William C. Moyers


Copyright Creators Syndicate, Inc. For the benefit of alcoholics, addicts and those who care about them, please encourage your local paper to run "Beyond Addiction" by William C. Moyers. Available through Creators Syndicate.

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Beyond Addiction by William C. Moyers

Improving our understanding of alcohol and drug addiction

All in the Family

There is nothing worse than pundits who pile on.

So I'll avoid the easy temptation to add my penny's worth about Amy Winehouse, a celebrity I knew nothing about until she died July 23 of an apparent addiction-related problem. I prefer to focus on Paul Ressler, a soft-spoken Vietnam vet I only met this week, when both of us talked about the stigma of addiction at a community conference in New Jersey.

Ressler is blind. But his vision is focused to help other parents understand their responsibility to share their experiences with addiction openly in the family. His son Corey Carlos Ressler was killed by an overdose of heroin a year ago this month. Corey was 22.

"He was a really cool kid who had a great future ahead of him," Ressler told a rapt audience at a conference sponsored by Daytop Village of New Jersey, a treatment program that helped Corey stay clean for 1 1/2 years before he relapsed. "He had everything going for him -- we loved him as much as he loved us -- but heroin became his life until it took his life."

His obituary made no reference to why he died. That was a mistake, his father now says.

"The shame and stigma kept us from telling the truth. In order to keep the peace, I went along with what the family wanted. I realize now I shouldn't have."

He's silent no more. Ressler speaks out because he wants other fathers and mothers and siblings to know that they aren't alone, that addiction is not their fault, that it is understandable when a parent suddenly feels hatred for a child under the influence or lashes out in despair when that child won't accept help.

"This is the face of addiction," Ressler said, gesturing to himself.

"It's everyone. It's every family. It's all of us."

Ressler bears a faint resemblance to Carroll O'Connor, the famed actor who played Archie Bunker in the classic television sitcom "All in the Family." O'Connor lost a son to addiction, too. But the comparison ends there.

O'Connor's grief hardened into anger so spiteful that when he and I, among others, appeared on Capitol Hill many years ago, he could only demand of Congress that it toughen penalties for drug dealing. Nothing he said helped the policy leaders to better understand what addicts and their families need, even though O'Connor's furrowed face told the real story that day. My hunch is he died a broken man.

Ressler's loss is no less than O'Connor's or those of the thousands of other parents who suffer addiction's ultimate theft, only his response differs from so many others.

"My son isn't here in body today, but he's here with us, and he's the reason we can't just sit down and discuss what we need to do to eliminate the stigma," Ressler told the audience. "We're all cowards -- and that's me, too -- if we don't tell our stories to people who think they're alone, who don't know that we're all the same, who don't know where to turn or what to do for help."

Nothing replaces a child lost to addiction.

But as Paul Ressler reminds me, it's how a parent fills that gaping void that gives lasting meaning to a life that was too short.

July 30, 2011

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