I watched the first presidential debate, mostly because I have a strange and somewhat inexplicable crush on Chris Wallace. (Look, quarantine has been rough, OK?) I also do enjoy watching debates – my father was a lawyer, so I have an appreciation for the rigorous intellectual work of a proper debate.

This, of course, was not that. If you didn’t see it, let me assure you, the debate was a dumpster fire. But there was one moment that really stood out to me. President Trump, unsurprisingly, tried to throw Hunter Biden’s well-known struggle with drug addiction into his father’s face. It is not true that Hunter was dishonorably discharged from the Navy, as the President claimed – it was an administrative discharge, which is different – but it is true that he was discharged for drug use.

And I tensed up when that happened, because that is something every addict fears: that their struggle with addiction will be used against the people they love. I am very open about the fact that I am a recovering alcoholic (you may have noticed if you have read my columns before, but if you’re a first-time reader, well, now you’re up to speed). I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, I’m very proud of my sobriety. But I worry that it will reflect poorly on my family members. I worry that people will think less of my parents, because they had a kid who ended up being kind of a screwup for a while (that would be me). My addiction is in no way the result of anything my parents did, unless you consider the fact that genetics have a part to play in addiction, but I can’t really blame my parents for not assembling my chromosomes perfectly. And I worry about my younger sister, who plans on making a career in politics (she’s going to be president someday). Will a debate opponent throw my alcoholism in her face like Trump did to Biden?

Biden’s response was beautiful, and important enough that I will quote it in full here: “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”

Addiction and shame work together in a vicious cycle, not unlike when a dog throws up and then eats its own vomit. When you’re in the grip of addiction, unable to shake it, knowing that you need to stop but not being able to, you feel ashamed. And shame is a strong negative emotion. So you turn to whatever substance is fueling your problem to numb that shame. Our culture looks down on people with addiction. So it’s very important to have the people you love tell you that they are proud of you. And I think it is important that a man with the national profile and stature of Joe Biden stood on that stage and declared in front of the whole country that he was proud of his son.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 20.4 million adults suffered from an addiction in 2019. Those numbers are not likely to drop in 2020, due in large part to the harsh and isolating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Secrecy and shame will not help any of those millions of Americans heal. Addiction is not something to be ashamed of. It’s a medical condition, part physiological and part psychological, and it is treatable. You can recover. Hunter Biden has. I have.

I am lucky. My parents loved me unconditionally, and they never stopped being proud of me. They weren’t always proud of everything that I did, of course, or the choices that I made, but they never stopped being proud of the Victoria that was at the core of the addiction. My mom, especially, loved me through my lowest moments and I know, bone-deep, blood-deep, DNA-deep, that she is proud of me. Sometimes I’m glad that my Dad didn’t live to see the worst of my drinking, and sometimes I’m sad that he isn’t around to see my sobriety.

But if he were here, I know he would be just as proud of me as Joe Biden is of Hunter.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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