Families used to hide their mentally ill relatives in attics or cellars. And in unregulated and often abysmal asylums. Admitting this all too common remedy for misunderstood conditions can be prelude to how we deal with drug addiction today.
Learning where diseases like diabetes, leukemia and other cancers, AIDS, heart conditions, hepatitis, pneumonia, and, yes, mental illnesses live in our bodies has lessened the life threatening potential for these conditions to kill those whom we love and to reduce the exorbitantly high costs to society in general. This historical lesson can be prelude to understanding and treating drug and alcohol addictions.
The pancreas, the blood, the heart, the liver, the lungs, the body chemistry, and, yes, the brain: diseases live in these organs.
And now science knows where addictions live: the brain. This scientific knowledge should silence the debate over whether addiction is a disease. But it hasn’t.
This week I began following the terrible ordeal of Katie Granju on her blog, mamapundit, which I discovered on The New York Times blog, Motherlode, by Lisa Belkin. Granju’s son H was in critical condition, likely from a drug overdose and brutal beating in what was probably a drug deal gone bad, which she had written about in her April 28 post.
My most recent ordeal with my daughter’s drug overdose began on April 18, which I learned about as I was co-hosting a bridal tea.
Granju made the really hard decision to “go public” with this awful “family secret” on May 1 in a babble.com blog post, this way: “But I am saying it now, out loud, in public, for the first time: I am the mother of a drug addict. In today’s post (May 6), she listed three of the major criticisms of her writing about this very real problem:
1. She has no right to write about her son’s addictions.
2. Experimentation does not lead to addiction.
3. Drug addiction is not a disease.
Going public with any personal or family “secret” is terrifying in itself. I began slowly with going public, maybe some eight years ago, with my writing group. They were sympathetic and encouraging, to say the least. I owe them a debt of gratitude.
Then I took it a step further in my group at a creative non-fiction writing workshop in Baltimore, led by the wonderful and best selling writer, Marita Golden, by submitting a piece about my experience with “bounty hunters” beating on my door one night. I owe her a debt of gratitude for her encouragement.
Continuing problems with my drug addicted daughter stopped me in my tracks several times. I would try to start over. Then after we got custody of her daughter, our granddaughter, I knew I did not want to take all this to my grave, and I started this blog. I’ve had more than one moment of thinking I would shut it down, but here I am, public and writing real.
Morality of Real
I addressed the question of the morality of writing about someone else’s addiction in the Sept. 9, 2009, post “Memoir Morality,” prompted by the publication of Julie Myerson’s book The Lost Child. In that post (archived in the category Drug Addiction), I said:
Truth does not betray, in this case the drug addict. Truth may be harsh, it may be unpleasant, it may be ugly, it may intrude, but truth doesn’t betray. We betray ourselves when we can’t accept the truth and its reality. That is called denial.
I haven’t changed or modified my stance at all.
Well, experimenting with dangerous chemicals can often lead to fires, explosions, catastrophes. Experimenting with sex often leads to babies. Experimenting with alcohol can often lead to alcohol-related accidents.
Experimenting with anything always carries big risks. And taking risks often leads to huge mistakes with extremely high costs.
Coming Out Real
Secrets eat up people from the inside out, showing up in your face, your eyes, your stance. Then depression sets in. Then, and then, and then. Stuffing secrets just doesn’t work.
Clinging to ignorance in the face of scientific evidence and knowledge is folly. It’s gambling with the lives of hapless drug addicts.
I applaud Katie Granju. I think her ordeal and writing real will help keep me on track. And who knows, our experiences and coming forth with them could help the family members of even the harshest critics.
And my heart is with her and with H.