“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” William Shakespeare – Julius Caesar
I have deep roots of alcoholism and addiction in my family on both sides. My father’s dad died from alcoholism at the age of 49, and my father never talked about him. My mother’s side of the family, whose parents migrated to Telluride, Colorado from Western Europe, was riddled with alcoholism, and endured a tragedy directly related to it while living in Telluride.
My grandparents owned and operated a boarding house for the miners – the San Juan – back when Telluride was a raucous mining town (not a ski resort) snuggled amid the beauty of the San Juan Mountains. The beauty of the mountains turned into the beast of alcoholism on September 29th, 1952, when my handsome Uncle Jack got drunk at the Elks Club on a Saturday night.
He went looking for his wife about two o’clock in the morning, and found her with his best friend, Harold, in his car kissing. My jealous, inebriated uncle, in a fit of rage, went home, got his rifle, and fired two shots at the car as it was driving down the main street. The first shot fired hit the front tire of the car, but the second shot fired hit the back end, striking Harold in the back of his head, and killing him instantly. When the sheriff came, my Uncle told him to put the handcuffs on him, that he had killed a man, and to take him to jail.
There have been many family versions of this story passed down, but I know this is how it happened, because I read the court documents on his case, which are public information. My grandmother had to sell the boarding house to pay his legal bills, and the family was ashamed of my Uncle, and left Telluride a couple of years later.
The beauty of the mountains in Telluride is spectacular, and I’ve embraced my family’s rich history there, despite the tragedy.
I lived in Telluride for three years, trying to find some peace in my own life, while my son was in and out of sobriety. I was living there when Cody died from a drug overdose on September 25th, 2013. He is laid to rest in Telluride at one of the most beautiful cemeteries on earth, the Lone Tree Cemetery. His view is what I think of as heaven, and it gives me comfort to know he is in such a beautiful spot.
As irony would have it, Harold is buried not too far from Cody.
Addiction is truly a disease of historic proportion in my family. How do we break the cycle of addiction across generations? This is a difficult question, with no clear cut answers. I believe we have to stop the silence and tell the truth, especially to our children. We must quit keeping secrets and telling lies. If there is one good thing to come from my son’s death, it is the understanding of the value of honesty.
Sometimes real change comes wrapped in pain and tragedy, but can only be unwrapped with an open heart and the truth.
I had an honest conversation with my 8 year-old granddaughter about how addiction runs in families, and what it means in her life. I explained to her addiction is a disease, and how hard it is to stop once a person starts. I told her the truth about her dad’s fatal overdose, and that he was sick, not a bad person. I gave her the scientific facts the best I could at the most basic level. She knows I am a person she can trust to tell her the truth, and it makes her feel secure and able to move on. Some people might call it closure, but I call it love at its best.
There is abundant love in the truth.
My husband and I visited my Uncle Jack many years after he got out of prison, when he was living in Craig, Colorado. He returned to heavy drinking right away, and became a hard core alcoholic for the rest of his life. He lived in a small, sparsely furnished apartment by himself, but I distinctly remember a huge, leaning book shelf in his tiny living room filled with books. Not mystery or romance novels, but fine literature, like Shakespeare, Thoreau, and Hemingway.
You see, my Uncle was an exceptionally intelligent, introspective, and sensitive man, with a disease that consumed his life, and a past he couldn’t forget or forgive himself for. Like many alcoholics, he never learned or embraced the tools needed for recovery.
I vividly remember that day; it is the first time I felt compassion toward him, realizing he wasn’t a scourge on society, but a good man, who was deeply troubled, without any resources to heal. Little did I know what was to come into my own life later on; that I would come to know about heartbreak, loss, and irony, as if right out of one of my uncle’s Shakespeare tragedies.
Addiction grows deep roots.
It takes a lot of strength to stop the cycle of addiction in families. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, even though it’s the best thing to do.
I ask myself if not now, when?
Sharing about my family’s roots of addiction reveals a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. It is an opportunity to make a positive impact on a future generation, and a hope that the family tragedies resulting from addiction will end.
Mary Cucarola – January 17, 2017