“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Madness Ascending


The impossible of yesterday becomes the achieved of today, because someone has dared.

 u Inscription under Katherine Davis’s picture in the 1923 University of Alabama yearbook.

Katherine Davis, c. 1923

Katherine Davis, c. 1923

In the last post to Spittin’ Grits, I said that Katie Granju’s June 22 piece “Parenting, Denial, and Acceptance” on babble.com touched a nerve. I spent many years mired in guilt and recriminations as a result of believing I must have done, or failed to do, something that drove my daughter to drugs and alcohol addiction and the hideous lifestyle that comes with it. It took a lot of work, professional help, and research to understand how this is at the least highly unlikely.

Granju’s fears include thinking her family and her children were special and protected from those kinds of things happening to them, which somehow disallowed her stepping in to save her son Henry.

Maybe thinking that you and your family are special is just perception, maybe not. Either way, it’s probably healthier than thinking you and they are nothing special.

I always thought mine was special.

Thomas A_edited-1

Take my great-grandfather Thomas A. Davis for example: He owned a business in Montgomery, a concrete company, I think. He was a poet and an astronomer, as was his father, John S. Davis. Problem was, his love for the subjects was unrequited. No one much liked his stuff; he was so heady and intellectual that his business suffered. Oh, well. He was eccentric, if not special.

Johnetta Davis-1908_edited-1 He and Johnetta had four children – one son and three daughters, Aileen (my grandmother), Laura, and Katherine. Marshall raised his family in Louisiana, and I don’t know too much about them. Laura committed suicide very young, and my grandmother suffered greatly from her loss.

The Davis women, 1908, left to right: Laura, Aileen, Johnetta (mother), Mary Marshall (grandmother); front: Katherine The Davis women 1908: (l-r) Laura, Aileen (my grandmother), Johnetta (mother), Mary Marshall Davis (grandmother), and (front) Katherine.

Then there was Katherine, an amazing woman, someone special en route to great things. She was the first from the Davis family to attend college, graduating from The University of Alabama in 1923 – Phi Beta Kappa, Women’s Student Body President, Senior Poet, top beauty, member of many honoraries; at commencement she was presented the Hypatia Loving Cup, UA’s highest honor.

Special, Interrupted

Sometime around 1925, schizophrenia claimed this woman. She spent nearly 30 years in Bryce Hospital for the Mentally Insane, until thorazine was invented, which allowed her to move to my grandmother’s home until her death in the 1970s. Maybe it looks like my grandmother was nothing special, but she loved her sister enough to care for her in her house until her sister died.

Nothing in Katherine’s upbringing, her accomplishments, her potential could stop her head on collision with insanity. Even recognizing symptoms could not have stopped it. She and my grandmother managed her illness with the medication.

Nothing can stop the onset of juvenile diabetes, if you have it; nothing can stop heart disease, if you have it; nothing can stop asthma, if you have it. Without personal management of the diseases, they will take you down. Every disease, whatever it may be, from juvenile diabetes to Parkinsons, begins with a disruption of normal cell activity. Other factors, like genetics and environmental issues, can play a role in severity.

Drug addiction is no different. We know that now. Diseases are disorders of the body, NOT disorders of the Will or morality. The brain is the body.

Addiction’s Home

Alcohol and drug addiction lives in the brain and is chronic. Brain imaging has located it and mapped it. Take your first and second fingers of one hand and make a V in the middle of the forehead; place the index finger of the other hand above the right or left ear. You are locating the mesolimbic dopamine system, the Pleasure Pathway of the brain. The area not working up to speed will drive the person to use drugs and alcohol to compensate, to feel better. And if left untreated, it will kill that person and other innocent bystanders.

A June 23 piece in Wired.com magazine explains how the Pleasure Pathway works in alcoholism and how alcoholism in turn damages the brain. Drug and alcohol addiction is caused by brain malfunction and then turns around and MAKES the brain malfunction, creating a vicious cycle that must be stopped by successful treatment or the addict will die from his/her addictions. As the Wired piece notes, neuroscience has documented that successful treatment can re-train the prefrontal cortex to begin healing and re-functioning.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to understand the hallucinations that Katherine Davis, my great aunt, must have had; equally hard is feeling an addict’s sensations. Here’s how my psychiatrist described it:

If you have ever had a toothache that involved a nerve, you know what real pain sensations feel like. It affects your ear, your whole face, everything. I even tried to hit my head on a wall once to stop that pain. Someone suffering from a chronic and serious back disorder and pain chase relief.

Stopping at Nothing Special

An addict’s sensations are just as intense and as demanding. He/she will run to incredible extremes and suffer irrational consequences to stop the sensations.

When I looked at what must have been my daughter’s symptoms, I did not recognize what I saw. Yet I spent years feeling insufferable guilt. Like Katie Granju has expressed it, like what Tom and Johnetta Davis must have felt, like parents of so many addicts or a mentally disabled child have felt. The guilt, recriminations, regrets can eat you up and leave you wasted.

Those who suffer from chronic diseases have to learn to manage them. Katie Granju’s Granju’s son Henry did not live long enough to learn this the hard way; my daughter has had every opportunity imaginable to know and act on this requirement, and she has not accepted it. Nothing I can do or not do affects this reality. And it’s as real as it gets.

What we can do is change our ways of thinking about addiction and our judgments of addicts and their upbringing. We can see addiction as another public health problem that affects millions more than just the addict.

Syllogistic Power

Remember “syllogism” from school? “All men are mortal; Socrates was a man. Therefore, Socrates was mortal,” which was proved beyond a doubt, because he died.

Here’s a syllogism that may help change thinking: All diseases are disorders of the physical body; addiction is a disorder of the physical body. Therefore, addiction is a disease.

The more we know, the quicker we can recognize symptoms and try to intervene. But recognizing symptoms in time to intervene is NO guarantee that the addict will agree to manage the disease rationally and responsibly.

Learning about the sources of addiction and mental illness will show that we often hold parents too responsible for children’s outcomes. Just think: If we had the power to cause addiction or mental illness, then we would also have the power to undo it. We don’t have either power.


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