It’s a Generational Thing

Sometimes my thoughts are a jumble. But sober, at least I’m aware that they are a jumble. I recently was excited to discover distant ancestors from 1600’s Scotland. Dunkahn Bewhanon migrated from Scotland to the British West Indies about 1650. He married there and one child Jno (John) Bohannon was born there. Dunkahn, his family, and future generations migrated to Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

I also found that Dunkahn (now Duncan) brought 17 “Africans” with him. These and their children he bequeathed to his children in his will. His three children that he fathered with slaves were given to his daughters to be house slaves rather than workers in fields.

A conversation with AA friends about my confused feelings gave birth to a phrase, an earworm – When Did We Forget. Maybe an unusual poem for Thanksgiving Day, but then again maybe the best poem I could write to not forget. It gave birth to Flawed and Shame’s Stranglehold. Sober, I have become more willing to be with feelings from whence I used to hide. Sober, I can begin to see things as they were and as they are. Alcohol dependency, anxiety, depression, shame, and forgetting are generational in my family. But remembering can also now be generational in my family.


Flawed I’ve been
Flawed I am
A human learning how to be
A boy learning how to become a man
Wanting to change the world
And wanting to escape
To see a world sometimes cruel
Wondering about my part
Windows and mirrors all about me I do see
Look in my eyes and tell me
Oh tell me what you do see

When Did We Forget

When did we forget
That once we took
What we wanted
We thought it our right
Others bought and sold
Used as we wished
Just because
Beatings lynchings
And massacres
Reach across time
Eleven generations to me
But that was them
That was then
And this is me
This is now
When did we forget

Shame’s Stranglehold

Shame oh how it does sometimes
Hold me in its grip a stranglehold
Stealing my breath and with it my hope
A past I cannot change nor let go
So I oft do hide behind a facade
Carefully constructed with
Everything’s fines and I’m okays
No really I’m pretty good today
I am usually inclined to say
When within I know I’m not
Regret guilt and shameful shame
They do consume the better parts of me
Hungry ghosts that I cannot escape
Maybe it’s enough to say it aloud
Let you see the truth today
For you see I can no longer pretend
Because it’s just too hard to hide this shame

About the Author

Robert B. is a sober alcoholic in Madison, WI participating in AA and AlAnon at Fitchburg Serenity Club. He has been sober since April 21, 2007. He also began writing and sharing poetry on Facebook during his first year sober as part of his recovery from alcohol dependency, acute anxiety and chronic depression. He has found that creativity expressed primarily through writing poetry and playing various stringed instruments helped him heal and thrive.

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Joe C
Joe C
1 year ago

A deeply personal story but it made me think about my own relationship with shame and my incompleteness. Thank you. Shame is most often characterized as toxic, unhelpful, something to be avoided or extricated. But for someone like me, shame was a touchstone to finding my values and understanding and embracing my core beliefs. I was such a chameleon, such a people pleaser that I didn’t know who I was and what I stood for. I have a very clear sense of who I am and my value system. It seemed so elusive before. I would not want to be… Read more »

Robert B
Robert B
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe C

Yes. Yes. And yes. Sober, shame can be a touchstone. Love that and so very true for me. Before, I felt shame deeply, but could see now way beyond it. What I hadn’t realized so clearly, until I wrote this piece, was the generational cycles of shame that I inherited and was bequeathing.

Thanks for the kind words and sharing your experience.

Sandy H.
Sandy H.
1 year ago

“Shame’s Stranglehold” describes exactly how I feel, but could never put in the words such as these. Thank you so very, very much.

Robert B
Robert B
1 year ago
Reply to  Sandy H.

Thank you. I’ve always loved words. Sober and aware, I’ve begun to feel like I can say what I’ve never been able to express because I think that I’ve found a connection between my heart and my head.

Dean W
Dean W
1 year ago


Thanks for sharing your family story and your poetry. Your poems are powerful. My family hails from Appalachia. I’m not aware of any slaveholders in my family tree, but who knows? I know when I was growing up in Ohio we were stigmatized as hillbillys or white trash. Like you, I find writing to be very therapeutic. I also have a few guitars which I play badly, but my bad playing is therapeutic too; I consider it a form of meditation. Best wishes!

Robert B
Robert B
1 year ago
Reply to  Dean W

Thank you. I tried to ‘divorce’ myself from my roots and heritage in college and beyond. And there were abundant reasons for that ran deep. I sought to be as different as I could possibly be to avoid not only the stigma of Appalachia, but also prejudice, bias, individual and institutional, that seemed ubiquitous. I distanced myself, but I also lost some of the cultural richness. Early in sobriety, I began to learn to play as something to do that felt safe, I now see that it helped me reconnect with some beautiful parts of my heritage. There is something… Read more »