THE WOMAN WHO HELPED ME UNDERSTAND ADDICTION IS COMING TO MERRIMACK HALL

I haven’t written about addiction and recovery in a while but the subject is never far from my mind. When someone you love has the disease of addiction, you pay attention to the headlines. Over the years, I’ve read all the books. I’ve watched all the Ted Talks, been to all the seminars, attended all the support groups. Like anyone who has a loved one affected by addiction, I’ve tried it all…tried anything in a desperate attempt to gain a glimpse of understanding about this progressive and deadly disease.

In the bookshelves on my kindle and iBooks account, there are dozens of books by John Bradshaw, Johann Hari, David Sheff, Gabor Mate, Maia Szalavitz and so many others. “Beautiful Boy” by Sheff, and “Chasing the Scream” by Hari were pivotal to my comprehension of addiction. But no matter how much I read, I never believed the mantra I had been taught in those support groups: I didn’t cause this, I can’t control this and I can’t cure this. And I didn’t know what real recovery looked like until…

Sometime in March 2014, I stumbled across a blog post by a writer I didn’t know, entitled “We Don’t Start With Needles In Our Arms.” I read it twice. The next day, I pulled it up from my browsing history and read it a third time. The author’s name is Janelle Hanchett. I read her words over and over but wasn’t sure why. What was it about this version of “I was an addict and now I’ve recovered,” that was resonating so strongly with me?

Eventually, I made my way to her blog, Renegade Mothering, where I was surprised to find some of the most hilarious observations about motherhood, raising kids and being a woman that I’d ever read. Her keen social observations caused me to think about everything from keeping a tidy house or taking kids to eat in restaurants to our society’s rape culture. Janelle wrote about feminist topics that I hadn’t thought about since college, juxtaposed with side-splitting versions of Valentine’s Day Cards for married folks and tender stories about her adorable toddlers.

Maybe I was drawn in to Janelle’s writing because I had never heard a woman’s story of recovery. I must have heard the narrative, “I was a terrible alcoholic but once I saw that ultrasound, I never took another drink,” but I hadn’t thought about the mothers who suffer through recovery/relapse cycles. I must have had some arcane notion that mothers who are addicts must white-knuckle it until their kids are in college? I certainly had friends who drank too much and twice had to extricate myself and other friends from carpools where we suspected a mother might be drinking before she drove our kids but I had no frame of reference for a typical mother trying to fight for her life, and the life of her children, through the darkness of addiction.

I’d read Janelle’s posts like, “Hey, Hi. I Want Off Your Parenting Team” and then go back to “needles in our arms,” fascinated by Janelle’s recovery. I added “resilience” to the list of traits required to beat addiction because someone would have to be resilient to return from the depth of addiction into the wide open space of sobriety with the humor, joy and gratitude Janelle’s writing expressed.

After reading the post dozens of times, I started to feel something I hadn’t allowed myself to feel in a long time…I felt hopeful. Janelle gave me hope that recovery was possible, that some people actually do get better.

And then one night, as I despaired for the life of someone I love, I read “needles in our arms” again and for the first time, I found absolution.

It was this sentence that did it:

Most of us start out good and decent and wanting a real life with kids and a house and job, and we start out fooling around and maybe we’re a little overzealous but by the time we’re really, really in trouble, we’re dying, and we’re powerless, and the chances for recovery are really, really freaking slim.

And I finally understood what everyone had been telling me for so long. Addiction IS a disease. Those who have it ARE powerless over its relentless intention to destroy their lives. The Three C’s ARE true…no one chooses addiction, no one can control the progression of the disease and no one can cure it. The cure is found in working a program of spiritual recovery. Janelle’s blog post helped me think about addiction with compassion instead of anger, with understanding instead of judgement and with hope instead of despair.

I hope you’ll join us Thursday, October 25, 2018 at 6:30 at Merrimack Hall to meet Janelle, listen to her story and hear her read from her newly released memoir, “I’m Just Happy To Be Here: A Memoir of Renegade Mothering.” The book is an Amazon Top Seller and the reviews are fabulous. Here’s just one example:

“By turns painful and funny, [I’m Just Happy to Be Here] explores the pressures of modern motherhood while chronicling one woman’s journey toward acceptance of her own limitations and imperfections. A searingly candid memoir.” Kirkus Reviews

You can reserve your spot at her reading by visiting merrimackhall.com. If you choose, you can make a suggested $5.00 donation at the door. All proceeds will benefit Not One More Alabama, a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating the stereotypes associated with addiction and to offer support to those affected by addiction and their families.

At the event, you can purchase a book if you’d like (or bring your copy), have it signed and ask her anything. It’s my hope that we will fill the house. I hope that everyone will leave with a better understanding of addiction, more compassion for those who have the disease and their loved ones and an increased commitment to erase the stigma associated with addiction. And I hope that you will find the same comfort and understanding in Janelle’s words that I did.