The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 5

The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 5

By Anne Giles 04/21/17

When I became abstinent from alcohol, my father, an occasional drinker, stopped with me. This is for him. A kind man who never gave up on me.  

Image: 
Anne's father

A personal recovery story in the context of the latest data on what addiction is and what effectively treats it.

Check out previous installments in The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully) below:

Part 1 here  Part 2 here  Part 3 here Part 4 here 

"May I buy you dinner?" my father asked the man slumped against the side of our hotel. My mother, sister and I had accompanied my father to a conference in Washington, D.C, spending our days at the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art. It was 1969. My father wore a suit and tie, my mother wore a suit, hat and gloves, and my sister and I wore dresses, coats, anklets and sturdy school shoes. Even the seated man wore a suit coat.

"Will you buy me a drink?" the man asked.

"Yes," my father answered. The man stood and my father supported him by the elbow towards the hotel restaurant's entrance. My mother leaned down to me and my sister, face carefully arranged as only Virginia ladies can mask rage, and hissed to us, "He's a drunk!"

The maître d' grasped the "drunk" by the shoulders and began to force him back from the entrance. My father said, "He's with me." Incredulous, the maître d' let the man go.

My father sat by the man at our restaurant table, made suggestions from the menu, and ordered the man's selection, a fried shrimp dinner. When the man poured cocktail sauce into his empty water cup and dipped his shrimp into it, my sister and I giggled a bit, dangerously rude in my mother's presence. She probably let our misbehavior speak for her outrage, not at the man's presence but at not being consulted about it. My father and the man conversed intently beneath the disdain of the waiters and the glowering maître d' nearby, arms crossed over his chest.

My father was an Eagle Scout, then President of the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech. He later returned to the university as a professor, and was awarded the status of Professor Emeritus after he retired. Ut Prosim is the motto of Virginia Tech. That I may serve. 

More than 40 years after that dinner, I, the professor's daughter, became a "drunk." 

The research on resilience after trauma reports "a supportive, available family member" may be all it takes - a "protective factor" - for someone who experiences trauma to not devolve into disability, to perhaps stagger, but still stand. 

I am still standing. For me, that "supportive, available family member," that "protective factor," has been my father. A fisheries and wildlife professor, he would exclaim, "You birds!" when he came upon me and my sister sitting on the floor, playing with our Barbies. Every morning, he made us eggs and bacon, or would boil water and sugar on the back burner, add mapleine, and pour homemade hot syrup onto his homemade sourdough pancakes, batter bubbling overnight from 1952 Alaskan starter. 

Wondrous glass vials filled the pencil tray in my father's desk drawer: one held striated, pale gold discs, another tiny, impossibly perfectly formed mud balls. I learned later the discs were dried deer eye lenses, and the mud balls were animal scat. He took us to the circus and to see Old Yeller. He wrapped us in blankets and sat us on the front porch with him to watch rainstorms. He held my mother while she cried piteously when her mother died, then her father. A poor kid from a broken home, his face contorted with emotion when my teenaged sister and I gave him a Levi's jean jacket for Christmas. Supportive. Available. 

When I failed to thrive in 12-step recovery, I studied the science of addiction. I realized my case of alcoholism could have been predicted and ameliorated, perhaps prevented. Given the stigma of addiction keeps people silent and voiceless, I knew I needed to write my story in the context of addictions research in hopes of protecting others from the suffering I endured, metaphorically slumped against the wall from lack of evidence-based treatment.

Sometimes a rope is tied around a sapling and the tree grows in and around the rope until the tree and the rope are inextricable bound. It's just the way it is, so no one talks about it. 

I wrote my father and sister an email. I said I needed to write about things we didn't talk about. My retired professor father, nearing 84, replied, "Sound basis...go where you must." 

Everything I write about my family, I have shared first with my father and sister. I have their permission to share my words publicly. 

Here is where I must go. 

I have an email from my father, written to me when I was nearing 40, that I printed out and still have. He wrote the unspeakable: "Mom was mean. I couldn't stop her." 

I just want to wail when I write that. My poor mother. She told me when I was about 45 what happened to her when she was 9. She's gone now and it would have been her story to tell. But no selfhood survives that. If I could go back in time, I would comfort and soothe my mother. In 1942, as females, there would be little we could do. But I would have protected her from future harm the best I could, and helped keep her fragile little mind and heart intact. If it happened today, I would hire a premier law firm to prosecute, as they say, to the full extent of the law. I would try not to hire an assassin. 

And my poor father. He married a brilliant, dramatic, enchanting, vulnerable woman, and ended up with a wife who would both complete and break his heart.

And the poor infants - my sister and I - who looked into their mother's eyes and saw, not love, but need. 

Having a difficult caregiver doesn't cause addiction. But it can make one vulnerable to experiencing traumatic events acutely enough to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, which can lead to addiction. 

I experienced a series of traumatic events in rapid succession from 2006-2007, too much, too fast for me to integrate. Based on the research on the relationship between community violence, trauma and addiction, by my calculations I am 1 of 300 who likely developed addiction in Blacksburg, Virginia after the Virginia Tech shootings. 

The dialectical traits of my parents - my mother's writhing, hungry brilliance, and my father's stalwart, stubborn kindness - have been ones I have needed to recover from addiction to alcohol. I have needed every ability my mind possesses to paw through vials of data, and every drop of sweet syrup my heart can hold to care for myself through this. 

When I developed alcoholism and then became abstinent from alcohol at nearly 50, my father, nearly 80, a drinker of an occasional glass of wine or bourbon at home before dinner, stopped drinking alcohol all together. As my "protective factor," he was never my drinking buddy. 

As he did the "drunk" in DC, my father treats me to dinner at restaurants, closing and putting aside the wine menu as soon as we're seated. We speak matter-of-factly about disclosing family secrets. As excruciating as it is now, no one's going to care and it's not going to matter when he, nearly 84, and I, 58, are gone. And even if only one single person reads my story and thinks, "I might have a problem. And it looks like there are ways to solve it," well, then. Ut Prosim.

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. She writes about addictions treatment, recovery and policy at annegiles.com. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder.

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Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder. You can find Anne on Linkedin and Twitter.

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