There are no coincidences in this life. Happy Mother’s Day to the all Mothers out there. It’s amazing how God works. I once heard if you want to make God laugh, tell him you plans. How very true. To be at this part in my bi-monthly blog is way beyond coincidences. In our book, The Painting and The Piano, the prologue tells the story of my Father’s car accident and how that leads to the notion that almost every issue involving addiction starts in childhood and more times than not it has to do with the relationship a Mother has with her child. When that bond is broken many lives become derailed.
I always had a difficult time understanding the joy of Mother’s Day. I did have very close relationships with most of my girlfriend’s mothers but never really understood that bond. Being raised by a nanny I missed that part of my upbringing which little did I know in my early years would be detrimental and almost suicidal to my life years later.
I also attended my fortieth high school class reunion just last weekend. High School is where it all started so it brought back many good and some not so good memories but it was awesome to see my old friends.
For the life of me I couldn’t understand Angela’s insistence to write a letter to my Mom.
Luckily for me there was a tiny crack opening up in the wall I had put up for so many years and I was allowing others to peak in briefly but it was ajar.
Okay, I’ll do it. How long does it need to be?
I can’t answer that Johnny, she replied.
I stormed out of her office and went home and started immediately on the stupid letter. Bit by bit some of my defects, like procrastination, were getting better.
I wrote a two-page letter in four hours and absolutely bawled the entire way. I had no idea the resentment, anger, loss and abandonment I felt towards my Mother.
How could she? I yelled inside of my vacant house.
I suddenly realized something. My house was vacant because I had turned into my Mother. I had chased anybody and everybody who ever wanted anything to do with me out of my life, including my wife and innocent children.
I know how she, we had become prisoners to our disease.
Why me God? I yelled again.
Why did you choose me to live? I asked.
At that moment I had a revelation. I was chosen to help others, to be an example. I had found the second of the only two things I know God’s will for me is. One is to stay sober and the second is to reach out and help others.
He obviously has no idea who I am. I help me and only me. Maybe another defect was giving way.
Here you go. I threw my two-page letter on Angle’s desk.
(Excerpt taken from The Painting and The Piano Book)
Mom, up to age nine I have very few memories of you. I have fond memories of Lizzy and, in all honesty, I consider her my mother. I remember our walks down the lane, spending most of my time with her and feeling safe in her presence. She would have laid down her life for me and I know she loved me. “As much as a kitten loves cream,” she used to say. I remember, too, when I was a boy, she would say, “John David, I knew you were coming to me because I could see your soft, blond hair bouncing from the woods and up the yard.”
I have no memory of you saying such things.
What I remember is after Dad and you told us the two of you were divorcing, you took us to Florida and the hotel staff carried you up to our room because you were so drunk. And I remember Dad tying you up in the pantry. He told me to untie you once he left.
Then you were sent away.
Then you came back and we went through the custody fight. How could you put us through that terrifying ordeal and then separate us? On top of that, you married Dale, who was verbally abusive to all of us, and physically abusive to Joshua.
Most of my memories of you are from age fifteen on, and they are not pretty. Didn’t you ever wonder why I didn’t bring friends around? Not one friend, including Margaret. Would you even know who she is and what she meant to me?
My memory of you is lying passed out on the couch in your urine-soaked nightgown day after day, night after night, with cigarette burns in the carpet below you.
I remember thinking I am never going to be like you. The many ambulances in the driveway, the trips to the hospital because you fell. Being rushed out of the restaurant on a stretcher, and the only time I remember you driving, you got pulled over for your drunken driving.
At age twenty-two, I received a call you were in a coma. Looking at all the tubes coming out of you, yellow skinned, bloated. That is the memory I am left with. None of us shed a tear at that moment or at your funeral, where there were only five people in attendance.
I am mad, Mom, angry and full of resentment. How could you? I have grown close to most of my girlfriends’ mothers over the years. I guess it is my way of having a mom. I have never understood the closeness my friends feel for their mothers.
As I stated in the beginning, I did not want to relive these memories or write this letter. I told my counselor, “Why do I want to write a letter to my dead mother?” She said, “Just do it.”
In my six weeks in the program I have learned one thing, which amazes me. I have learned that you did the best you could and I have to accept that fact. I have the same disease as you and my life hasn’t turned out very well up to this point.
I do want to thank you for my life. Obviously, without you it wouldn’t be possible. I hope God is looking over your soul.
Angela finished reading the letter that I wrote to my mother and then said, This is really good Johnny, now I want you to read it in front of our inpatient group tonight.
Fat chance, I said to myself.
Please, she said with her Bassett Hound eyes.
Fine! See you in a couple of hours.
My name is John and I am an alcoholic. Amazingly after six weeks it was finally getting easier to say.
This is my personal burning bush, my miracle. As I cried reading my letter I felt a dark gray cloud slowly lifting off of my shoulders.
Then as God is my witness, the compulsion and desire for alcohol left me one hundred percent and in eighteen years of continuous sobriety I haven’t had even a tiny craving to have an alcoholic drink or beer.
That is a true miracle. From a daily blackout drinker into a sober man is in my mind one of God’s greatest feats. No matter how hard I tried or wanted to stop in the past it was impossible.
As I look back all these years later I sometimes have to ask, who was that person? Why did he hurt so many people? Why was he so self-centered and egotistical? Why was he an adulterer, liar and thief?
At this stage it all seems like a dream. I had some great times, made some amazing friends so I don’t regret all of my past but I do regret those I have hurt which will follow me to my grave. All I can do today is be the best person possible from here on.
Something else happened when I finished reading. I understood that my Mother regardless of how pathetic her efforts were did the best she could do. That was an impossible statement to understand prior to this revelation but today I get it. With what she had to work with she did the best she could do and I fully believe that.
With all that cleared up it was like somebody opened the gates at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. Love the reference because my Mother’s side of my family is in the horse racing business.
Anyway I immediately took off in the program. I was meeting tons of people, my social calendar was completely filled, I was going to 2-3 meetings per day and I hit this huge pink cloud.
The pink cloud discussed in sobriety communities refers to the feelings of elation and happiness that are usually felt by someone in early sobriety. These feelings are usually the result of the alcoholic or addict coming to the realization that they have avoided disaster and have now set course for a new way of life.
Sometimes a pink cloud can have a negative effect. Where people feel so good that they can go back to their old ways but in my case it was very very positive and it went on for months. At one point I called Angela, my counselor, and described what was going on and that I was frightened. I literally and physically felt like I was floating on air. It was almost like an out of body experience that didn’t stop. Yes there were huge problems from my past that I needed to deal with but they bounced off of me like I was Superman or slid off of me like I was Teflon. It was amazing and I loved it.
I was becoming the man I dreamed of becoming. They say if you keep doing the right thing, good things will happen and they did. The promises were coming true.
I am often asked why so few, five to ten percent, stay sober for a year. My answer is pretty much the same every time, they didn’t wait around for the promises to come true. They didn’t trust the system, weren’t willing to surrender and didn’t want to dive right into the program.
Those who make it and thrive typically did those things plus reached out and helped others.
I was having as much fun as I did in high school, the best years of my life, and I was alcohol free. Who would have guessed that all I had to do was quit drinking to have this great life. Now there was more to it than just not drinking. AA was playing a huge role as were the other things I was doing to keep my sobriety. As I stated a number of times this is just my experience. My program is mostly social. I work the steps until they work me, I read the Big Book(Alcoholics Anonymous), I help others, speak at meetings but what works best for me is going to meetings being accountable and dependable a couple of things lacking in my past life.
I am very aware of the resistance to AA and if it wasn’t for AA I wouldn’t be here today. AA is like your family where you learn to deal with things differently than you had in the past. We don’t sacrifice anybody and there are no secret handshakes. Most of the time when people are resistant they say they have a problem with the God aspect of AA. Well okay, just say higher power and certainly the AA group is more powerful than you.
A friend of mine says that AA is like coming down to breakfast every morning to be with your family where there is laughter, crying, and story telling. If you are off, someone in the rooms pick it up immediately and try to help out. You can go anywhere in the world today and there are meetings and you have immediate friends. Worst case scenario, pick up your phone, laptop or computer and plug into an online meeting or just reach out for help.
When I hear I just don’t have time I know it is an excuse and they really do not want to quit drinking.
I say try it for a year and if your life doesn’t dramatically improve the bars and alcohol will still be there waiting.
At this point everything opened up to me and I was riding high.
Okay Johnny, Angela said. It’s time for you to start working on the steps.
The thirteenth, right?
Let’s start with one through twelve and then we can discuss thirteen.
Okay, I smiled
I have been told I should start on the steps.
I was waiting for your call.
To be continued