When I first sat down to write this piece, I struggled with the direction I wanted to take. I thought if I had been asked to write about my experience with my son’s addiction eight months ago, my perspective would have been very different.
Eight months ago I would have focused on him, his path to addiction, the quick downward spiral that he had taken, his decision to ask for help, and his journey since. Or better yet, I would have been crippled by my fear and shame, paralyzed by my feelings of inadequacy as a mother, exasperated with my inability to keep my world and everyone else’s in my family from spinning out of control, and blinded by my denial of what we were facing. I would have been overcome with anger, shame, regret, resentment, and feelings of desperation. However, today, I have gained more insight and knowledge about addiction. More importantly, I have gained emotional, spiritual, and physical clarity. I have gained the type of clarity which allows me to see that I need to detach with love and get out of my son’s way.
I have come to the realization that I need to take care of myself and that it is not only alright to do so, but it is central to both of our recoveries. This clarity has ushered in an inner peace, which is something I wasn’t quite sure was possible. I mean let’s face it – what mother would have ever thought that their beautiful, happy little baby they carried for nine months and then watched grow into an even more beautiful, happy toddler, adolescent, and pre-teen would end up dealing with addiction in their late teens? It certainly was not the vision or dream I had for my son. But, life happens…good and bad.
When we were researching aftercare options for our son, we were oblivious as to what we were looking for in a sober living community. From everything I had learned, the programs based on the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous seemed to be, from every indication, the ones which laid the best foundation for recovery and long term sobriety. Then when I spoke with the people at New Life House and asked them what they believed to be one of the strongest components of their program, I continued to hear the word community. I suppose I could comprehend that. Community as I had always understood it, was a group of people living in the same place and having a common characteristic. That made some sense to me. If we send our son to New Life House, he will have a group of young men who are working together on their journey to sobriety, therefore a community.
At about the same time, a friend of mine whose son is in recovery invited me to her AA Family Group. I reluctantly went to the first meeting asking myself “Why am I here? I am not the one with the problem. I shouldn’t have to do this kind of work. These people are not like me!” When family members went around the room and shared their experiences with their addicts, I was completely dumbfounded. How could they be so open and honest about their loved ones’ stories? My overall take away from my first meeting was that these people were all there not to help their addict, but to help themselves. Wow, that was a completely new concept. It seemed counterintuitive to what I thought I was going to get from the group.
Our world had just been turned upside down by our son’s addiction; I wanted some advice on how to assist him on his journey. But what I slowly began to figure out is that if I could have done something to help him, he would be cured. All the therapy, help and love we had given him wouldn’t help because he had to do it himself: it is his journey, his life, his recovery. At the end of my first meeting, the members all clasped hands and said “Keep coming back, it works if you work it and you’re worth it.” Hmmm…maybe that got to me. I am worth it. I never stopped to think about that before. I was so consumed with making sure all of my kids’ lives were on the right track, I forgot to be the conductor of my own train. I wasn’t taking care of myself or my own life’s journey. I finally experienced the proverbial “God shot”! I needed to stop trying to control my son’s recovery from afar and start taking care of my own. So, I came back to the second meeting, and the third, and the fourth, and before I knew it, I had been regularly attending meetings over seven months.
I don’t feel complete if I have to miss a meeting. I began to realize that the biggest component of these meetings is the sense of community you feel as you walk through those doors every week. I learned very quickly why AA has a saying “Come all the way in and sit all the way down.” At first, I feel as if I was kind of just going through the motions, but as time progressed I started really doing the work and letting go of resentments and expectations, and truly gave the process a chance. When I first walked through the doors of my home group, I really couldn’t wrap my head around the whole “Giving it up to my Higher Power”. It felt as if I was standing on quicksand and now you are asking me to give up my power. If I do that, how will I help my son? How will everything turn out ok? However, coming to my meetings every week uncovered a consciousness in me that I never even knew existed. I began to truly understand my powerlessness over my son’s addiction and very slowly began to let go. I started sharing at meetings, got a sponsor, and began working the 12 Steps for my own recovery. I began to feel hopeful. A light went off in my head and I finally began to understand the meaning of community that the people at New Life had spoken of: it is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common experiences, attitudes, and goals. That is exactly what I have found in AA. I have experienced the type of fellowship I have never felt before. I can remove all of my masks, share my fears, anger, resentments, and hope, discuss my son’s addiction and recovery, and know that I will not be judged. That ability to speak my truth has cultivated within me the inner peace of which I alluded to before.
The interesting thing about all of this is that while I have been on my path to recovery, my son has also been working the 12 Steps. We have had the ability to share some of our experiences. He shared with me that knowing I am working the Steps gives him peace of mind that I will be ok. We are both on separate paths: sometimes we will cross paths, sometimes we will walk side by side and hold hands, sometimes he will be ahead of me and other times he will behind. I have come to accept that it doesn’t matter where we are on our paths because it is our own journey. We will both encounter obstacles and challenges on our life journey, but it is my hope that we both remain steadfast on our paths. I do know now however, that there are several things that will keep us on that path: remembering that the power of the Steps lies in not just understanding the words, but doing the work – coming all the way in and sitting all the way down, asking for help when needed, and surrounding ourselves with that community and fellowship that AA and New Life House provides, which allows each of us to feel accepted and loved for who we truly are.