From the February 2014 magazine.

February 2014: 2 Shadows, 1 House

AA provides shelter from a double dose of childhood pain

My early memories come from my baby book. In it were many pictures of us: me, my dad—and a longneck. I presume my mother took the pictures. My father was an alcoholic. It took me a long time to fully understand the implications of his disease. There was a lot of chaos and erratic behavior at home. I was in the second grade when our living circumstances disintegrated: a house lost, a dad gone, a mother in tears, and the word divorce being used. And I now know my mother was experiencing the initial outward effects of Huntington’s disease, a condition that would kill her 15 years later in a state hospital in Toledo after years of mental and physical deterioration.

In retrospect, I was deeply affected by two diseases: alcoholism and Huntington’s. The alcoholism became mine, and while the Huntington’s was not mine in the genes, its effect was profound. It killed my mother, my sisters, my adopted son (my nephew), and has my grandson at risk. The long-term nature of both diseases shaped me in ways that I’m still discovering. It seems that I’m only now beginning to experience the helplessness and pain I felt watching my mother deteriorate. At first, she could not hold a job or a marriage; then she lost control of her children, her mind and her body. I insulated myself from her. I visited her from my teenage years to her death—guilt was the easy emotion. I hid the pain I felt. Since my active recovery from alcoholism began, I have allowed the pain I experienced watching my mother struggle to her death to seep into my consciousness. Ever so gently, ever so gradually, I’ve learned to embrace her now in a way I could not embrace her while she was alive. I regret that I did not do better, but I have to forgive myself and go forward.

-- Mike B.

Munith, Michigan

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