The Cycle of Addiction – My Personal Experience
By Stephen C. Schultz
I recently returned from a workshop in Tucson Arizona where the goal of the workshop was to connect various therapeutic schools, treatment centers and young adult transition services with educational consultants, clinicians and educators. There is obviously a societal concern when hundreds of professionals voluntarily come together to share resources and expertise on a very destructive influence on families and relationships in general.
Over the last twenty-five years, I have been privy to some very traumatic and emotionally painful family scenarios. I’m an addictions counselor by training, but now work in the administration of an organization that provides therapeutic help to families of troubled teens. I see and experience first hand the sad and often poignant consequences of broken homes, substance abuse, instant gratification, and a society only concerned about “self”. Although I have never struggled with a personal addiction, I have suffered the consequences of others addictions and they have directly and indirectly been an influence in my life.
Please allow me to share some personal thoughts and experiences that I hope bring insight to those who read on.
As 15 year old Jr. High student, my mother picked me up from a dance one Saturday night and while driving home we were hit head on by a drunk driver. The impact put my mother headfirst into the windshield. It is a very traumatic experience for a 15 year old to look over at his mother with glass and blood all over her face. Bloodied and dazed, she kept asking over and over again;
“Where are we? What happened? Where are we?”
In high school I was exposed to the effects of drinking as I watched friends at parties get wasted. It was difficult to watch these friends transform into people I barely recognized. My friends were always very kind and welcoming to me; even though they knew I didn't drink. I recall times walking in the door of a friend’s home where there was a party going on and someone yelling;
“Hey Schultz; There’s a Pepsi or 7-Up in the fridge!”
Throughout college, I was drawn to the social sciences. Not because of a traumatic experience or a personal desire based on experience to help others through recovery, like so many who enter this field. I was interested because the social sciences truly intrigued me. Like many in the “Helping Professions”, I felt like I was drawn to this kind of work even though I did not really know why.
At 24 I was married to a beautiful, smart, funny and talented University of Oregon graduate. We had been dating for a couple of years prior, after having been introduced by my sister. My wife finished top of her class in Journalism and Public Relations. We moved away from home and began our lives together with me finishing school and working part time at a private psychiatric hospital. She started a career at Fidelity Investments. After being married and living away from our home State of Oregon for three years, my wife’s “Family Secret” finally came to light…her father has a drinking problem.
Now, 25 years later, her siblings have all moved as far away as possible. Her father lost his job years ago and has spent his time literally wasting his life away. He sits on the back porch reading the sports section of the news paper. He works odd jobs from time to time, but age and health are now a concern as well. Her mother has been the main financial support for over twenty years working as an administrative assistant at a local church.
I am saddened that my kids (two of whom are in college now) don’t have a relationship with their grandpa. I have many fond memories of experiences during my childhood spending time with my grandparents. This is something I struggled with. In fact, it bothered me for many years that my kids don’t really know their grandparents like I knew mine. I finally came to the realization that while I may know the difference in the relationship that my kids have with their grandparents, my kids don’t know the difference. The sense of loss is really my burden to bare, not theirs. They don’t know anything different. I find that at this point in my life, I am now actually more saddened by the fact that my father-in-law is unable to enjoy an emotionally fulfilling relationship with his grand-kids. What a shame.
There was certainly some emotional damage that was done while my wife and her siblings were growing up. I’m appreciative of the fact that the cycle of broken and bruised little souls has not continued with our children.
I know that when my wife and I pass beyond this earthly experience, we will be able to look at each other, and the situation with her parents, with more pure eyes. There is no doubt this life experience brings with it hardships we can’t imagine and joy we can never predict. I certainly hope we will have an increased understanding of the purpose of our time here. I’m sure we will look back with renewed appreciation of our experiences whether painful or joyful.
After 25 years of working with families, the one thing I do know is that we each have our own personal journey we must navigate.