BOOK REVIEW: ‘Dear William’ an unforgettable journey into man’s, family’s addiction | Lifestyle

In “Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, Love, and Loss,” David Magee takes the reader on an unforgettable journey into the life of a father trying to come to grips with his own alcohol and prescription drug dependence — at a time when his two sons are becoming drug addicts, too. All this at a time when Magee, who was adopted into a dysfunctional family, is embarking on a bumpy ride as he searches for his birth family, his identity, and a sense of belonging.

Magee marries Kent, the love of his life. They raise three children, sons William and Hudson, and daughter, Mary Hally. William dies from a drug overdose; Hudson almost dies from his overdose. Kent divorces David and remarries him when David recovers from his substance abuse. Among other accomplishments, Magee establishes the William Magee Center for AOD (alcohol and other drugs) and Wellness Education at the University of Mississippi that focuses on substance misuse education and support within the university.

William’s relapses at addiction treatment centers that his parents helped him to get into would result in continued rescues of their son. When William schemes to obtain fentanyl while at a Colorado treatment center, after he has already been kicked out of other facilities for similar misconduct, a counselor phones William’s parents.

According to Magee: “The counselor explains that one pill made William so high, the nearby cows in a pasture likely noticed, and they’re sending him packing. They’ll drop him off at the Salvation Army with his bag of clothes and twenty dollars, and we should leave him there, the counselor says, homeless and on his own — no more bailouts.

“We know the counselor is right, but it’s late December, three days before Christmas, and cold. More to the point: He’s our baby. Our William. Homeless? We can’t do it, instructing the center to send William to Nashville instead. We’ll pick him up there from the airport and determine a plan, and by nightfall, we’ve got a cozy Hampton Inn.”

William’s parents help their adult son get into yet another residential treatment program. Magee even quits his journalism job because “my son needs me.”

Not long afterward, Magee takes William to breakfast. As William eats his waffle covered in strawberry jelly, “it’s more about the jelly with a waffle on the side. He’s always had a sweet tooth … But I’ve not seen him spooning up jelly. Researching opioids, I’ve learned they can cause sugar cravings, and my worry increases throughout the meal.” William tells his father, “I’m figuring out how to help myself, and then I’d like to help other people one day. But I’m not there yet.”

The following week, William died from a drug overdose.

However, William will accomplish in death what he was unable to accomplish in life. Three years after William’s death, Magee stands on a stage, surrounded by family and friends, to dedicate a university center “for my late son that has the chance to save other people’s lives.”

This excellent book raises questions about when one’s responsibility for loved ones whose substance abuse is continuing to destroy their lives — while also wreaking havoc on the lives of the significant people in their lives — should end. At one point does the natural inclination to protect the beloved addict become harmful and counterproductive? How can we help untreated addicts without enabling their continuing substance abuse?

In his book “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction,” David Sheff addresses these questions. Once Sheff stops allowing himself to be “guilt tripped” into continually rescuing his son, Nic, from the consequences of his addiction, the young man does hit a “rock bottom” in his life — before he begins turning his life in a better direction .

Regardless of what would have happened to William if his parents had followed the advice of the counselor who urged them to cooperate with the center’s plan to just drop him off at the Salvation Army, homeless, William was no longer a child and needed to face the consequences of his actions.

Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics, reminds participants that “You didn’t cause it (the addictive behavior), you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.” When substance abusers are willing to accept they are powerless over their substance abuse and to go to any lengths to become clean, sober and responsible citizens, that is when significant people in their lives can really help and support their endeavors to change their lives for the better.

Magee reminds us that “few American problems are more prominent than substance misuse, which touches every family and every demographic, inflicting emotional distress, education and job disruptions, and suffering, including economic hardship and legal problems. NO ONE place or segment owns this problem; everyone does.”

After another family member placed Magee’s elderly adoptive mother in a horrible nursing home, Magee finds the strength to fight for her welfare and to move her to a good rehabilitation facility that gets her walking again. When she was at the bad nursing home, Magee observed that “its ceilings are low, and its rooms are dark. Mom’s room smells like urine. There’s too little staff, so when she rings for an assistant, she has to hope someone comes before she loses control of her bladder. It’s clear that not a lot of rehab is going on here; Most patients are whittling away the time until death, a sort of non-labeled hospice for the underprivileged.”

There are still far too many nursing homes like the one Magee described.

I won’t give away what happened when Magee met his birth mother. As for Magee’s search for his birth father, I’ll only reveal that it is an amazing story that includes Magee learning that when his birth father was a Marine Corps officer on the front lines in Vietnam, he risked his own life to save the life of a fellow Marine by charging into gunfire, scooping the wounded man in his arms, and whisking him to a nearby helicopter for medical evacuation.

Canandaigua resident Joel Freedman contributes book reviews and essays to the Finger Lakes Times frequently.


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