I have a friend ,Amanda, who is currently in jail for three DUIs, all received in the last few months. In one incident, the police described her trying to run down a cop with her car. She has no recall of this. Thank God no one was hurt. She is only 24 years old, a 6-foot blonde, gorgeous and smart with a college degree from an excellent university. Sadly, alcoholism and/or drug addiction doesn’t care about your intellectual abilities, your IQ, your socioeconomic status, or even if you are physically beautiful.
At the last court hearing, Amanda had a choice: She could stay in jail or go to court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment. She chose to stay in jail. Everybody in her family was shocked. As a clinician, I understand the depth and power of addiction, while most of Amanda’s relatives were still in that mad/denial stage.
Interestingly, these are some of the things that I have heard expressed about her situation:
- “She just doesn’t care who she hurts.”
- “She needs to learn responsibility!”
- “What?! How could she?.”
The truth could be in these statements. However, it isn’t the full picture of what is going on.
Alcoholism is a family disease. (I use addiction and alcoholism interchangeably because in addiction-speak, they are the same. It doesn’t matter if you abuse alcohol or drugs, it has the same impact on yourself and others. One’s drug of choice is irrelevant.)
The family disease of alcoholism means that if someone has it, it will affect and infect family.
When Amanda was a little girl, her parents dropped her off at my house one Christmas Eve. She and her brother were just kids. She was about 10 and he was 8. Amanda’s parents said they would be right back to eat dinner and celebrate with all of us, but first they “had a few errands to run.” The rest of the family and I kept dinner warm, waiting for them to return. I was too young and inexperienced with the addiction disease to realize that when addicts make a commitment to you, it is like trying to catch running water with your hands—everything “falls through.”
As the hours floated by, things became more tense, people got angry. I got freakin’ pissed that my lasagna was getting crispy! Her parents still didn’t come. They called several times saying, “We will be there in an hour,” while you could hear loud, laughing, bar-noise in the telephone. They were busy drinking in a bar versus spending the holiday evening with their children and loved ones. When I realized they were out drinking and were never going to show, I asked everybody to eat. Interestingly, the denial of certain of her friends and family members regarding alcoholism was so strong that people kept saying, “What are they doing? What is going on?” They said this despite their having been down this road with them 1,000 times!
Little Amanda turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Why does my mommy and daddy do this to me?” I didn’t have the words at the time to explain to her 10-year-old brain why her parents put her through this disappointment. Who knows what other stuff Amanda had had to deal with regarding her parents on a day in and day out basis if that’s what they did while people were looking…
If Amanda were an adult, I could have told her that alcoholism isn’t something we choose, that addiction takes over people’s bodies and judgment.
Addiction makes you do things to people that you would never do to them in your right mind. Amanda’s parents’ love and concern for her and her brother had no place value with the disease of alcoholism or addiction in charge.
If Amanda were a teen, maybe I could have told her it was like in the zombie movies that teenagers are so intrigued by, where once you get a dose of whatever it is, the “virus” just takes over and makes you go and do awful things.
But because Amanda was only 10, I told her that her parents loved her very much, and that they were ill. Because of their illness, they did things that were hurtful and didn’t make sense. Them not showing up had nothing to do with her. I also told her I was sorry but that we should go play outside in the dark because it looked like it might snow any minute. We did, and it snowed. We played in the street. She and her brother kept reaching up with their mouths to try to catch the snowflakes.
Fast forward from this Christmas night. Amanda’s mother died from alcoholism when Amanda was in her late teens. Amanda’s mother and father never got drug/alcohol treatment. Her father refused to even see her in jail, he was so pissed. Both Amanda’s parents refused drug & alcohol treatment for the reason all addicts and alcoholics do. To go to treatment means you may have to stop.
Addiction makes people destroy themselves, break children’s hearts, betray loved ones’ trust, and it causes destruction and toxicity in everyone connected to the addict. I am not saying that Amanda shouldn’t be in jail. She absolutely needs to be there or in treatment before she kills someone else. I am sad though at the blame and anger that gets directed at her and not the disease, even though her addiction is a cycle that has just been passed along from one generation to the next.
Have you dealt with addiction in your life? You or someone you love: What got you through? Or, can you relate to Amanda’s mother and father in some way? If so, please share.