The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 7

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The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 7

By Anne Giles 05/05/17

A daughter who developed alcoholism late in life longs for her mother.

Image: 
Anne Giles' mother

When Mrs. "Rapid Ruby" Pace started drawing pre-calculus graphs on the overhead projector with one hand, and wiping them away with her moistened paper towel in the other, I knew I was in trouble. I turned to my mother.

"Give me the book," she said. A Latin and music major, she thumbed through the first few chapters in the textbook, then quickly and efficiently taught me how to work and solve pre-calculus problems.

When I realized I had developed alcoholism at the end of 2012, my mother had been dead just over a year. I longed to turn to her for help with working and solving the problem of addiction.

I can find few to talk with about addiction who do not interrupt me, attempt to refute me with beliefs rather than data, cite their own personal experience as argument-clinching data, overgeneralize or confuse correlation with causation, i.e. "I'm doing this and feel better so if you do it, you will, too," or scold me for selfishness, disloyalty, or insufficient beliefs in higher powers and traditions.

This year, in 2017, Spagnolo and Goldman boldly state realities: "Addictive disorders are a major public health concern, associated with high relapse rates, significant disability and substantial mortality. Unfortunately, current interventions are only modestly effective."

I feel apoplectic when I read that sentence. "Unfortunately?!" "Modestly effective?!" With more than 2,000 years to derive effective treatments for a condition that results in such personal and social suffering, that's all we've got?!

While my mother's contempt for me extended to her perception of my limits, her contempt for illogic was infinite. When I could not make sense of things, I could always turn to my mother. After the prerequisite heart-scorching, she would deliver an incisive analysis, probabilities weighed - including human factors such as the motivations of others - with misinformation identified. In computer programming terms, she delivered elegant code.

In the years after helping me with high school pre-calculus, my mother earned a master's degree in counseling, a doctoral degree in statistics, taught herself multiple computer programming languages, and conducted original research on enrollment at Virginia Tech.

Today, in 2017, if my mother had said, "Give me the book," I would have given her two books, the Surgeon General's 400+page report, Facing Addiction in America, an attempt to explain the calculus of addiction, and Maia Szalavitz's extensive, comprehensive report on the science of addiction, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. But, back in 2012, we'd have had to wait four more years for either volume. So I would have given her the only book I knew of about alcoholism at the time, Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939 when she was six years old. I had been told by other people with alcoholism that the "Big Book" would be helpful and I had begun to read it.

I can imagine my mother flipping through the pages of Alcoholics Anonymous, then looking up at me with her pale green eyes. I can feel her mocking disdain enter my chest, spread cold dread through my limbs, and burn my cheeks with shame. If I had presented my mother with the central thesis of the Big Book, i.e., that I could not stop drinking because I had a spiritual disease for which I needed a spiritual solution, her scornful laughter would have filled the room like a siren.

Spagnolo and Goldman report, "Preclinical studies as well as human neuroimaging studies have provided strong evidence that the observable behaviors that characterize the addiction phenotype, such as compulsive drug consumption, impaired self-control, and behavioral inflexibility, reflect underlying dysregulation and malfunction in specific neural circuits."

My father's step-mother, my step-grandmother, told me that, decades earlier, she had been by the bedside of my mother's mother while she was dying. "Please take care of my daughter," my mother's mother had said to my step-grandmother. "She's had difficulties. She's always needed special, tender love." Every Sunday, my step-grandmother called my mother to talk with her until she herself died.

I talked with my mother on the phone nearly every afternoon myself. I had to have my grammar corrected or my soft-heartedness impugned first, but then the encyclopedic knowledge, original, insightful commentary and the dialectical wit would commence. I wasn't the only one who found her fascinating, compelling, engaging. Hundreds in our small town attended her funeral.

My mother hand-sewed and hand-smocked our Easter dresses. She not only taught me pre-calculus as a teenager, but statistics - on the phone without looking at a text - when I was struggling as an adult in my master's classes. Whether in 2012 or 2017, if I had told my mother that I couldn't stop drinking and I was afraid I had alcoholism, why, my mother would have done what mothers do for their ill children. She would have taken me by the hand to a doctor.

When I was a teacher at a private school, mothers of students with challenges would ask to meet with me privately. They would present me with binders, filled with pages sleeved in page protectors, of printed research reports on their child's particular condition, with corresponding reports on educational methodology that enhanced learning. I remember feeling professionally insulted and outraged, certain my training and experience trumped any esoteric research. The mothers wouldn't budge.

My mother wouldn't budge either. But she wouldn't take a binder. Citing the latest research from 2017, I can imagine her leading with the Spagnolo and Goldman article, qualifying her reference by noting imprecision in the term "neural circuits" and in the nascent neuroimaging field, detailing the latest on medications to treat alcohol use disorder, scoffing at the mention of 12-step rehab and querying about enrolling me inresearch studies on the neuroscience of addiction at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Pity the fool who might attempt to tsk-tsk my mother's daughter for having a spiritual, moral, or behavioral malady. My mother had raised me impeccably. There's no way I could have gone bad like a rotten peach. I can imagine her listing every known predisposition to addiction, coolly noting that, for me, she herself was one. With her adamantine mind, she would have excoriated every unsubstantiated claim.

"Up with this I will not put," my mother would say.

Given my modest ambitions (I just wanted to be a wife and mother, a teacher on the side, not a professor, startup founder, or any of the other pursuits I tried gamely - and failed at - since I ended up woefully childless), I think I might have been better off with an ordinary rather than extraordinary mother. I would have passionately treasured, as a friend, the complex woman who gave birth to me.

And to whom would I have thought to turn first in my time of need for help with the pernicious condition of addiction, overladen with unconscionable layers of ignorance and stigma? To whom could I turn to champion truth and logic over shame and belief? That data-driven, problem-solving, solution-finding, brilliant, relentless, iconoclastic friend. My mother.

Check out previous installments of The Last Addictions Memoir below:

Part 1 here  Part 2 here  Part 3 here Part 4 here  Part 5 here Part 6 here 

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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