Mothers on the Frontlines: The Addict’s Mom

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

“Nobody is more determined or more affected by the disease of addiction than a mother,” ardently declared Leisha Underwood, the Executive Director of The Addict’s Mom (TAM) at a “Fed Up” event in Washington, DC, in September 2016. Seeking to raise awareness about drug addiction and the urgent need for legislative reforms, Underwood continued: “Nobody will ever fight harder to save a child. The societal stigma and misunderstanding experienced by mothers simply trying to save their children can be crippling.” 

Underwood’s impassioned speech captured the emotionally fierce reformist spirit and steadfast determination of the more than 150,000 members of the grassroots movement that is TAM. The group practices a unique version of passionate politics in which aggrieved mothers (hence “fed up”) voice their discontent sorrowfully and tearfully. As one paper noted, “The Addict’s Mom may be walking into stiff headwinds, but there’s strength in numbers. And as groups like MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] have taught us, there’s nothing more powerful than a mom on a mission.”

Members of The Addict’s Mom participate in a “Lights of Hope” event in 2016

Barbara Theodosiou, the founder of TAM, is illustrative of the groundswell of emotional politics practiced by the burgeoning army of mothers tenaciously and mercilessly opposed to current forms of drug control. Theodosiou took to Facebook to form the online group TAM in 2008 upon learning that two of her children were addicted to drugs. After suffering from severe bouts of depression that psychologically, and, to an extent, physically paralyzed her, Theodosiou channeled her emotional pain toward productive ends.

She created a community where mothers could, as she explained, “share without shame.” The stigma of drug addiction deeply troubled Theodosiou, and she believed that shame impeded progress toward a more enlightened and compassionate approach to treating addicts. “Society views addicts as dirty and ugly,” she asserted in analyzing the social stigmatization of addiction within an idiom of disgust. Such feelings of shame led to isolation and despair, and she sensed that thousands of mothers in her situation also experienced emotional repression detrimental to their personal well-being.

Read more