Addiction Grows Deep Roots

“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

Comments 12

  1. Bravely written, my friend. The shame of addiction hides so much family history that it is hard to uncover.

  2. That was such a brave and inspiring blog. I have struggled with the thought that maybe I was to open about Matthews drug use and how he was judged but I have learned that being honest is the best way to handle it. You are doing so many wonderful things in honor of Cody and you have given my son a true gift that is giving him a chance to really work at turning his life around. Your true compassion and being so supportive of him has made a high difference in his recovery. I know it is a life long thing for him but you are a true blessing to us.
    I thought I pretty much knew everything about addiction but your blogs and website have been so educational for me.

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    Thank you, Cindy. You are so right about honesty and I am glad you have learned it is the best way. Honesty in addiction is necessary for the addict and the family members to heal. Your son, Matt, is a delightful human being. I have truly enjoyed getting to know him and look forward to a continuing relationship with him. He seems very committed to his recovery, and it warms my heart to see him doing so well. I am glad to know that my blogs and our website are making a difference. It is so good to hear that because I work very hard on both.

  5. In September, I stood and looked at Cody and Rochelle’s view, from their resting places. What I felt, in an overwhelming wave, was the honesty of that space in the world. There, it is impossible to not be humbled by the grace of God.
    You are so eloquent in your truth. The reality is, honesty can be uncomfortable, but that is what will allow for us to face the sometimes challenging deep roots, and find a new way.

    Thank you Mary. Love you.

  6. Well written Mary. Addiction and codependency are generational diseases. There are many factors that contribute to this including possible genetic predisposition, environmental, learned behavior, and others. It is an illness that affects the entire family even generations after it begins and some of the most beautiful, intelligent, talented, loving, and wonderful people I have known battle it. Thank God these generational chains can be broken in recovery. I’m glad you wrote this like a m.f. M.F.= Mary Fighter! Big Love.

  7. A well written story, a sad story I’ve seen and heard before with names changed and outcomes varied but often leading to the same, seemingly senseless, loss of life. The last time I spoke with Cody I was afraid for him. Leaves a feeling of helplessness, and more.

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    Thank you, Tawnya. No question it’s impossible not to be humbled by the cemetery, which has such a spiritual significance and beauty in our family history. Losing both Cody and Rochelle has been devastating to me, but at the same time has set me free. I can never go on as before, so I must go on as I never have. God is using me for a reason, and I have opened my heart to it and I follow His lead. Love you back.

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    Thank you, Joseph. It was a hard one for me to write, but maybe it will help heal our family and other families, too. My purpose in all of this is to help others heal from this devastating disease.

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    Thank you, Rick. Yes, addiction takes our most sensitive and intelligent people. I knew Cody was in trouble, too. I felt so helpless to help him anymore. I guess God helped him, since he couldn’t do it himself, and took him out of his pain. I miss him so much, but don’t miss seeing him suffering from this awful disease. I know he is finally at peace.

  11. Thank you for sharing from the heart- it is about being honest with family and never sugar coating what runs in blood. The truth will set us free… I saw that tattoo on Cody and I saw his heart every time he smiled. I will never forget that smile! I was blessed to be with him while he put his heart into fighting to live another day clean… and he was a success while he lived at Serenity houses. Thank you again for sharing the truth! God bless your family!

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    Hi Jocelyn, I appreciate your support of my blog. It was a very hard one for me to write. Cody loved working for you at Serenity House, and we know now he should have stayed longer in sober living. You are doing God’s work at Serenity House, and I applaud you for your commitment to recovery and helping others. Stay in touch, Mary

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