Alcoholism and its effects on one family’s history are integral to the story being told in my novel, Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. The Pierson family portrayed in the book has suffered the blight of alcoholism for at least four generations, with two of the children, Kay and Paul, forced to confront their dependency. The point of this subplot is to not only illustrate the character’s flaws, but to acknowledge that the problem of chemical dependency is a far-reaching one affecting many families. But Kay and Paul’s struggles are meant to give the reader hope; hope that it is possible for addicts to reclaim their lives, finding grace or salvation in sobriety.
When Kay suspects Paul’s drinking has reached levels that point to dependency and abuse, this is not the first time those concerns have been expressed by the Pierson family. After his first wife’s death, Kay recognizes Paul’s attempts to salve his pain through alcohol. Never actually confronting him, the Pierson family believes Paul has found redemption in Pamela, and they push their fears aside. The Pierson family makes the mistake that many families confronted with chemical dependency do – they rationalize that the problem was only temporary and has been dealt with satisfactorily. But as Kay and her Mother realize Paul does have a problem, Kay recounts the Pierson family history and its path of devastation.
For Kay and her brothers, it begins with underage drinking as it does for many individuals. Underage drinking has reached epidemic status in the United States, with an estimated 10.8 million youth engaging in some level of alcohol consumption. These huge numbers of young Americans engaging in both illegal and risky behavior is behind the Surgeon General’s March 2007 report, the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. While Jack manages to escape the ravages of alcoholism, Kay and Paul’s battles with chemical dependency as adults are not at all unusual. According to the Surgeon General’s report, 40% of adults who began drinking before age 15 experience chemical dependency problems. With almost half of adults who begin drinking as teens suffering chemical dependency related difficulties later in life, Kay and Paul are far more typical than many may realize.
The relapse that Paul suffers after three months sobriety through attending Alcoholics Anonymous is also quite common. According to a study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in 1989, nearly 90% of recovering addicts are likely to relapse at least once during the first four years of their sobriety. What triggers Paul’s fall – an argument with Kay regarding his ex-wife – is not an unusual response. Two other triggers leading to high risk behavior in recovering addicts include social pressure and interpersonal temptation.
It’s this episode that pushes Kay and her family to confront Paul with the knowledge that his chemical dependency is a problem they believe A.A. alone cannot solve. Kay gives Paul insights into the severity of her own battles with alcoholism by explaining her spouse, Tim, made it clear she had a choice to make. She could choose either alcohol or her marriage, but in the latter choice Tim demanded sobriety. Kay exhorts Paul to take a chance on sobriety, the only course of action that will allow him to discover who he really is as a person, reclaim his life, and find salvation from the ravages of chemical dependency.
Kay also inherently understands that both she and Paul are very fortunate in that they have not caused irreversible harm as their addictions sent them crashing head first to the bottom. Many addicts cannot say the same, and Kay reminds Paul that if not ever being able to drink again is the worst thing that happens to him, he is very lucky indeed. No one knows better than a recovering addict that real life is littered with temptation and good intentions gone awry. But no one knows better than a recovering addict that the salvation offered by sobriety, of reclaiming a broken life and turning it into to something meaningful is well worth any sacrifice. As Kay reminds Paul, he won’t know that salvation unless he’s willing to take a chance on sobriety.
If you or anyone in your family is confronting difficulties with chemical dependency issues, there are many resources available to you. A few of them are listed below.
Alcoholics Anonymous – The oldest organization of its kind, Alcoholics Anonymous is committed to helping alcoholics (and other addicts) stay clean and sober.
Drug and Alcohol Resource Center – Nationwide Alcohol and Drug Addiction Rehab Information
Hazelden – Provides addiction treatment, education, publishing, research, and recovery support services
Mothers Against Drunk Driving – For over 25 years the organization has been committed to activism, victim services, education, and keeping drunk drivers off our roadways.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – This government site offers extensive research and resources on the topic of alcoholism, trends, and current data.
Surgeon General’s Report on Underage Drinking – Under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General issued the report on the underage drinking crisis in March 2007.