She was so composed, calm, strong. Her story so unbelievable, it was as if she were reading from a book rather than relaying her own experience, only the tears threatening to spill over onto her cheeks giving away her pain. The church basement, had yet to warm up, but it was not the cold that left me chilled. The room was so quiet I feared my own thoughts could be heard by others as they shouted through my head.
Thank God that isn't me.
I began going to Al-anon when my kids were young, just eight and ten years old. My discomfort over my husband's drinking had me feeling crazy and out of control. My life felt unmanageable. After a birthday celebration gone south had left me sobbing secretly (or so I thought) on the bathroom floor, I knew I had to seek help, if not for myself, then for my kids. Finally, taking my therapist's advice, I found an Al-anon meeting. It changed my life.
In Al-anon, I had the opportunity to hear from other men and women whose relationships were affected by their loved one’s drinking. Their stories served as a light switch, shedding light on the dark corners of my life, allowing me to see my situation more clearly. It was in those circles I realized I was not crazy, and I was not alone. Over time, as I practice the principles of Alanon, I learned to set boundaries for myself, and find compassion for my husband. Learning to let go of his struggles allowed me to find the space to finally deal with my own. It took a few years but I felt had the Alanon program nailed.
For a while anyway.
But listening to her story that night, a familiar feeling was poking at me, like an annoying sibling trying to shake me from a deep sleep from which I did not care to wake. Twisting the damp kleenex balled up in my hand, I listened to how substance use had taken from her the boy that she once knew. Her son, just two years older than my sixteen-year-old, went from a sweet, active kid who excelled in school and sports, to slowly over time, becoming unrecognizable. Her once vibrant boy now went through his days sleepy, unmotivated, and belligerent. Her life that was once filled with family meals, team mom duties, chaperoning school dances, and carpools now left her struggling to find balance in a world riddled with calls from school attendance, concerns over missed team practices, and hiding her wallet and valuables. The "I love you mom," as he breezed out the front door was replaced with barely a grunt as he snuck out the back. Nights spent restlessly hoping he would get home safely, if at all. His behavior eventually escalating to a point where trying to manage the drug-fueled stealing and verbal abuse created a strain on her marriage. She found herself desperately trying to set boundaries that would allow her to feel safe physically and emotionally in her own home.
She spoke from a place strength yet extreme heartbreak that I felt resonate throughout my chest. Her story honest and raw, serving as a light illuminating my darkest fear, allowing me to see my story more clearly.