One is because you asked, and I don't mean someone asked, but because you asked. And the other was because I was relatively certain that I would learn something from it. And I have to concentrate on what we're doing, so I'm only learning sort of peripherally now, but I know by the time we're finished and as I walk out of here, I will have learned something valuable.

COHEN: You said, you said yes because I asked. What is it about me as your daughter?

Mr. COHEN: Well, you said something when you first called that was very touching to me, because one of things you do when you become a recovering addict and start to turn all this stuff around, you have to deal with all the wreckage and the baggage of all those years you left behind. And as you recall and you and your brother and your mom, there was a lot of wreckage that I had to deal with. And I did that in accordance with everything I've learned within 12 step recovery. And I'm comfortable with that. But I wonder frequently, what does Alex think about how I'm doing? And so - and it's not a question I feel I'm authorized to ask. So, when you mentioned in the first inquiry that you wanted to do this and I think - what, you said something was - the feeling was that because you're very proud of what I've accomplished, that's an affirmation for me that I needed to hear,and I couldn't otherwise ask. And frankly, coming from you, it has great importance.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Thank you, Dad, for letting me talk to you and for being so honest. I appreciate it.

Mr. COHEN: I love you, and you're welcome.

COHEN: My father, Kip Cohen, lives here in Southern California where he spends much of his time sharing his story with other recovering addicts. If you'd like to hear other chats with NPR hosts or learn more about how you can do your own interview, go to our Web site; its npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: More to come on Day to Day.

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