A family discovers the power of honesty and openness as a tool to battle the shroud of secrecy surrounding alcoholism and addiction.
My husband and I were staying at a lovely B&B; in Maine, lingering over a bountiful breakfast and talking with our hosts, as we enjoy doing at B&Bs.;
Where Will The Conversation Lead
One never knows where the conversation will lead, and to our surprise that winter morning, it led to our hosts telling us about their daughter, and their anguish over her drug addiction. They told of repeated attempts at rehab, the failures of either the program or of their daughter to engage and stay with it.
They described heartbreaking setbacks, and their efforts to find new answers and help her try again. Surprise is perhaps too mild a term. We were shocked that total strangers would empty the skeletons out of their family closet. We’re New Englanders, and firm believers in the maxim that what happens at home stays at home. That was before we faced the same crisis ourselves. During the first heart-wrenching weeks and the long months of keeping our fingers crossed that followed, I thought many times of that snowy morning’s breakfast conversation. And each time, I silently thanked those innkeepers.
I called to tell them so, and to tell them how my husband and I intended to continue thanking them. We determined to be as open as they were. We said thank you by “passing it along” to others. We did not hide our daughter’s addiction or her progress in rehab. Whenever the subject of drugs came up, we mentioned our own and our daughter’s experiences. In short, we discussed addiction as we would have discussed any other illness that a family member would be treated for. And do you know what the unexpected result of the innkeepers’ good example was?
We Are Not Alone
We learned that we were not alone. Once we were open, so were others, and we discovered that most of our friends and associates had experienced drug or alcohol addiction in their own families, but had never mentioned it. They had feared being shunned or considered failures as parents. They were ashamed and hid this perceived disgrace. Why? Because no one talked about it, so decades of ignorance continued unchanged. And families continued to agonize in silence never dreaming that their neighbors shared the same struggles.
We learned that even though a family finally confronts the problem, they still can’t get the elephant out of their living room when company comes. And the astonishing discovery that so many of our friends had been silently enduring this distress we shared renewed our determination to be open about our own experiences.
A few decades ago, people didn’t talk about breast or prostate cancer, either. It took public figures being honest about these diseases to focus public attention and demand research for treatments. Each of us whose life has been touched by addiction can take part in the revolution to make addiction a public health priority, to force insurance companies and employers to treat it as they would any disease, and to stamp out the public mistrust of those who suffer from it. We can all become innkeepers, and in the process learn that it makes our own way easier, too.