When I was about 6 years old, my father was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Country administrators came, the nurses came, and soon my father was taken out of our house and transferred to a sanatorium, where the state required him to stay for 2 years. My mother said it was a place where his lungs would get healthy and he would be cured of his disease. I wondered why he couldn’t get cured at home. When I ask, I heard: “Oh, we don’t want anyone to catch it, so he has to go there.”
Although we did not have the disease, once a month for about a year, my brothers and I had to stay home from Little League, football, playing army, or making a tree house with the neighbor kids. We had to get dressed up in that same shirt and tie that we wore to parochial school every day. But this was Saturday. And the wait was interminably long for that public health nurse to arrive at our house. I clearly remember it was like waiting for a monster to knock at our door-big nose, bad breath, scary, with a bag full of odd things. She wrapped something around my arm and pumped it up. Then she opened my shirt and listened to my chest. She examined me as if I weren’t there. She would ask my mother, “Is he sweating at night?” “Does he have chills or fever?” “Have you seen any blood on his pillow?” “Does he have a cough?” “Is his weight stable?” Then she’d repeat the same invasive scenario with each of my brothers.
I know now what those visits were all about, but back then, one Saturday a month, I was treated as if I had tuberculosis. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was the same thing that caused my dad to be ostracized and taken out of our home. I felt shame.
The disease affected all of us.
Addiction exacts a similar toll on the user and his or her family. Individuals are often separated from their families for treatment, and feelings of shame and of being ostracized can be part of the process for both addicts and their families. The adult left behind has to compensate for the other’s absence. Children of addicts often don’t understand various parts of the process of treatment and recovery, and can have a real concern that they can “catch” whatever their parent of other family member has. The family of the addict in treatment can experience feelings of abandonment, anxiety, concern, fear, anger, and embarrassment.
Addiction affects all of them.