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A Family Addiction: How a Congresswoman Helped Her Son Beat Substance Abuse

family addiction

A Family Addiction: How a Congresswoman Helped Her Son Beat Substance Abuse

Every family addiction hurts. But some family addictions can also actually help. Take the case of the congresswoman and her son, who was battling addiction to both opioids and alcohol.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean and her son Harry Cunnane had no choice but to confront the addiction in their family. After all, it was too apparent to do otherwise. Oh, there were denials and avoidances, just like all family addictions. There was also deep hurt and a sorrowing loss of trust. But when the family finally faced the addiction, they were able to triumph in ways no one ever even thought possible.

Okay, so maybe they did think of the best of all possibilities. How else to vanquish the opponent? But the recovery was still full of surprises, including a bounty of ever tighter family ties.

You can read all about it in “Mad and Harry’s” joint memoir, Under Our Roof: A Son’s Battle for Recovery, a Mother’s Battle for Her Son (Convergent Books), as well as their companion children’s book, You Are Always Loved: A Story of Hope (Random House Books for Young Readers). You can also hear all about it everywhere there is a good podcast and/or quality journalism. Yes, as you might suspect, Mother and Son have taken their story to the proverbial streets. And their share has the potential to inspire legions.

Heart of the Matter

Congresswoman Dean and Harry Cunnane sat down with Elizabeth Vargas on Heart of the Matter, her Partnership to End Addiction podcast. It’s not our first time writing about the extraordinary journalist, or her extraordinary podcast (we’ve covered it both via-a-vis The Lumineers’ Start with Connection Campaign and 3rd Rock’s Kristen Johnston). But it is the first time we’ve edged closer to the news side of the equation in our coverage. Thankfully, both journalist and politician kept things all in the family.

And of course within the family addiction. Millions of people have said addiction is a family disease, and millions of times those people have been right. The problem is addiction is the family disease few families want to acknowledge and even fewer know quite how to fight. Consequently, the years lapse and the addiction deepens and the family becomes irrevocably torn.

Congresswoman Dean’s family was no different. Sure, she’s scaled some of the highest heights in politics, but she’s also still a Mom with a Son who needs help. And who needs her. Yet, when Mom came running it turned out she really didn’t know what to do. In fact at one point Mom tells Vargas “she thought she understood addiction, [yet] didn’t find out until her son really struggled that she truly ‘had no idea about this disease.'”

Apparently even the U.S. Congress can’t fully prepare a person to fight family addiction.

That’s far from the only reveal in the “Heart of the Matter” appearance. But if you want to hear or read more, you’ll have to head on over to the Partnership.

There is No Good Time

In the Mother/Son Roll Call interview (with Jim Saksa), son Harry says there is no “good time” to get clean, let alone to ask for help. Instead, he counsels, reach out asap, if not even sooner.

If I could tell myself something earlier, it would be: Do it now. Ask for help now, as soon as you possibly can. A lot of people talk about the concept of rock bottom. Does somebody need to hit rock bottom? I don’t necessarily like that idea. The longer you go, the bottom just keeps getting lower. Sadly, a lot of people die.

Indeed. People do often wait way too long. And they too often do die because “there’s no good time.” Harry’s Mom also recognizes the inherent tragedy of timing (or the lack thereof). And she too is adamant about stepping up on the near side of soonest.

The car ride to treatment, that was a very quiet car ride, with [my husband] PJ driving in the front seat, and Harry in the back. We broke the silence to ask, “Did you ever think of asking us for help?” And he said, “It just never felt like a good time,” whether it was a holiday, or PJ traveling, or me running for something, or somebody sick in the family. And I thought his expression was exactly right. There is no good time. So ask for help as soon as you recognize you need it — or maybe even a little before.

Like the Vargas interview, the Saksa exchange is full of real reveal. That’s why we’re recommending you head on over to Roll Call in order to glean the entire story.

Are You Ready?

Are you battling a family addiction? Is there a family addiction that needs to be battled? Have you asked for help? Have they? Help is out there, you know. In ever greater numbers. And it can work wonders on any size or shape of family addiction. In fact, many addiction organizations and agencies deal with nothing but families. Others incorporate the family into most every aspect of their treatment.

You’ve gotta make the first step though. Let someone know you’re in need. But if you make that call, you can bet someone will come running. Al-Anon is a great family fit. So is the Partnership to End Addiction. In fact, the latter is laden with family-oriented resources. We here at Healing Properties would be thrilled to help too. All you’ve gotta do is call. Whaddya say?

(Image Courtesy Penguin Random House)

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