My membership in Al-Anon did not begin because of my children. I have two precious sons, 25 and 27 years old. I started attending meetings to learn to deal with an alcoholic fiancée. About six months into my program I learned that my maternal grandfather was an alcoholic and realized that my father had his own issues with alcohol and always displayed alcoholic behaviors. So, I realized I am an Adult Child of an Alcoholic raised by the Adult Child of an alcoholic. Is there any wonder I would fall in love with an alcoholic?
Then I began to realize the issues I was dealing with with my alcoholic and addicted fiancée were many of the same issues I was dealing with with my oldest son. Lying, Stealing money, Stealing my prescription medications, getting arrested, financial problems. Some days his depression was deep and dark and other days he would talk non-stop with big ideas and grandiose plans for the future.
When I first found out he was smoking pot, I went to his guidance counselor for – well – guidance. I was told “Be grateful he’s not using heroin. We have a huge heroin problem at this school” That scared the hell out of me! My son would never use heroin! So he smoked a little pot and drank a little too much sometimes. It wasn’t that bad, right?
Exactly 5 weeks ago, my precious son died in his sleep at the age of 27. We are still waiting for the autopsy results but it could take 3 months to get the toxicology report. Of course I am holding on to the slim chance that he died of an undetected medical condition, but either way, my son is gone.
So, yes, my worst fear came true. My beloved son, the person that made me a mother, was gone. I will never hear his voice again, I will never kiss him again, I will never hug him again. I remember telling his father that I don’t feel like Jonathan is dead; I feel like I’m the one who’s dead, but I just keep walking around. The first days were truly devastating.
Thank God I had my Al-Anon friends to support me through those days. Then I started speaking and texting with my son’s friends from California, Texas, Utah, Thailand, Japan – all over the world. We would share stories and comfort each other and were even able to laugh.
I was able to look at the blessings and not just the tragedy. I realized that my son had made a difference in the world in the lives of everyone who knew him and loved him – and there were a lot! I was able to step out of my sorrow, to help others who were experiencing their own sorrow – his brother, his friends, his best friend since 4th grade, our family, his girlfriend, his father. As I gave support to them, I was able to put my grief aside. I was able to appreciate my son’s contributions to the world, his overwhelming love of animals, his generosity of spirit, his gentleness, his humor, his love. Yes, he was an addict but he was so much more than just that.
I began to realize that even in these darkest of days; I was having brief moments of serenity. They would come whenever I would share a funny memory or story of my son’s antics with one of his heartbroken friends. Then I had the great honor to begin sharing his belongings with those people who would truly treasure them – His Giants and Knicks jerseys, His Wu-Tang hat, His vast collection of Yankees caps, Old concert programs and T-shirts. I listened to others and they listened to me. We shared our sorrow but we also shared out happiness, our memories, our love.
His father had said to me “I hope he knows I loved him” I knew in my heart, without question, that he knew I loved him and I knew he loved me. I always expressed my love for him even when I had to express my disappointment in some of his actions and behaviors. I supported his decisions but let him know when I disagreed with them. I let him make his own mistakes and learn from those mistakes. I understood that he wasn’t perfect, just as I know that no one is perfect, including myself. I recognized that he suffered from the disease of addiction just as I suffer from my own disease. I tried to love him unconditionally, maybe sometimes I fell short, but I also established boundaries for my well-being and the well-being of the family in general.
I often heard, and have said it myself, “Parenthood doesn’t come with a manual” I now understand why that is. Because even when I became a parent, I was still me, I was still Cece, and that was all I needed to be as a parent – myself. It’s ok for me to express anger, sadness, pain, panic, disappointment, excitement, pride. But I must do that with respect. Respect for my child and respect for myself.
As a parent of a child with addiction, I have had sleepless nights, Panic Attacks, emergency room visits, legal issues and court dates. But I’ve also had immense happiness, pride, love and the best hugs ever.
By remembering the good and sharing my pride, I can find happiness. By sharing that happiness I have found serenity. It doesn’t last 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But, it can last seconds, moments, minutes, hours, and yes, even days.
We are not alone! For me the only way to feel serenity is to reach out to others who are suffering. This brings me out of my own trauma, out of my depression, makes me forget the trivial, inconsequential issues that could otherwise consume me. It gets me out of myself.
My son’s friends have thanked me for my strength in helping them through this difficult time; For sharing his belongings with them, for being there with them, for listening to their own struggles with alcoholism and addiction. I tell them these are purely selfish acts on my part because it brings me closer to my son and takes away much of my pain.
For me, the only way for me to find serenity again after this tragedy has been by sharing it with others. There’s a proverb that say “A Shared Joy is a Double Joy; A Shared Sorrow is Half a Sorrow.” I try to remember that everyone has a sorrow. Many people are suffering. But by sharing their sorrow with them I can help reduce their sorrow and by sharing my happiness, I can double my happiness.
Even in crisis, even in tragedy, I have been able to feel serenity through reaching out to others, sharing my love and accepting the love of others.
I wish this for all of us.