The cover of <i>Addicted: Our Strength Under the Influence.</i>
The cover of <i>Addicted: Our Strength Under the Influence.</i>

‘My grandchildren did not ask for this in their lives’

A local author hopes her memoir will help others, while also helping her own family heal from a journey through the opioid epidemic — not only for her adult children who are struggling with addiction, but for the grandchildren she is now raising amid the trauma

BRATTLEBORO — Global statistics tell us that one in three people know someone who has substance use disorder, but we hear little about what happens to the families involved in the opioid crisis.

In 1998, Annie Augustus Rose's daughter revealed her struggles with heroin and that she was ready to ask for help. That same day, as Rose drove her to this first attempt at rehabilitation, little did they both realize how life for this family would be altered as her family unexpectedly crashed headfirst into the world of addiction.

Her daughter has been struggling ever since, in and out of treatment for a quarter century. Her son is in a minimum-security prison, serving a sentence for a drug-related crime.

Rose, 76, has published a book that gives a voice to the families. Addicted: Our Strength Under the Influence tells the story of how members of one Vermont family continue to experience living with addiction in their midst and, in doing so, creates a guide for other families who have experienced addiction in their midst.

“When I think about this journey, when my two young grandchildren first came to live with me, the furthest thing from my mind was writing a book,” says Rose, an ovarian cancer survivor who believes that “failure was not an option.”

'It's an epidemic'

Eventually, Rose was assigned as court-appointed guardian of the two oldest grandchildren (with the blessing of their parents), and life settled down, however unpredictably.

Several years passed, her daughter's third child was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome caused from exposure to drugs while in the womb. Although it was considered a full-term, normal delivery, this child spent the first 30 days of her life in withdrawal in the neonatal unit of a local hospital.

Later, this child also came to live with Rose, who adopted this child as her own, making a family of four.

“Over 20 years ago, one of my grandchild's teachers noticed the number of gray-haired people who were picking up their children from school,” she says.

During this time, through a collaboration of child care services, a support group emerged for grandparents thrust into the repeat position of parenting when their own children were unable to do so.

This issue has been around for a very long time, and it continues to get worse.

“It's an epidemic,” says Rose.

“Along the way, someone said, 'You should write a book,' but I didn't begin to consider the possibility in a real way until 2018, mostly because who had the time?” she says. “We were too busy coping and figuring out solutions for our family in real time.”

Family members tell their stories

As a first-time author, Rose - with the help of a high school classmate's niece, Cathryn Lykes, a professional editor in Brattleboro - began to develop ideas from which a rough draft emerged.

“Cathryn worked tirelessly with me, offering her expertise as she read through the many pages of correspondence and notes saved in three-ring binders, years of documentation of my family's experiences,” Rose says.

Rose's former husband was hearing impaired, so when their daughter first revealed her heroin addiction more than 25 years ago, her parents communicated through America Online back in the early days of the internet. Rose printed out all the emails and saved what a quarter century later would become a paper trail documenting the family's journey.

“It was so long ago that the printer paper had those holes down the side of the paper. Remember those?” she says, laughing.

The ability to return to the actual conversations about her daughter's addiction challenges, and later her son's, also helped to tell her tale in real time.

Rose wrote the book and found a way to get it published using the same strategy she used to figure out how to raise her children's children - by trying her best and asking for help. Family members were invited to tell their own stories in their own words, offering a variety of very personal perspectives.

“My mother, a local woman, was an important figure in my life. She was the first family member who agreed to share her viewpoint of how addiction impacted her life,” Rose remembers.

“She was very proud of me for being willing to get involved in telling our story - letting people know that other people have been faced with addiction and have survived,” she says. “You must know how to stay upright, strong, and to keep moving forward.”

Rose cherishes those lessons. “I was blessed to have my mother in my life until she was 95 years old,” she says with pride.

Rose's mother wrote her chapter in 2018 and died a year later.

“Knowing how important my own mother was to me, I can only imagine losing your mother at a young age, which was my grandchildren's experience. The trauma will stay with my grandchildren for their entire lives,” says Rose with great sadness in her voice.

And yet, with strength and determination, most of Rose's family members, including her children and grandchildren, wrote their own respective chapters.

“Everyone was very excited to tell their story - my mother, son, daughter, and most of their kids, participated for a total of nine standalone chapters,” says Rose. “My partner also has her own chapter.”

Rose feels it is very important to protect the privacy of her family members by changing the names and places in the book. The Commons has respected that discretion by identifying her in this story under her pen name.

“I believe it is important to not out anyone,” she says. “Privacy should always be respected, and therefore I have changed any identifying names including places in the writing,” she noted.

Now that the book is in print, how do family members feel?

Rose's son “didn't say anything to me about it on the phone the other day but then I didn't ask, either,” she says. “Likely, I suspect he'll feel gut-punched by his children, as they held nothing back, if he's read it at all.”

She hopes for healing to begin.

“That's my logic and, likely, a big ask on my part,” says Rose, who holds a great deal of empathy for her children and their lives as they suffer through the effects of their drug challenges.

“I've received so many kind comments from my family, and plenty of congratulations, but this is still tough stuff,” she says. “My grandchildren did not ask for this in their lives.”

“Whatever comes your way, you can figure it out. That's the example I want to portray in this writing,” Rose remarks.

A 'hard, hard road'

Rose is quick to point out that her family's story is one of many thousands of families in the United States today who have had to figure out how to function in the midst of addiction.

“This book says you can plant your feet on solid ground and survive the bad behavior of family members with commitment, hope, and resiliency of purpose,” she says. “The problem isn't going away. We've lost the war on drugs in the United States. People are too invested in their own power and greed; drugs will always be for sale.”

Mary Ellen Copeland, a resident of Dummerston and well-known mental health recovery author, educator, and advocate, is also a friend of Annie's and wrote an introduction to the book.

“It is incredible that, given what continues to happen in her life, Annie could document her journey for the benefit of so many others who are traveling the same challenging and difficult path,” Copeland told The Commons.

“This book, an incredible documentation of the experience of Annie and her family in coping with addiction issues for so many years, will validate and support the experience of others who are traveling this hard, hard road,” she says.

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