Some of you may be familiar with the famous presentation given by Reverend Joseph L. Kellermann titled “ALCOHOLISM, A Merry-Go-Round Named Denial.” Condensed version: click here.
Written as a script for a never-ending dramatic play, the lead role, played by the alcoholic/addict, is aptly described in ACT I. The supporting actors, the Enablers, the Victims, and the Provokers all come out in ACT II. The third ACT of the drama runs much like ACT I, but the denial and need to continue to deny is much stronger. In fact DENIAL is what keeps the play going, there is no final act, and it just repeats ACTS 1, 2 and 3.
Not that I needed to read about a drama already personally experienced, it nonetheless validated how denial manifests itself: “people do what they say they will not or deny what they have done.”
What struck me was the sentence that I don’t recall seeing before: It is not true that an alcoholic cannot be helped until he wants help. Say again? An alcoholic can be helped ready or not? For a long time I believed that the addict must want help to seek recovery. The truth is the likelihood of them getting help begins when ACT II ends. If there are no supporting actors, ENABLERS, VICTIMS and PROVOKERS, the curtain closes.
When I wanted to quit role playing, I made a decision to find out how. For more information, visit the Al-Anon website: http://al-anon.alateen.org/
“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence,
but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”
~Anna Freud, Austrian psychologist~
My friend’s brother is an alcoholic but he doesn’t’ want to “prove it” by going to an AA meeting. That tacit admission would be too hard for him to bear even thought he admits that he has lost his job and his home and his driver’s license because of repeated DUIs and jail stints. I am not judging him. I cannot say that I would do better or differently under the circumstances. I just don’t see how you can get better if you don’t admit you are ill. That would be like fighting cancer without chemo or fixing a broken bone without a splint.
When I heard my son announce in an AA meeting, “I am an alcoholic and an addict,” it took my breath away. At first, it saddened me immensely: I wanted him to be on the debate team, to crew a racing scull, to help build homes with Habitat for Humanity. AA was not the club I wanted him to join.
But at the same time, I was immensely proud that he claimed membership in this group that I know to be committed and brave and march on while the siren song of addiction calls out to them. This is a fellowship of people who dig deep to understand their powerlessness and to seek the help they need. There is tremendous empathy and mutual support within the walls of an AA meeting.
My son’s proclamation also compelled me to admit, “I am the mother of an alcoholic and an addict.” I never imagined that I would claim membership in this club. But there is strength and honesty in this proclamation that helps me get better, too.
For about a year, I considered myself a newcomer to Al-Anon. It was happenstance that I showed up that night 4 years ago to hear for the first time her story. Still holding onto the “yeah, BUT…” I was afraid to relinquish any and all efforts that would purportedly save my son and yet there I was: heartfelt but headstrong, broken, fearful, demanding, revengeful, controlling, disappointed…all the while resenting having to deal with any of it. And my conflicted soul began to shift from denial to acceptance with a strong urge to change my ways. This defining moment turned into positive action because I could clearly see the situation now. The clear vision that worrying was not working. Being the victim was not working. Being the martyr was not working. Life was going to continue and I could choose to do something or stay where I was. This was my pivotal point and in her story she mouthed the horror I so fear:
“When my son died…”
and then capped it with Grace:
“he knew that he was loved by his mother”
– CLARITY CRYSTALIZED. There was something I did have control over and nothing, not anything, would stand in my way getting what she had. And what she had, she got from Al-Anon and now she gave it back so freely. And for the 2nd time as I listened again, I was filled with gratitude beyond measure.
I was as addicted to my son’s addiction as he was to his drugs and alcohol, and I matched every one of his crazy moves with one of my own. Knowing that he stored booze in the cavity he cut out below his box springs, I placed a quarter “just so” against the box spring, knowing that it would topple if he went for his stash. Every night for months, I gently lifted the dust ruffle and checked to see if that damn quarter had deviated from its position. It never did, primarily because he was snitching beer from the fridge (Duh!). When he was out driving like a madman, I was hot on his trail, trying to track him down in the middle of the night. That was alien behavior to my husband who had removed himself from the whole dysfunctional drama in an equally unhealthy fashion: like a teeter-totter, he sat on one end, out of the picture; I sat on the other end, horribly enmeshed in the train wreck; and our addict son was smack dab in the middle, a most unhealthy fulcrum in a very sick family.
I couldn’t see my own crazy behavior because (a) I was too close to it (b) I was in denial (c) I was exhausted (d) I was confused (e) all of the above. The light began to cut through the fog when my non-addict son confronted me and told me that I was crazier than my addict son. “Man,” he said, “I see where he got it! You’re even crazier than my brother!” Did that statement open my eyes? Yes. Did I change my crazy ways? No, at least not immediately. But I did begin to look at my own involvement in my son’s addiction, and that marked a key point in my own return to sanity.
I sat in a meeting and listened for the 2nd time a parent share her experience, strength and hope. This person has been an anonymous angel to me. The first time I heard her story was 4 years ago. She gave me courage and strength back then and a whole lot of HOPE. Even though at the time, I cried and grieved about the experiences she had, I knew that I was not immune and I admired how she had not only coped, but found serenity and joy in life. And for the 2nd time as I listened again, I was filled with gratitude beyond measure. The gratitude for the program of recovery offered from Al-Anon members who keep showing up, year after year. Her story, like so many, includes great sadness, but also joy. It includes unfathomable outcomes of life and death. It could be my story, your story, and is the many stories of others. Her son died in prison from a heart condition and at the time he was clean and sober. His in and out of prison, in and out of recovery, in and out of denial could be construed as unfair torment and pity. But to witness recovery from the disease of co-dependence; to observe what a loving mother could exhibit when in recovery, somehow transformed her story of loss into a story of great hope and happiness. It was my moment of clarity 4 years ago. The reality of the seriousness of the disease, coupled with the understanding that I was going to have to make a decision that would require work, willingness and time. This all combined and propelled me into action. It got me out of the perimeter of the rooms and involved. It could be said, a life saving event. To be continued…
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Reinhart Neibuhr
I’ve been reading a book called Sacred Moments, Daily Meditations on the Virtues. The back of the book describes it better than I can: “The virtues such as honesty, generosity, love, discernment and trust dwell inside all of us. They are our link with the Divine, the best parts of our character and the highest qualities of our humanity….The virtues help us to know who we are and what we can be.”
This book was given to me by a mom student in the anatomy class I took recently. She mentioned to the class that her young son had been killed several years ago by a drunk driver riding his bike home from a Little League game.
This ethereal mom walked a walk of tremendous grace, compassion and humanity. There was not a bitter bone in her body over her son’s loss; instead, she continues to dedicate her energy to transforming sorrow into strength, pain into growth, and fear into trust. She teaches a Virtues class every six months to introduce the concepts to our community, but she lives and breathes the virtues with every step.
When I am tempted to throw a Pity Party for the missteps and damage done along the way (courtesy of drugs and alcohol), I will reflect on this brave mom, do my best to follow in her footsteps, and spin straw into gold.
“Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson