There is nothing more heart-wrenching than seeing my child held hostage by an addiction, and being unable to save him. After 15 years in Al‑Anon, I have come to understand that I have to be sane before I can see what is best for my child. I have to accept that I can provide some care for the affected members of my family. But when they are facing the consequences of their actions and have to make life-altering decisions, I need to draw a line in the sand that I will not cross.
When I first came to Al‑Anon, I felt as though I had finally found a group of people who really understood my struggle. It was such a relief to know they understood my emotional language, not just intellectually, but experientially as well. I felt heard, and never judged. I was encouraged to begin working the Steps and find a Sponsor. It was a great place to start. I felt I had a strong relationship with my Higher Power, and as I began working Step One, that miracle of getting the guidance I needed came to me one day. My daughter, who desperately wanted to come home to live with me after treatment, simply did not understand why my answer was “no.”
My dear daughter,
You asked me to write a letter stating the impact your addiction to alcohol has had on me. I’ve given a great deal of thought to the question.
I came to Al-Anon starving and humbly begging. I was starving emotionally and begging for “food.” I found food in the program—nourishment for my starving soul. I kept coming back and working the program, because I gained emotional nourishment.
There was a lunar eclipse this cold Saturday morning and I got up at 6 a.m. to see it. I got out of my warm bed, went to the window, and opened the shade. I was disappointed in what I saw: a barely visible, blurry blob of white with a gray smudge and a little red tint on the bottom. Maybe it was just a streetlight in the fog, maybe it was too overcast, or maybe I had forgotten that I am nearly blind without my glasses.
It is an understatement to say that my life had become unmanageable. My 17-year-old son was abusing drugs and alcohol. I spent night after night wondering what I had done wrong, and what should I be doing differently. It seemed like the more I tried to fix and control him, the worse things became. I would listen in on his phone conversations, spy on him, and raid his room looking for drugs and alcohol; yet continue to clean up his mess and mistakes. I took the fall for his actions.
“Mommy, I am sick.” I can recall hearing my eighteen-year-old daughter’s voice reaching out to me as she used to do when she was a little girl untouched by the disease of alcoholism. I can glimpse a time gone by. It is a bright, sunny day and I am running behind her as she darts off toward a playground slide. I can still clearly see her blond curls cascading down her back into rows of ringlets, as she swings her head back toward me, and smiles a genuine smile full of love, sanity, and security.
My mother’s drinking led me to Al‑Anon 22 years ago. I came and went through my eleven-year marriage to an alcoholic. I am back, once again, because of my 19‑year‑old son. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected the path of my life to take this course. Yet here I am, caught in the embrace of this beautiful program that works as hard for me as I am willing to work it.
Our adult son was an alcoholic, and I was the perfect enabler. I thought I was helping by giving him money, food, and even doing his laundry—until one evening as I was returning his laundry. I saw him walking down the street, intoxicated. Suddenly I realized that I was not helping, but hindering the possibility of him getting help for his disease. All of the caretaking that I had done had been destructive.
Three and a half years ago, I found myself in a high school guidance counselor’s office, crying about the latest crisis with my daughter. She had totaled my van on prom night, driving drunk. Through the grace of God, no one was killed or seriously injured, but it was my wakeup call. Through the grace of this gentle counselor, I was advised to go to Al‑Anon.
I did not come to Al‑Anon willingly. I was, after all, too worldly, too well educated, and far too experienced to require help from anybody. My grief and despair for a son caught up in the disease of alcoholism and drug abuse persisted despite all my efforts to cure him or to have him cured. Such were the actions I believed a responsible parent was supposed to perform in our society. I expected him to stop. His conduct was contrary to those I believed to be the hallmarks of our “class.” Yet he persisted.
I had been in Al‑Anon for a good number of years when my alcoholic daughter disappeared into the streets of a major western city. For two years, I had no contact with her or anyone who knew her. I felt as though I was completely new to the program as my sense of powerlessness grew.
Plenty of alarms had been going off in regard to my adult daughter’s drinking—but for years, I consistently hit the snooze button and denied her disease. After all, I’d been a therapist at a local women’s treatment center for 11 years; I knew a lot about addiction and alcoholism. I helped my clients work Step One to get them started in the program. But nothing could have prepared me for my own daughter’s alcoholic behavior and my reaction to it.
I grew up in an alcoholic family, where the words “I love you” were never spoken. There were never any outward signs of affection, such as hugging. I loved my family deeply, but the love I knew was unhealthy: I took care of them and felt resentful afterwards for the emptiness I felt inside.
I joined Al‑Anon because of my husband’s behavior when he was drinking—and he drank daily. My kids were little at the time. I heard people in meetings talk about their children’s addictions, and I thought it was bad enough dealing with a spouse. I could not imagine coping with one of my kids being addicted as well.
Today is my birthday—and the only thing I want is to thank all of you for the blessings I have received from Al-Anon. All of you have shared and reached out to me in ways that have touched my heart. You helped me to believe that it is possible to endure the pain and accept that my son has a problem with drinking and using drugs.
Everything is perfect in the universe—even your desire to improve it. I acquired this bit of wisdom from a fortune cookie, tucked it in my wallet, and carried it around for a long time. I enjoyed wearing my God suit. It fit perfectly and supported my misguided attempts to take control because of my husband’s alcoholism. I was sure I could fix him, manage damage, and prevent crises.