It’s a gray and rainy day, and I’m sitting in a room with a group of people who never wanted to gain entry into the retreat we’re hosting. They desperately tried everything in their power to never be here. They formulated plans, they had talks, they paid good money, they supported, they begged, they pleaded, they researched, and they loved with all they had. And, yet, here they are: the folks who have lost a loved one to the disease of addiction.
Growing up, I wanted people to like me. I considered it a personal challenge to win people over. And I wanted to feel connected to those people. I was intrigued by spirituality, and how it might make me feel connected, so I would “meditate.” But really I was just getting high, contemplating not my place in the vast continuum, but rather how a fish might have a swordfight with a bee.
On July 18th, I received my 27 year AA medallion at the Summit Hill AA meeting in Saint Paul. It’s a big meeting, about 150 people, but I’ve been there most Monday nights since moving to Saint Paul in 2004. Staying sober over the long term is mostly a matter of relapse prevention, because for us, relapse is natural.
“Detachment is not a wall; it is a bridge.”
–Courage to Change p. 22
Detachment. It’s often viewed as an ugly word, at least at first, by family members who love someone who struggles with alcoholism or addiction. Many of us come with pre-conceived notions about what detachment means. Most of us decide, without delving any further into the concept, that it means abandonment. And, we know that we’re not willing to abandon someone we love, especially when they are struggling, so therefore we won’t be detaching from them – thank you very much!
You might remember the famous “Last Lecture” given a few years ago. Well, this is my last blog and so I am going to share with you three of the most important realizations I have been blessed with in my years as a twelve-stepper. My recovery date is May 1, 1979 and so I consider myself a mere beginner in The Climb, but here is my humble offering.
My sobriety date is July 4, 1989. I planned it that way. It became clear that I needed to get sober, but I was taking a lot of drug as well as drinking a lot, and detox was difficult, at age 40. I chose to detox myself, gradually, over a period of six weeks. The timing worked out to July third, but I stretched it a bit, because I thought that the Fourth of July, Independence Day, would make a better sobriety anniversary.
As a young child, my father was in the depths of his alcoholism. I remember feeling frightened, confused and uncertain on some days, then happy, joyous, and carefree on others. I didn’t realize that my father’s drinking often determined which feelings would be present in me and my family. I did know that I was never going to be like my father!
So there I was, preparing to present to my home group, praying that I might learn something new, at least for me, in the very preparation. You would think I would have learned by now to be careful what I pray for – how often have I gotten it! Yes, the Divine struck yet again and here is what I learned:
In the spring of 1989, I finally figured out that I was an alcoholic. I had taught Addiction Studies in a Graduate School for four years without ever figuring out that I was an alcoholic. I even told the old joke that an alcoholic is someone who drinks more than his doctor, not realizing that I thought that an alcoholic was someone who drinks more than an associate professor. It was only years later, when I decided to go to Hazelden as a student in their chemical dependency counselor program that I read the textbook, the DSM-III-R, and applied it to myself that I figured it out. I carefully detoxed myself over a six week period and joined the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. I did so with a sense of grim resignation.
I made it through another Mother’s Day. As a person who loves to celebrate, I definitely love the aspect of honoring the loving, nurturing women in our lives. And, yet, it can still be a reminder of something that is missing in my own life – something that I dreamed of that didn’t take place because of the disease of alcoholism.