By Lisa M.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I am not an alcoholic.
I am, however, the daughter, the ex-wife and the mother of alcoholics.
I was raised in a house with a father who drank. No surprise, my first husband also drank. I had accepted drinking excessively as the norm, though I myself didn’t drink much. It wasn’t until I saw my son starting to drink excessively that I started to think otherwise.
Parenting through the teenage years is challenging on so many levels. I accept that teenagers by definition do stupid things and gave them a wide berth. But when I started to notice behavior beyond the “social experimenting” phase I became deeply concerned. Curiously enough, it was not my son’s drinking and pot smoking that concerned me, rather how he was when he was sober. Angry, manipulative, increasingly aggressive and worse. This was the kid who had been awarded most popular boy in his HS class and now, no one wanted anything to do with him. I managed to get him to a therapist and my concern was more focused on his mental health. Of course I wanted the drinking and pot to stop but that was beyond my control. I had kicked him out of my home and he was living with his dad. I was afraid that maybe these were the early days of schizophrenia, bi polar or what I had no idea. Nor did the professionals. It was all so premature.
Fast forward to his sophomore year in college when I got the dreaded phone call. “Your son is in jail, we have isolated him in the acute mental health ward.” I remember choking out “I’ve been expecting your call”. And its true, having witnessed the previous years of his erratic behavior and self medicating, something was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.
The six months that followed the arrest were particularly difficult for all of us. I scrambled to learn all I could of his dual diagnosis. And much to my son’s credit, he quit the drugs and alcohol. He took his new anti-psychotic prescription drugs and he started to go to AA meetings.
As his father was now active in AA, our son started the program with his dad.
I have been grateful for that. They now have their own communities, and they share a language.
At the same time, they were going to AA, I started going to NAMI meetings (National Alliance for Mental Illness), which were extremely helpful and supportive. I can’t say enough great things about NAMI.
And I also cautiously ventured into the Al-Anon arena for the first time.
I committed to six meetings at a few different locations. For years I had been fighting and kicking the religious paradigm of AA – which is an integral part of Al-Anon – all the while desperately seeking information and support (beyond my personal therapy sessions). There was so much new jargon and rules to learn. I entered “the room” for the first time with my atheist / free thinking / humanist ideas tucked away for the evening. Throughout my experience, I found myself becoming increasingly cynical. My bad. While others were reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I was wondering where my Jewish friends were going for help. But more importantly, where was I going to go for help?
Meeting #2 I listened to a man share a poem in honor of his recently deceased friend. After his share, the group battled for a while regarding the issue of bringing in a poem that came from outside the big book. I had no idea what was going on, it just left me feeling sad for the guy grieving his loss. I was put off by the dogma.
At another meeting I sought out a potential sponsor who told me he couldn’t help me because I was female. Apparently only women can sponsor women. I just wanted to talk with someone who struck me as otherwise an intelligent human being. He told me those were the rules and they were designed to protect vulnerable people from being taken advantage of. I resent that someone who doesn’t know me, thinks they know what’s best for me. If I didn’t think talking to a man would be a smart idea, then I would not have done it. I’m sure anytime you put men and women together in a room, something “could” happen. Why not talk about that… we’re all adults. To say nothing of how this works in the LGBT community.
“Take what you want”
What I took away from these meetings was that there were a lot of well meaning people out there in Al-Anon, but the shoe simply did not fit. I’m thinking the AA policies found in these rooms are way out-dated and I did not want to get wrapped up in the politics… I just wanted to go to an Al-Anon meeting to learn more about living with a “qualifier”. I stopped going after the six meetings, feeling even more lonely and frustrated. I never took the time to explore the 12 steps. I could not get passed step 1. God? Higher power? Switching names did not clear my issue of simply not believing in either. I wasn’t even clear why I should do the steps, after all, it was my son who had the addiction… it was the “qualifiers” who were supposed to surrender.
Could the 12 step program – Al-Anon’s “suggested” program too – help me grieve the loss of my son as I once knew him? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Could it help me recognize that his young life was now beyond my own? Could it help me to be a better person / mother? I wanted to learn what he was being exposed to in AA, much the way a parent wants to know what’s going on in school. If he was learning a new language, I wanted to educate myself. Yeah, I get his sobriety is his business and I have never felt so powerless in my life.
I believe I didn’t voluntarily give up power, it was taken from me. A powerless mother watching her beloved boy flopping like a fish out of water. I watched as he gasped for breath. I watched as his friends left him. I watched as meds came and went. I watched life as he and I once knew it, go out the window. I yearned for the support of a community.
My son and I are cut of the same cloth with our shared histories of not believing in God or a higher power. I listened to him now as he started in his AA recovery. He expressed wishing he could believe in a god, thinking it would help to make his sobriety easier. He met a missionary one day and came home reporting that “This guy’s belief in God seems to make his life so much easier”, but he just couldn’t do it. Then, one day, he told me that his new definition of god was a “group of drunks”. The group support of his AA meetings was strong and I was relieved he felt comforted with his new idea of g.o.d.
Three years later, my son remains sober. He has always had a certain power of conviction (sometimes arrogant and off-putting) but with regards to his sobriety, it has served him well. Sadly, I haven’t heard from him in over a year. He’s angry at me.
Last month, I received a letter from my son. He wants to connect. His letter has prompted me to go back into the AA arena to learn more. Again, curious about the process but this time more focused on learning about taking my own fearless personal inventory.
Fast forward – finding the AA Agnostica website with its alternative 12 steps was a cross over to several languages that I could understand. Freethinkers, atheist, humanist, etc. I found a sense of relief as I read and reread and compared the alternative steps. I thought about what the steps had in common outside the religious paradigm of the traditional steps. The White Bison Steps with their one word per step made it simplest of all; and it helped me to find the common denominator. Step one. Honesty. For some, that may be admitting they’re powerless over their addiction. For me, it meant admitting I was powerless over everybody else but myself. All these years I had been battling my addiction to control. I was addicted to anger. It was my go to for pushing people away and numbing and isolating myself. Causing others and myself pain. Clearly my addiction had taken control of my life in a way that wasn’t healthy for me.
The White Bison Step 2 is a bit more challenging as it requires me to think about Hope. “Hope” is a distant concept for me; much like praying for something to happen and I don’t do that either. So in an effort to work step 2, I do “hope” that I can continue to learn to cope better with my life and lay my sword down. And I “hope” that I can continue to learn to stay focused (I tend to say “sober”) on living an emotionally healthier life. My life. And only my life.
And I “hope” that there is someone out there (male or female) to help guide me through the rest of the steps.
I haven’t gone back into the rooms of Al-Anon (perhaps I need an Al-Anon Agnostica meeting) in a while, but I am staying here on line at AA Agnostica, reading and feeling a sense of connection to a new group of folks that seem to have much to offer me.
In fact, as I read on and compare the alternative steps, I see that the importance of community and interaction with peers is huge. I understand more than ever how g.o.d. got to be a “group of drunks” for some.
So perhaps that is what I’m looking for here at AA Agnostica… a group of well seasoned drunks to help support me so that I may learn to walk the walk of a healthier life. Sober. As in “Earnestly thoughtful and calm”.
Dr. Silkwood states that emotional and mental quirks are symptoms of humankind. I think that alcoholics and non, have more in common than their “quirks”. We are human beings all striving for a cleaner and more fulfilling life. One day at a time. I would add the words of Kalidasa, “Look well therefore to this day”.
I went to my first AA meeting not too long ago. It may be interesting to note that while God was prevalent at the Al-Anon meetings I had attended, there was no mention or sign of god at my first AA meeting. It was an open discussion group. There was one placard on the table and it said “You are not alone”. There may have been more posted on the walls, but I didn’t notice. The meeting ended with a circle of hand holding, a poem was shared and a silent meditation. By the way, it was a full house.
On a personal note, after one year of silence from my son, we recently spent much time together. He remains sober after three years. He’s working, has a girl friend, goes to a variety of meetings (including a Buddhist AA), attends night school, exercises, meditates and in September, he will be going back to college full time.
I am reminded of a few years back when a doctor at Yale told me that because of my son’s young age, his brain was not fully formed and that it could change – for worse or better. In that respect, my son got very lucky. He is clear eyed, medication free, physically fit, thoughtful and thriving. He has worked really hard to get to this point and I am eternally grateful to all who have been a part of his life of sobriety. Thank you all.