Saturday, October 07, 2006

the lost years

This review has not been posted at Bookpleasures yet, as the editor is away for a couple of weeks. Since I think it will be of interest to some of you, I will go ahead and post it now instead of waiting another week or two.
Authors: Kristina Wandziak & Constance Curry
Publisher: Jeffers Press
ISBN: 0-9777618-1-9

Told from the complementary perspectives of an addict and her mother, The Lost Years is a rich chronicle of drug and alcohol addiction and recovery from those addictions. Kristina Wandziak describes her long, painful slide into addiction, crime and life on the streets. Constance Curry, Kristina’s mother, describes the denial and co-dependence by which she unwittingly, and certainly unwillingly, facilitated her daughter’s addictions. Together, these joint accounts reveal the personal and familial complexities that contribute to and derive from addiction.

To all outward appearances, Kristina Wandziak lived a charmed life. She lived in a beautiful home in a picturesque town near San Francisco. She was intelligent, athletic, pretty and popular. Similarly, Constance Curry appeared to have the perfect home and family. These images of perfection were badly marred, however, by the presence of a verbally abusive, alcoholic husband and father. Behind the closed doors of their lovely home, Kristina, her three siblings and Constance lived in inexorable fear and tension.

Kristina was thirteen years old when she sneaked her first swig of vodka from her parents’ liquor supply. This is Kristina’s account of that first drink:

I lifted the glass to my mouth, and slowly let the liquor slide over my tongue. . . . It was wonderful. . . . I felt incredible. . . . Nothing was ever the same after that night. I had found the secret to life. . . . Increasingly, the desire to drink grew strong in me (p. 9).

Constance noticed her daughter’s odd behavior that night but chose to ignore it because she was busy hosting a party. She tells it this way:

I went downstairs . . . and I noticed Kristina was acting a little funny. But I was wrapped up in the party, so I didn’t dwell on it. . . . I felt a queasiness in my stomach, but . . . I didn’t know how to listen to my gut. I wish I had listened (p. 12).

As the story continues, Kristina describes her physical, emotional, social and psychological decline. When her parents place her in rehabilitation programs, she promptly runs away. She drops out of school and descends into a life of crime to support her habits. At age seventeen, she sees abortion as the only solution to an unwanted pregnancy. Eventually, she ends up living on the streets of San Francisco: homeless, filthy, isolated and filled with self-loathing.

As Kristina declines deeper into addiction, Constance struggles with the effects Kristina’s addictions have on her and her other three children. Constance slowly realizes that she must make two radical changes in her life if she is to save her remaining children from ruin. First, she must divorce her abusive husband. Second, Kristina must not be allowed to have any further contact with the family until she agrees to seek treatment for her addictions. As painful as these decisions are, they ultimately enable Constance, Kristina and the other children in the family to rebuild their lives.

Finally, at age twenty-one, Kristina willingly enters a rehabilitation program and her mother agrees to pay for her treatment. Moreover, Kristina’s mother and siblings attend group therapy sessions in which they and Kristina examine the issues that led to and arose from Kristina’s destructive lifestyle. Kristina’s recovery is long, slow and difficult. She discovers that giving up drugs and alcohol is only a small part of the battle she must fight to build a life. She is mortified when she tries to complete job applications and realizes

I couldn’t get past “name.” I had no address, no phone number, no previous work experience and no education. I could not put down one person as a reference. I felt so lame and helpless (p. 202).

Fortunately, Kristina’s story does not end there. She gets a job and eventually moves into increasingly responsible positions. Now, she runs a successful addictions intervention program. Constance, similarly, has taken the lessons learned from her ordeal and become a specialist and lecturer in the fields of addiction and family recovery.

The Lost Years is a gritty, often grim, account of the horrors of addiction. More importantly, though, it is a book about hope and redemption. Kristina can never relive the years of her youth that she wasted on drugs, alcohol and crime. Constance can never recover the sleepless nights she lost wondering if her daughter was alive, warm or safe. Nevertheless, both of them have moved beyond addiction and its effects, beyond the trials of recovery, to lives of contentment, fulfillment and purpose. That inspirational message is the reason this book should be read by anyone whose life is affected by the tragedy of addiction.

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