Seattle’s Paula Becker is the author of “Looking For Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I,” and co-author of “The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Its Legacy and Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington’s First World’s Fair.” Her recently published book, is “A House on Stilts: Mothering in the Age of Opioid Addiction, a memoir.”
It’s about her struggle to cope with her oldest son, Hunter, as he fell into a life of addiction. He died when he was 25.
She’ll talk about her book and how parents and other family members can help their loved ones as they grapple with addiction at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at Village Books, 120011th St.
I was brought to tears by Paula’s powerful and very personal story.
I emailed her some questions about her book and her journey.
Margaret: How can parents and other family members help their loved ones who are addicted through all the denials, the promises, the disbelief, the sadness?
Paula: I don’t have an ultimate answer to this, of course, but I think learning to stay in the moment — to really be present with our person (child, sibling, etc) who struggles with addiction, is one of the only things we can do. The individual situations and our responses to those will vary greatly, and that is okay. Sitting with the real situation, which will sometimes be okay or even good and other times be terrible, is a healthy practice, in my opinion.
Margaret: Addiction is so widespread, so mind-numbing. Parents can’t blame themselves for what their kids do, but one thing parents struggle with is how do they let friends know about their child’s addiction?There’s the stigma, of course, and embarrassment, and shame.
Paula: I disavow stigma, embarrassment, and shame. Dealing with addiction is process. Talking about it frankly is powerful. We cannot control how others receive our news — they may well judge, or just as likely offer up a personal story of their own — but we can describe our situation with an open heart. Addiction is an enormous equalizer, and talking about it creates powerful community.
Margaret: How does family counseling help?
Paula: Language is so important. Although in 12-Step meetings, people introduce themselves with labels, it feels to me more compassionate to describe the person first, then their struggle. Hunter was addicted to heroin, but I didn’t call him an addict. I could have used his diagnosis: Hunter was a person with opioid use disorder. I could say he was a person who battled addiction or struggled with addiction.
I think society is becoming more aware of the way labels reinforce stigma. No one says, now, “that person is handicapped.” We say, that person has a disability, that person uses a wheelchair (as opposed to is wheelchair bound) — does that make sense? It is helpful to show up with an open heart, ready to listen.
Margaret: I think one of the saddest moments of your book was when he was selling all the children’s books he grew up with. (On a totally but semi-related topic, I’m also a librarian, and of course I grew up with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Congratulations on the new release in paperback for your book on author Betty MacDonald from the University of Washington Press.)
Paula: Thanks! I was thrilled about the paperback, and it has been nice to be able to see a few “Betty” books sell at my “House” events.
Yes, it was heartbreaking to have him sell those books I knew he’d loved.
Margaret: How do you cope with the disconnect between what Hunter was as an addict and what he could have been, and also how does your family cope?
Paula: We cope by loving one another. I grieved the loss of Hunter’s possible future so much during the years he struggled with addiction. I now grieve for Hunter himself, because that is what his death took from us — HIM –, as well as taking any chance of his future. I try to use his story, our story, for good. I feel like the book is helping me do that. It matters to me that the story IS a book, since Hunter himself so loved and valued reading. I love the cover, which really shows his passionate impetuous nature.
Margaret: What would you like to tell our readers that I’m not asking?
Paula: Parental love can be infinite, even if tolerance for particular behaviors isn’t (and shouldn’t be). A person with addiction is a person first, and their personhood deserves love and respect, even if their behaviors may not. Grief is complex, and those who grieve should not be judged, or judge themselves. Compassion is a better long-term strategy than anger.