Most students looking through the Ithaca College course guide would not expect one of the writing professors to be hiding her mother’s alcohol addiction or another to have been a homeless alcoholic. These stories of struggle and survival seem to be the exception in academics and life. But as a recently released book reveals, they’re often hidden truths.
Fifteen alumni, professors and students from the college contributed to “One For The Road: Stories for Teenagers whose Families Suffer from the Disease of Alcoholism,” a book released Aug. 29. The book is a collection of 64 poems and stories meant to help young adults dealing with these issues.
Those involved with the book said it was created to start a conversation about abuse and remind victims they are not alone.
Katharyn Howd-Machan, professor of writing, had the idea for the book more than 30 years ago. She developed the book but was unable to find a publisher willing to create it, so she put the project on hold. But Howd-Machan said she never gave up on the book.
“Something in me wanted to get it started again, and it just seemed like it was meant to be,” she said.
Five years ago, when Howd-Machan’s former student Andre Cuda ’02 contacted her to edit a poem he wrote, the two developed a professional relationship and, at a writing conference in Key West, restarted the project.
Howd-Machan said her inspiration for the book came from her struggle with her mother’s alcoholism.
“My teenage years were such a terrible shadow living in Pleasantville, N.Y. keeping secret as much as I could the fact that my mother was a very active alcoholic,” she said.
Howd-Machan said the book is not only about connecting with other people’s stories, but also about realizing writing and reading about addiction can be a way to move on.
“I want teenagers not only to know they are not alone in their experiences but that writing about it can be very helpful,” she said.
To start collecting works Howd-Machan put advertisements in literary magazines and soon received hundreds of responses. She said she chose pieces based on relevance to the book’s focus.
As co-editor of the book, Cuda’s experience with alcohol abuse is as a social worker for addiction. He said the book has been a way to use his love of writing to connect to the people he is working with. He said when he was young he benefited from writing that connected to his life.
“As a teenager whenever I read something that pertained to me or I could relate to, it was a really powerful, ineffable sort of experience,” he said. “I hope that this book does that for a kid.”
Junior Joshua Turk wrote “We All Drink Our Feeling,” one of the short stories featured in the book. Despite initial apprehension about sharing his father’s alcoholism with the public, he said he chose to be included when he realized his story would be used to help others in similar situations.
“When I realized that the message was to get the stories out and help people through the stories — that was really the nail in the coffin,” he said. “This is the right choice.”
Fred Wilcox, associate professor of writing, also contributed to the project. Years after being a homeless alcoholic himself, he said he found the stigma surrounding addiction worked to keep people from being open about their own experiences. He said confronting abuse through writing will help people realize they don’t need to struggle in silence.
“I hope a book like this might enable [people dealing with addiction] to see that it’s very common,” he said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you don’t have to hide it.”
In the aftermath of its publication, the contributors and editors of “One For the Road” are working to bring their stories to a wider audience. Howd-Machan said adapting the book in different ways will help it reach more people than it would in print alone.
“Too few people read,” she said. “[If] it’s seen on stage and you hear it and you say, ‘Oh wow, I really like that. Oh great, I can go back and find it in the book and I can read it.’”
Turk said knowing his work has helped others is more than he expected from being a part of the project.
“Just to know that people I don’t even know are reading it and getting something out of it is more than I could have hoped for,” he said. “This is just a book that needed to happen.”