Living with addiction
I just finished Paula Becker’s powerful memoir— “A House on Stilts: Mothering in the age of opioid addiction.” It’s a gripping story of a mom living through her son’s drug addiction. She writes from her heart, with brutal honesty. It’s a beautifully written, but painful story of how hope and fear can turn our souls inside out. Paula is a local author and her husband, Barry Brown, MD, is one of our own, a long-time physician at The Everett Clinic. Chemical dependency is an equal opportunity condition—It doesn't care if your parents are shoemakers, mechanics, engineers, or doctors.
Over my 40 years as a clinical psychologist, I’ve seen a parade of parents with drug and alcohol addicted children. I’ve seen hundreds of teenagers and adults with what we now call Substance Abuse Disorders. So many of us have had our lives turned upside down from addiction. My own brother, Joey, at the age of 32, was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver, leaving my family with broken hearts.
Parents, like Paula and Barry, always look back and second guess every decision—looking for the thief that stole their beloved children from them. They ruminate over every parental decision— “If only I hadn’t moved when Charlie was in the second grade; if only I had moved when Sarah was in the second grade; If only I had a less demanding job; if only I had a better job”—it’s a long list of “should haves” that haunt moms and dads.
The causes of drug addiction are poorly understood and likely stem from many factors that are impossible to grasp for any given individual. It’s a sad truth.
Many teens experiment with drugs and go on to live normal, happy adult lives. But some of those teens go on to become addicts, like my best friend, David. We grew up together in New York City during the 60’s. He did recover, with the help of drug rehab, and went on to become a physician. But then my friend Brandon died of a heroin overdose when he was 16. Another close friend from my adolescence died, drunk at the wheel, in his early 30’s, leaving behind his wife and daughter. We, survivors of addiction, are family. We are all too familiar with the perilous landscape of substance abuse. How can we know who will go on to have happiness and who will perish?
Hope makes us do crazy things. Fear of being disappointed paralyzes us. Together these emotions are blindfolds that keep us from seeing our children clearly. Addiction turns us into strangers to ourselves. We become as lost as our addicted children.
I am a big believer in the healing power of Al-anon, a 12-step program for families with an alcoholic or drug addict. I believe that, alone in this journey, we will drown. We need others to help us stay afloat. We need a community to help us find our way. We need a higher power, whatever that may mean to each of us.