By Alexandra Gargon (Staff Writer)

Carla Markell, Delaware First Lady

Carla Markell, Delaware First Lady

Delaware’s First Lady did not always have it easy.

In a speech given to a sparse gathering of Wesley students on Oct. 29, Carla Markell, wife of Gov. Jack Markell, spoke of obstacles she overcame before meeting her husband.
Markell came to Wesley as part of the series, Arts and Culture at Wesley College: the Fall Lecture Series.

Markell told students she had to overcome an alcoholic mother and her parents’ divorce before she even attended kindergarten. Back then her name was Carla Smathers.

“It has been a process through the years and it’s not easy,” she said.

Markell said that her children are not as exposed to alcohol as other children – she’s afraid of what it might do to them.
Growing up in Newark, Del., members of Markell’s immediate family dealt with severe mental issues, alcohol abuse and addictions.

When she was 3 years old, her parents divorced.
“I’ve learned to keep the logic over the emotions, which is not easy to do,” Markell said.

During her youth, she lived with her mother, who had substance abuse issues. This led Markell to attend Al-Anon meetings to try to learn more about addictions and to get help coping.

A friend of her mother suggested that she attend the meetings.

Markell’s mother has now been sober for more than 30 years.

I keep boundaries so I don’t get taken advantage of or get hurt again, Markell said.
“I realized I had to take control of my own actions and I could not control my mom,” she said. “I realized that it wasn’t my fault.”
Markell and her brother learned to cope with the problems they faced as children, although he did not handle things as well as she later in their lives.
She looked up to her brother, who lived with their father and was a good student and athlete.
“Today, I am a role model for my brother,” Markell said.

Addictions in family make you avoid intimacy in relationships, she said.
One major statistic stood out.
“I had the knowledge that 80 percent of the time (that as the daughter of an alcoholic) you either marry someone with an addiction, or become one,” Markell said. “That scared the crap out of me.”

During her teen years, she said that she was uncomfortable with intimacy because she did not want anyone to notice her.
The first person to ask for her opinion on things was Jack Markell, her husband.

“He believed in me before I believed in me,” she said. “He saw potential.”

During college, Markell learned to parent herself while taking courses in child development. Now she can forgive herself for doing something embarrassing.

Markell feels that the mind frame of society contributes to problems of addiction.

“I believe we live in a society that doesn’t want to feel an ounce of pain,” she said. “And that’s what leads to drug problems or dependency because of depression, emotional pain.”

Markell said that she would like to see more halfway houses.
She believes that treatment for addicts may be better than punishment.
My goal is to have a better community cooperative effort to reach people better and get people to stay clean longer, Markell said.

Markell also spoke with students about problems in Delaware, and how she would like to inject more energy into Dover.

“We should have a more positive town, considering all of the colleges that are around here,” she said.