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The Burden of Guilt

By Michael Blanchard

My story includes 4 drunk driving arrests, a suicide attempt with alcohol and prescription medications, and a rebirth as a photographer and writer with 13 years sobriety.  I have written two books and have been brutally open about my disease.  Being candid, has attracted families seeking knowledge to help them understand their loved one’s addiction.  During the summer at my gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, parents, siblings and friends of addicts and alcoholics come by my gallery for advice and perspective.  These stories are often painful involving the overdose death of a son, daughter etc.  A husband and wife declare their child is dead because they failed to exercise tough love.  Other families state the opposite, in believing tough love caused the overdose.  I can see the pain and sadness and how these families have a lifelong burden of guilt.

It is important to set the record straight from the perspective of the addict who almost died from the disease.  ME.  I am only one example but have found I am not that unique.  I spent 95% of the time driven by the disease with no thought of family.  However, if family got to close, I pushed them away, and if they got too far away and would manipulate them to bring them back.  All the while threatening to kill myself if they didn’t follow my manipulation.  I led my family to believe they were 95% responsible when in fact they had little to do with the course or outcome.

Families do play a part.  The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.  But at the end of the day the addict is personally responsible for the outcome.  Families do not have the power to override individual choice. Abusing drugs is like playing Russian roulette with fentanyl and other toxic mixtures.  So please grieve the loss of your loved one but let go of the burden of guilt.  Use that sadness to serve as motivation in helping others as bad off as you were.  Guilt robs energy that could benefit your fellow.  As an addict, I was totally responsible.  Your decisions were minuscule compared to the power of the disease.  Your loved one would be proud of you for living the rest of your life in a state of love, and compassion, and not defeated under burden of guilt.