Al‑Anon got me through a parent’s worst nightmare

Three a.m.: My eyes squeezed shut. I crave sleep, but worry, fear, and obsessive projections about what might befall my alcoholic loved ones worm their way through my thoughts. Gnawing. Gouging. Over and over, pulverizing any chance of sleep. Hospital scenes play out. DWI arrests? Accidents? Jail? Bail? Maybe worse. Death. Wakes. Funerals.

We’ve all agonized about it, right? I mean, that’s the type of misery that led me to seek relief in Al‑Anon. But you know what? In Al‑Anon, I found out that worry and obsession just offer us an illusion of control. Subconsciously, I guess I thought enough worry would somehow prepare me for the worst. Well…it won’t.

Just about a year ago, a police car pulled up where I worked. No big deal, I thought. After all, they’re often there; it’s a public venue. An officer got out, then the Chief. They weren’t smiling. A minute later, my wife arrived, got out of her car, and joined them. She looked ill. I felt the back of my neck tighten. They bore the worst news—the absolute worst. Gently, the Chief told me one of our beloved sons, age 44, had passed away.

My ears started ringing. What? No! My vision blurred and my throat dried up. I nodded dumbly.

The Chief went on to say our son, highly intoxicated, had fallen and hit his head on a marble table. I felt numb, out of body. Blindsided, but not really. It wasn’t like I hadn’t kind of expected it, in the back of my mind. But no amount of prior obsessing could have prepared me.

We came to find out that our son had a blood alcohol content over five times the legal limit. He’d been practically comatose. No dramatic or heroic death, nothing dignified about it—a direct result of 28 years of drug and alcohol abuse. He’d been in treatment and A.A., but had insisted it wasn’t for him. What a waste of a smart, talented, and loving human being. Our son. Dead. Just like that. Worst nightmare comes true.

Later that night came the tears and sadness, but mostly numbness and denial. It couldn’t be true, could it? In the days following, I was on autopilot. I dragged myself to meetings. I couldn’t talk much, but Al‑Anon was the only place where I felt a little better.

Less than a month later, came a call from the police—different police, different city. Our youngest son, 42, had passed away. What? No, that can’t be true.

How? The deadly combination of alcohol, mental illness, and firearms, that’s how. Incredibly, he’d been sober for nearly twenty years but had recently gone back to drinking, and the disease resurfaced with a vengeance—cunning, powerful, and patient. I thought my head would explode. I flopped on the floor and screamed. I did the only thing I knew how to; I pleaded for help from my Higher Power.

Then came travel, cremations, services, and memorials. Oceans of sadness, grief, and many, many Al‑Anon meetings where the healing began. In the span of a couple of months, six or maybe eight parents who had lost children to the devastating disease of alcoholism took me aside. Sad, yet courageous, they told me their stories. These strong parents all said the same thing: Al‑Anon kept them from spiraling down into depression, or worse. I began to feel a little better.

A year has passed. The sadness, as you’d expect, is still there. Chunks of my heart have been ripped out and I now realize those holes are permanent. The worst time? When I wake up at three a.m., not really obsessing but just remembering, with sadness. In fact, every morning when I wake up, the sadness threatens to keep me in bed but then I think of the boys when they were little kids, so full of life and joy, before the disease of alcoholism slithered into their lives.

There is hope. Miracles happen all the time. After over twenty years in Al‑Anon, I’ve witnessed plenty of miracles. In fact, we have three other sons, our miracle boys, with the courage to change. The oldest came back from the alcoholic gates of hell, has a beautiful wife and daughter, and is a true human being in all ways. Our second oldest son, once heavily into drugs, faced a brain tumor with courage and dignity, giving credit to his Higher Power. He’s a poster boy for integrity. Our third son had to find the courage to change in jail. Now, three years sober in A.A., he recently told me, “Pops, you might as well pray for God’s will, because it’s what you’re gonna get anyway.” Him thinking that way? A miracle!

Yeah, hope is real. There’s always hope. Love, hope, and prayer—that’s about all we can do. But, we must find the courage to change, and that is the gift of the Twelve Steps of Al‑Anon.

You remember me telling you of those Al‑Anon members I met who’ve lost children to the disease? The ones that said Al‑Anon kept them from spiraling into depression or worse. Well, Al‑Anon is doing the same for me. If I really work my program, it may not save my loved ones but I will be okay no matter what. If I don’t enable, and if I detach with love, my loved ones have a better chance. We all know the truth, though. They have to want it and that is between them and their Higher Power.

My mission today? I need to focus on our remaining sons and my other family members, put my energy into their lives, and not waste it on regrets or “shoulda, woulda, coulda” scenarios. So I get up every day and jump feet first back into life. If I am to be a positive presence in my other loved ones’ lives, I need to be whole. Our two sons who fell on the battlefield of alcoholism would want that.

I’ve come to believe that the Higher Power of my understanding created the laws of nature, in perfect harmony. One of those laws is: if you drink, drug, and don’t stop, the cumulative effects are progressive. Unless alcoholics undergo a spiritual transformation, they end up in jail, institutions, or dead—way before their time. That is a fact, and I can’t change it. I accept that. I now realize how absolutely powerless I am. But I can love, hope, and pray. I can have the courage to change myself. Trust in my Higher Power, detachment, and acceptance are my helmet, sword, and shield. Lots and lots of meetings, after all, they are spiritual money in the bank—to be drawn upon when needed.

Acceptance. Wow. I am realizing there is no situation that my Higher Power and Al‑Anon cannot get me through, absolutely none—not even a parent’s worst nightmare.

By Anonymous
The Forum, January 2014