The Wishful Thinking of Hindsight

My son, who just turned 21 and now has 16 months of sobriety, lives far away from home at New Life House. While most days I feel good about the progress we’ve made as a recovering family, sometimes I can “relapse” and feel pretty raw. Then there are the days that I wonder, “What could I have done differently?”

Wish #1

“I wish that all the time I spent creating family meals, driving to sports, working on homework, talking about drug prevention, and lecturing about chemical dependency in our family had been successful in preventing my son from being an addict.”

I was aware of the genetic risks. I also knew that drugs were readily available in our affluent school district. But I was certain that my own efforts could shield my son, and my family, from addiction. I’m sometimes angry at the literature and the studies that imply we can control the addiction of a child (or anyone else for that matter). I wallowed in failure and self-blame for too long as a result of believing my preventive actions could guard my son from addiction. That is not possible.

Wish #2

“I wish I had found Al Anon before my son entered treatment.”

I remember family week, 15 months ago, where all of us with a son in treatment were given the assignment of joining Al-Anon. I was scared and embarrassed. Aghast that I would have to share my family’s drama with people who might recognize me. I tried three meetings, one far from home and two closer to home. I quickly discovered two things: First, it didn’t matter whether I was recognized. We were all in it together, without judgment and with the promise of anonymity. Second, it didn’t matter whether my son’s other parents also went to Al Anon.

Al Anon is for me, for my serenity and personal growth. I can support my son with my own participation in Al-Anon, even if Al Anon doesn’t work for another family member. I’ve learned in Al-Anon that l must let go of managing everyone else and respect each individual’s dignity in pursuing his or her own recovery path. I would have benefited from joining Al-Anon years earlier.

Wish #3

“I wish my son was in a program closer to home.”

Relocating my son was difficult because I was losing control, limiting contact on my own terms by delegating management of his treatment program. Would people cast me as a bad mother for not keeping him in the community? But to think I could actually take charge of his treatment and recovery is distorted. To believe for an instant that anybody else has a right to judge my family’s choice of treatment program is outrageous. Of course I miss my son (yes, people actually ask). I let go of those destructive thoughts with the help of my Al-Anon group.

Despite the unfulfilled wishes, I know that my son is finding strength by living the AA program. He is surrounded by the support of the men of New Life House, past and present. We are at this place – at this moment. It’s good.

– Patty J., New Life House Mother


  • Kathy
    Posted at 13:43h, 27 August Reply

    Thank you for that wonderful article. Our ability to “relapse” in our own behavior is a recurrent problem which Alanon continues to help control. Your son is in good hands with New Life and his higher power.

  • Debbie O-A
    Posted at 17:31h, 27 August Reply

    Patty, as a NL mom who lives 2500 miles from my son, I can empathize with you! It’s not always easy, but as a grateful member of Al-Anon, I find the rewards are many. Thank you for sharing!

  • Sonja C.
    Posted at 14:33h, 28 August Reply

    Wow, Patty — I read those three wishes with such familiarity I felt almost as if they had been written about me! The similarity of what some of us go through is uncanny. Your take on regret and wishful thinking, something I struggle with daily, is so well written and much appreciated. With Al-Anon and my Higher Power, I am learning to live in the PRESENT, and if I slip, I can move on more quickly. You’ve reminded me, and I’m sure others, that we really are in this together, whether we choose Al-Anon or not.

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