It was only very recently that I did the math.
The sum of the equation was stunning: 100 years of substance use disorder impacting my family.
One hundred freaking years.
I would bet the ranch it stretches back even farther on the family tree.
But honestly, 100 years is more than enough to wrap my mind around.
Help has been available for the last two generations of my family. But the first two generations were left to bear the burden of a disease riddled with pain, loss and societal stigmas completely on their own.
I never knew my mother’s father. I have only seen one picture of him. I have been told he was a funny man, who worked as a gardener. He married my grandmother during the the Great Depression and a few years later, my mom, who had his red hair, was born.
He was an alcoholic and this illness ground his life to dust.
When my mother was two- years old, her father stole money from her little piggy bank for drink. That desperate act was the breaking point for my grandmother who threw him out and went it alone supporting my mother as a single working parent in the 1930s barely scraping by.
It took great courage and great strength for my grandmother to separate from the husband she loved. The chaos, broken trust and lack of any support system to help her deal with her husband’s disease left her no choice.
Both she and my mother had to live with the scars inflicted by this family systems disease during an era when alcoholics were considered degenerates and divorce scandalous.
At that time there was not even any Alcoholics Anonymous fellowships readily available as it was in its fledgling stages hundreds of miles away in Akron, Ohio.
Years later my grandfather was found lying dead in a street. It is difficult to imagine the pain and fear he felt as alcoholism destroyed his life.
In July 1990 I became the beneficiary of the support that my grandfather did not have when I walked into my first AA meeting. I had hoped my decision to seek help would break the generational chains of this disease for my own children. But those generational chains proved stronger than that desire and when my son began his battle with addiction it damn near broke my spirit.
The big difference in our lives was that the help that did not exist for my grandfather, grandmother and mother when they needed it most was available to my son and I.
And with God’s help, a day at a time, our family now lives the gift of generational recovery.
I am grateful that we live at a more enlightened time and have the benefit of fellowships of support, medical expertise, reputable treatment centers and a greater understanding of the disease of addiction.
It is a great consolation to me that my son is a co-founder of Northeast Addictions Treatment Center that provides the help that his own great- grandfather never had the chance to receive.
And, in as much as I was very private for a long time about how substance use disorder impacted my family for four generations, it has been a kind of strange grace to write a book with my son, Unchained: Our Family’s Addiction Mess Is Our Message, in the hopes that our story can help other families in the throes of an addiction crisis.
Many, many of us are linked to a generational chain of addiction.
Perhaps the greatest giveback to past generations that never had the chance to get help is for each of us to remain committed to live a recovered life of dignity and integrity. We all need to be in recovery for the family system to recover.
In that way we can honor the memory of those whose struggle was without any aid, and, in the real time of the present, be of service to those seeking help to overcome their own addiction affliction.
For information and guidance for help and resources for you or your loved one please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nancy is co-author of Unchained: Our Family’s Addiction Mess Is Our Message. Available on Amazon.com