Not Your Usual After-Lunch Speech

From the annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law in Baltimore, MD:


Photo of Patrick Kennedy courtesy U.S. House of Representatives

It’s not every day when you hear a luncheon speaker discuss how his mom used to greet visitors at the front door while she was less than fully clothed. Especially when the speaker is a member of Congress.

But Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) spoke with no holds barred when he discussed his family’s addiction battles. “My mom had the worst case of alcoholism that you could possibly imagine,” he said to the assembled group of psychiatrists. “And we kept it a big secret — or so we thought. Until one of my friends would come over, and their mom would come over to pick them up, and my mom would answer the door completely naked. And they’d be like, ‘What’s going on in this house?'”

Rep. Kennedy continued, “And you can’t begin to imagine the amount of denial. My mom would be driving us to school … and be sideswiping cars all the way to elementary school. It was the most well-known, least-hidden secret from the world, and yet nobody said a word about ‘Maybe this is not safe.’ … For many famlies, that still happens, and it’s still going on in most of America, and that’s really scary.” He noted that even though addiction is “a physical illness, a genetic illness, yet we do nothing to treat it as such because we’re so mired in an old-fashioned view of this thing as a reflection of someone’s moral turpitude that they’re insufficient in their ability to control their behavior.”

He also discussed his own ongoing addiction battle. “‘When I went back to treatment this last year after having 2 1/2 years of sobriety, I was in treatment with three members of the Special Forces — two Navy SEALs and one Green Beret. Now I’m telling you, if this is about control of your behavior, these are probably the most powerful, self-disciplined, powerful individuals our society could produce … So it just brings home the fact that this isn’t about self-control, because if it were, how could people that could pass every other test in the world in terms of self-discipline lose the one that comes about as a result of controlling themselves with respect to a disease called addiction?”

Members of the audience seemed to like what they heard; they gave him a standing ovation when he finished.

–Joyce Frieden (Twitter @joycefr)
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Filed under Practice Trends, Psychiatry

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