If the name Debbie Dingell sounds familiar to you, there’s probably a few reasons why.
She’s a power player in Michigan, known nationally for being a strong advocate for women and children, and she served more than 30-years as the President of the GM Foundation. She’s a millionaire, and she took over her husband, John Dingell’s position in the U.S. House of Representatives, making her Congresswoman Dingell.
But before she got to where she is now, Debbie faced challenges of her own.
It’s a story that belongs to her family. Not me. Not you. Nor anyone else.
She hopes that by sharing it, others will realize addiction can grab ahold of anyone. The rich, poor, powerful, or the powerless.
“Nobody ever wanted to talk about it in those days, you hid it, you didn’t acknowledge it. Everything stayed behind closed doors, what happened at home stayed in the home and you never discussed it,” says Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.
It’s a problem Debbie faced every day growing up. Living with a father who was addicted to prescription drugs. A lifestyle, she grew up thinking was normal.
“I remember as I got older, walking to pick up his prescription at the drug store. I remember his sleeping all day, and being awake at night,” says Dingell.
Looking back, she says she believes her father suffered from depression and anxiety, leading him to self-medicate.
She says, he experienced mood swings and paranoia, which created an environment where she and her family were always on edge.
“I remember one night, when they were having a huge screaming match, he had a gun. He took the handles off the doors so that nobody could come in or out. I got everybody into a bedroom and put beds against the door tried to hide in closets, I called the police, but nobody came nobody answered,” says Dingell.
The power of addiction is strong, and didn’t stop at her father. Debbie’s sister, Mary Grace, also started taking prescription drugs. A problem she lived with into her adult life, until she overdosed and died, at the age of 44.
“I don’t think that there’s anything that we didn’t go through in trying to save Mary Grace, and yet you also realize ultimately, you can’t save somebody who doesn’t want to be saved,” says Dingell.
Fortunately, for her father, she says, he got the help he needed through treatment, and eventually got sober.
“I think sometimes people do want to stereotype, or think that it only does happen in certain socioeconomic backgrounds and it’s in every family,” says Dingell.
And while she says this experience made her stronger, she says, we all know someone, haunted by something. Whether it be depression, loneliness, or anxiety.
But it’s how we acknowledge the issue, and deal with it as a society that matters.
“If we can help any family not go through what we went through, we have a moral responsibility to do so,” says Dingell.