Carolyn Hannan Bell has delicately captured the fine line between showing the damage alcoholic parents inflict on their children and explaining the disease of alcoholism in a non-moralistic way. So often, no matter how far we’ve come in the field of addiction medicine and understanding the physiological aspects of alcoholism, the alcoholic is still considered an outcast or morally deficient person.
In her book, Mommy’s Disease: Helping Children Understand Alcoholism, Hannan-Bell approaches the subject from the child’s eyes.
The child, “Mila” simply doesn’t understand why her mom “acts funny,” or “fails to show up for visitations.” She loves her mom and wonders what she must have done to make her mom do these things. In one exchange with her father, Mila says, “If Mommy loved me she wouldn’t ever have any drinks at all!”
The father in the story is the explainer of the disease and he does a great job! “Whoa, Mila! Mommy’s drinking doesn’t have a thing to do with you, or me, or anyone.” And he goes on to explain how much the alcoholic mother loves her daughter — but that drinking makes her behave in certain ways that hurt the ones she loves.
I wished the story had a happy ending, that the mom got sober and the family was reunited! But sadly, unfortunately, statistics don’t back up the happy ending. Marriages and families are broken because of alcoholism, and the important thing is to love the children through it.
This book is especially helpful for young children, under age ten or so. The author is a practicing psychotherapist in New Jersey who works with families and individuals suffering from the emotional effects of alcohol and substance abuse. Her first book, “Daddy’s Disease,” gained praise from others in the field who work with the children left in the alcoholic’s wake.
One reviewer states, “Carolyn nails the fear and confusion brought about by an alcoholic parent, as seen through the eyes of a child. The book provides instruction for guiding a child through the anger, fear and disappointment produced by the conduct of an alcoholic parent, while still preserving the precious parent-child bond…” Jackie C