The Clan of The Cave Bear

By Mary Killian 05/11/14

I am not even marginally qualified to give advice, but I can share my experience, strength and hope.


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I believe in my heart that I was destined to become a drug-addicted alcoholic. It isn't necessary that I recognize whether I was genetically predisposed or biologically vulnerable to this condition. I just wonder if my environment had anything to do with it. Probably.

On the day I was born, I was one of many infants in the nursery, I'm sure. If the doctor had suggested to my mother, "This one's gonna be a junkie. You still want her?" Big Mare would not have hesitated. "I don't care. Give me my baby." I would have said the same thing. Children are loved before they are known to anyone. My folks bought diapers and formula, and they took me home from the hospital. Aunts and uncles came over to admire me, and everyone went up to the roof to drink Rheingolds.

My sister Judy and I were raised on the jagged edges of my parents' rocky relationship. I wish I could say that I carefully watched the way my father behaved, but he wasn't around enough for me to do much evaluating. Gene Dall worked, and us girls were Big Mare's responsibility.

Every six to ten days, however, Dad got so blind drunk that he couldn't find his way home from wherever he was. The telephone rang, and Mom would try to establish his whereabouts based on his hazy descriptions of buildings and cross streets. She didn't drive, but she'd do her best to secure him a ride. Some nights, there were no phone calls at all. Eventually, he'd just bounce down the subway stairs and wobble toward the house.

Big Mare fed and showered my father and put him into bed. She stationed us kids at the bottom of the landing, in case he wandered toward the bathroom and fell down the stairs. If we heard the floorboards creak, we'd call to her and she'd fly up the steps. Judy and I took turns; she read books, and I drew pictures. We listened carefully for the snoring to start. Then, we could go back to watching TV. My mother spent the rest of the night calling back everyone she'd contacted earlier in the evening, wondering if they'd seen him. "The bastard's home," she'd say. "I'm disgusted."

During our household's hangover period which could last anywhere between 12 and 36 hours, Dad went back to work and returned home for meals and sleep, as usual. Mom berated him mercilessly, to which he responded with stony silence. For several days after that, she pretended to ignore him which is a ridiculous approach to use on someone who prefers to not communicate. Eventually she just gave up and things returned to the way they were.

It was clear that Big Mare was in charge. She was the one I watched and examined closely. I studied her reactions to the way my father carried himself. She was mad and frustrated and frightened and angry. I'm not sure if I mentioned how mad she was. She was very, very mad.

As a little girl, I sought my mother's approval constantly. I wished that I could make her happy. Nothing worked. She was so focused on my father, and he was her sorrow. She had decided that no matter what she did, he would never love her enough to change. This must have been a terrible disappointment. I'm certain that he had no idea what she was going through. She could not explain herself, and it wouldn't have mattered to him anyway.

For as long as I can recall, it seemed like a necessary component was missing in my life. I don't know what that something was, but it created a black and cavernous hole, deep within me. I filled the emptiness with drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, that was the only reliable idea I had, and it did make me feel better for a very long time.

When I reflect on portions of my life, it feels like I have been two people. Of course, I realize there is only one Mary. I am She, and we are the same Her. I enjoy thinking about my experiences, even the rough stuff. It is true that the darkest side of human behavior is dangerously illuminating territory. Therefore, I celebrate my memories. It's only because I am sober that I'm able to understand how purposeful each moment was in creating who I am. I'm okay with everything because I'm okay.

Big Mare used to ask me, "Why do you go to these meetings and shoot your mouth off? You tell everybody your goddamn business. They don't need to know who you were and what you did." She wanted to forget, and I understood why.

"Mom, I've gotta be honest," I'd say to her. "I can't pretend I'm not a junkie. I don't ever want to go back to the way it was."

"Listen, I understand the drink, but not the drugs," she'd boast. This blanket statement was meant to highlight her selective open-mindedness. We had plenty of heavy drinkers in our family, but none of them were alcoholics. They said so themselves, and they would know, right?

I appreciate that I remember so many things, ugly things that suggest a different kind of life than the one I have. I love to talk about all the stuff I'm figuring out as I continue to evolve. I think it's important to say what I feel. At times, the trick is trying to establish what it is that I'm actually feeling. I am not even marginally qualified to give advice, but I can share my experience, strength and hope. I enjoy listening when other folks explore their own emotional journeys. We have lots in common, and sharing is the key. It is possible to recover from childhood and choices and addiction and be returned gently to the world. It is not easy, but it can be done. Why wouldn't I want to talk about that?

"Someday, I'll write a book," I'd tell my mother. "And I'm gonna dedicate it to you."

"Do me a favor," she'd offer. "Wait until after I'm dead, so I don't die of embarrassment."

Mary is an alcoholic and an addict who regularly blogs at

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Mary Killian is a grateful alcoholic and addict in long-term recovery. Originally from the Bronx, New York, she devoted herself to drugs and alcohol for many years, getting clean in 2001 and staying that way. She is the author of, The Roustabout Heart - Adventures in Recovery. Mary currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina - in a blue house with turquoise shutters. She is friendly and enjoys a high quality rap session. In her free time, she likes to type, play the piano and eat cheese. Follow Mary on Twitter.