Sonoma & Napa County Al-Anon/Alateen

Personal Stories

Understanding alcoholism after suffering years of emotional abuse
 and overeating
*

     Picture my 6 year old brother’s face being pushed by a 47 year-old man into a cream pie at the end of an enjoyable meal. It was not the pie-in- the-face-prank with a tin full of whipped cream thrown in good humor, but the mean-spirited act of an alcoholic. The only offense committed by this young boy was to lean down to smell the delicious aroma. Little did I know at the time how alcohol abuse would affect my life and feelings. 

      I am a recovering adult child of an alcoholic. The emotional turmoil in which I grew up affected my peace of mind and created inner tension.

      My mother's live-in lover was an alcoholic. Instead of being a substitute father, this man systematically abused us with his verbal tirades - robbing us of our natural birthright to feel loved and protected. He belittled us, told us we would never amount to anything, and chastised us for such behaviors as not having impeccable table manners or eating large quantities of the vegetables that grew in his garden. “These kids are no good,” was a statement he often made to my mother.
Instead of protecting us, he made us feel afraid and insecure. I do not recall my mother ever defending us, supporting us when he berated us, or standing up for us in any way. I believed that if I was better or behaved exactly as he wished, I would receive love and warmth from him. I did not receive love for my attempts at being better. Instead, there were more criticism, put downs, and insults. No matter what I did to get approval, I could never earn love. I began to believe his criticisms and name-calling. 

      The stress in our house became so great that I dread going home after school and being home on weekends; I didn't know what would set him off. I walked on eggshells, always conscious of my actions, aware of every word uttered. 

      As the disease of alcohol progressed, his alcohol induced ranting would start a few hours after work and continue until late evening. The weekends were the worst: the drinking began just after noon and did not end until the early morning hours. My sleep was often interrupted, and I would lie awake waiting for him to go to bed. 

      I used food to comfort myself and became overweight by age ten. By high school I was obese.  I had become addicted to food to make myself feel better when stressed. The more he ranted, the more I ate to relieve the tension and release the endorphins that made me feel better temporarily.  I didn't realize that I was using food as a stress reliever - my means of stuffing down the emotional hurt. 

      I have been going to meetings now for several months. There, I've found support and caring from people who have gone through similar experiences. The fellowship has helped me with healing and understanding the disease of alcoholism. I am working the 12 steps and find that they present a philosophy of life for anyone who would like to improve their quality of life and have meaningful relationships.

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Young woman still hopes for love while working on personal growth*

When I first met my boyfriend, he would tell me I was the girl of his dreams, the miracle he'd waited for all of this life. He would talk for hours about all the places we were going to go, the mountains we were going to climb, the songs we were going to write and perform together.

It took several months for me to realize that these pronouncements were always made with a beer in his hand. Even as he said he was going to quit drinking and live healthier, he was reaching for another cold one.

I tried all the usual ways to get him to understand: tears and hysterics, level-headed explanation of how he was contradicting himself, ultimatums. Nothing made any difference.

He is still actively drinking. I am growing slowly in my Al-Anon program.

My higher power continues to hold me accountable for my own emotions. I would like to blame my alcoholic for all my of my problems, but my growing awareness won't let me. Instead I have to take responsibility for my part - the snide comments I let slip, the sly recriminations, the things I do to make him happy that ultimately lead to resentment on my part.

I am also learning that taking care of myself means more than just getting a pedicure. It means setting boundaries. I'm trying to learn to give back to myself, although it can feel awkward and selfish. I am also working on my goals. It is important for me to take small risks, to put myself out there, and to share my story and talents.

At some level I continue to grieve that I do not have a partner who can be supportive of me and participate in life the way I would like him to, but I have to remember to keep the focus on the positive. So many times I've longed for a day when everyone will realize how valuable I am and treat me accordingly.

Instead I have found that it has to begin with me. I am fortunate to have many good, loving people in my life. The journey seems impossibly long, but when I start to lose hope, I have others to reassure me that I am doing great and that I will get better.

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contributed by a mom with a son in prison:

A wonderful relationship behind the glass window

When I arrived in Al-Anon fifteen years ago, I was devastated, fearful and lost. I made every excuse not to go back. Eventually I started going and felt safe. I started considering you Al-Anon members my family.
My heart, for the longest time, felt so heavy because of the pain I was in.
As time went on I got a sponsor to work the steps. I worked on Step Four (made a searching and fearless moral inventory) for a long time, and I continue to work on myself. I began to realize that I was powerless over my son’s alcoholism and also other family members.
Through the years my son ended up in jail and rehab. I have always felt it was a blessing because he could have killed himself or someone else. He had many DUIs.
I learned about fear, acceptance and faith in a higher power. I knew I couldn't save him. My motto was, “He has a path, and I have to stay on mine.” I sometimes struggle with taking care of myself, but I know where to go for love and support. I know I'm not alone.
Today he is in prison for 8 years, down to 5, for a serious crime. My sister is sponsoring him through the Steps via email. Today I have love and compassion, not anger anymore. We've shared our pain and forgiven each other, for what I had a part in and for what he did to me. We are healing together now. We can laugh and smile today behind the glass windows and at the end of each visit, we say, “Best friends forever!”   Sherry

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First appearances aren't always correct*

     I went to my first Al-Anon meeting expecting to learn how to get my significant other to stop drinking. At the meeting, I found several older women who haven't lived with active alcoholism for 15 or 20 years. I immediately thought I was in the wrong room because I was living with active drinking and adolescents.
     As they went around the group introducing themselves, several said, "I have been a grateful member of Al-Anon for more than 20 years." My first thought was, "Don't they get it yet? Why are they still here?" I soon realized that though we have different backgrounds, we had all been affected by someone else's drinking. It was the one place I found that I could share my stories and not be judged or told what to do. Someone always said, "Oh yeah, when I did that..."
     Now that I am one of the "older women" and have been a grateful member for 10 years, I can say that I did "get it"-- and that's why I'm still here! Sandy W


I'm learning to be okay, even when my loved ones are not*


I'm learning how to be okay, even when my loved ones aren't. By anonymous. Before I came to Al-Anon, when I was figuring out if I was okay, I had a mental checklist: is my daughter okay, is my son okay, and does my husband okay? If I could answer yes to all of those, and I knew I was okay.  I had it backwards.

In Al-Anon I am , I am learning how to be okay without first checking in with my loved ones to see if they're okay. If they aren't, maybe I can say or do something helpful; maybe not. I will still be okay. The action I take is much more likely to be effective if I am acting or speaking from a place of serenity. And with serenity I can begin to let go of The outcome, knowing I have done all I can and that I am powerless over the rest.

I keep coming back to meetings to be surrounded by others who remind me that I'm okay – no matter what happens to my loved ones or what mistakes I make.  I also know that, although my son has been sober for over two years, there is no such thing as being out of the water with addiction, and I can't return to relying on his well be to determine my own well-being. Hearing others' stories in meetings helps me remember the severity of the disease of addiction.  My job is not to keep checking on my loved ones to make sure they are okay, but to focus on my own spirituality. I can enjoy my son's presence as a sober member of our family, but I cannot count on it.

Everything is manageable "One Day at a Time." I don't have to decide now what to do with my son relapses, or how I might react if he goes to jail or dies. Living in the moment simplifies my life. The only things I am responsible for paying attention to my thoughts and feelings right at this very moment and making the best choices I can today.

Before I came to Al-Anon, I was afraid that my feelings might kill me, and that I might not survive the worst-case scenario of my son's addiction – death. Now, I know that it is likely that I would have strong feelings, but I know I will survive it. I can feel all my feelings, and I am no longer alone. I can live with reality, which includes the knowledge that addiction is a disease that includes a strong possibility of relapse, and that relapse can lead to institutionalization or death. I am not exempt from any of the worst things that can happen to a person, but I don't have to live in constant fear.

The 11th step has been very important to me from the very beginning. Through my meditation practice, I am becoming comfortable with all my thoughts and feelings, not just the ones I prefer to experience. I can sit with my fear and sadness, and experience it for what it is, and recognize how my thoughts contribute to my suffering. I'm able to slow down enough to be able to make a choice about my behavior most of the time, rather than rushing to act to get rid of an uncomfortable feeling.

I had been in Al-Anon only a few months when my son relapsed after six months of sobriety and one semester of college. I was able to say to him, "I love you, I am concerned about you, I don't judge you, and I am here for you when you need help."

Two weeks later, I received a message from him asking for help, and he went to rehab willingly shortly after that. In fact, it was his idea to go to rehab. I still had not quite wrap my head around the idea that my kid could need to go to rehab. I gave him all the credit for his sobriety, but I played a role, having put my focus on having a positive relationship with my son and being someone he felt he could trust when he needed help. I am grateful to Al-Anon for giving me the strength to step back and let him have his own experience and make his own decisions.

By Anonymous

I wrote this poem after an Al-Anon meeting in which something was shared that made me think about this aspect of myself. I clearly saw that it was the 'What I did and had done’s’ in my life that I used to justify my existence. In the months since then, I have seen changes in this attitude. While I’m more comfortable sharing what I do, I don’t find myself using the same self-righteous affirmations of the ‘I did’s’ that I have in most of my life. I feel freer and more content with myself just as I am.

Hidden

She looked everywhere to find herself.

She’d done a lot of this and that.

She’d gathered tags and the trimmings of

how she’d spent her time.

And silently she’d pride herself on things she’d done.

It was the way she saw herself,

the what she’d done or still did.

But, her sense of emptiness

bereft of all the ‘I dids’,

made her look to see if there

was any person there

without those things

she’d used to justify her life.

There was a hidden self she sensed.

It didn‘t do, it didn‘t have,

it didn’t come from labels or achievements.

But it was hiding there...some inner self

that made her who she was.

And if she looked, perhaps she’d find it

and come to know the person not the doings


-----------------

I wrote this poem about ten months ago. At that time it spoke exactly to how I felt and had for much of my life. I had felt invisible to the world and also to myself. As I reread the poem I could see that I was just beginning to feel some change in myself. I was beginning to see me as a real person...someone who’d be noticed as they came in or left a room. Looking at the poem, now, I hardly recognize the person who wrote it. I have become much more solid in these ten months. I know this is what the Al-Anon program has done for me..

Invisible

I understand invisible

I have been there.

Think of being present, but unseen.

Think of having spoken but not heard.

Think of taking leave to no ones notice.

Think of vapor mist that

takes the place of me.

How strange it is to

sense the vapor striving to be solid,

my presence being noted,

my words eliciting some hearing,

a nodding of awareness as I leave.

This loss of my invisibility

takes some getting used to.

There is more peace between

the inside and the outside of myself.

The oneness of my person

is nearer to completion.

I understand invisible,

even to myself.

I much prefer the solid state.

Estelle W.


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                              I can't change my son only myself * 


Today is my birthday - and the only thing I want is to thank all of you for the blessings I have received from Al-Anon. All of you have shared and reached out to me in ways that have touched my heart. You helped me to believe that it is possible to endure the pain and accept that my son has a problem with drinking and using drugs.

My son is almost 20 years old. He's been walking down this destructive path for the past five years. There is nothing I can say or do to change the fact that he is driven to abuse his body. His actions threaten to destroy the very life he was given as a gift from God. He remains in denial that there is a problem at all.

I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety because of unresolved feelings from my past. I grew up surrounded by alcoholism. My mother was an alcoholic. My parents divorced and my father left home when I was 6 years old. Any childhood I had experienced was buried along with my memories. I became a pseudo-adult and took care of my mother. I was the best little girl - so responsible and aware.

I spent all my summers with my maternal grandparents where I learned how my loving and amazing grandmother handled my gruff and abusive alcoholic grandfather. I walked on eggshells, ready to adapt to his explosive outbursts. Just when I thought I knew all I wanted to know about alcohol, my mother remarried, and my step father was an alcoholic. He yelled and hurt my younger brother and me. We would just hide from him. We never had friends over, and there were no family dinners.

I made a promise to myself that my children would never experience what I did, so I didn't drink alcohol. I was going to be the best mom. However, behind my strong and independent exterior, I carried the effects of growing up as a frightened and confused young girl.

I have battled congestive heart disease for nearly 13 years. I escaped a marriage that was toxic to me. I was not safe and I couldn't allow my boys to think that their fathers behavior was appropriate. I was forced to have my ex-husband and my beloved son leave our family home by court order - the rage and vile names were more than I could bear. I broke my promise to myself to give my son the family he deserved.

At one time I believed I was to blame for my son's drinking and drug use. Outpatient rehab failed, and all my hopes for his recovery were shattered. A compassionate man saw me standing alone in the parking lot, unable to get in my car and drive home because I was so devastated. The tears wouldn't stop falling. He encouraged me to go to an Al-Anon meeting.

I found the courage to go to the Al-Anon meeting, and I kept coming back. I read literature and worked the Twelve Steps. Gradually, I learned to accept that I was powerless over alcohol, and that the guilt, which consumed me until I didn't want to live, was useless.

With hard work and faith, I came to believe that the only way I could help my son was to give him to God, and love him just the way he is with no conditions attached. I had to accept that I could lose him to the deadly disease of alcoholism. When I surrendered and let him go, a great burden was lifted off my shoulders, and I realized that I wasn't responsible for my son's choices.

I have learned in Al-Anon that the only person I can change is myself. I have my son to thank for that. When I was so desperate over his problems, I walked into the rooms of Al-Anon and out of denial. My obsession and the insanity were robbing me of whatever life I had left.

I can't fix my son because he has decided to continue to drink and use drugs. He can't control it, and even with all the love I have in my heart for him, it is still impossible for me to cure him.

I am still learning to mind my own business and to live my life without fear and regret, “One day at a time” I will "Keep coming back." Sharon C

 

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Recognizing it was time to stop trying to coax or coach

The dawning realization that my son was becoming an alcoholic really challenged my serenity. There was absolutely no way I could control his use of alcohol and drugs, and he made it clear that what he did was his business by either denying there was a problem or lying to get me off his back. Letting go seemed impossible because fear kept compelling me to think of a way to prevent him from suffering the progressive effects of the disease. I made myself miserable trying to think of something I could say or do to get him to cut down on his drinking. There can be no serenity when my mind is overrun with thoughts that maybe there is a solution if I could just figure out what it is and start doing it!

Each time we had an interaction, I had to make an active choice to use Al-Anon tools to let go with love or follow my compulsive impulse to try to get him to realize his alcohol and drug use caused his problems. Without support from Al-anon, I most certainly would have chosen to be miserable, not a conscious choice, but I would not have been able to hold back from “coaxing” him towards seeing he needed help, a behavior that simply created misery and resentment.

Even when I refrained from outwardly trying to influence him, inwardly I usually fell into the crazy-making mode of “what ifs” guilt + fear thinking that went like this: What if I don’t (blank) and then he (blanks), and then (blank) happens? Like: What if I don’t find a way to convince him that he needs to stop drinking, and then he keeps drinking and gets sicker? What if I don’t distract him from partying this weekend, and he drives "under the influence" and gets hurt or hurts someone else? What if I don’t bail him out just this one more time, and then he gets angry and causes even more trouble?

I don’t ask for those “what if” trains of thought; they come unbidden. I have learned not to encourage them by dropping those thoughts and working the Al-Anon Steps, remembering slogans, attending meetings, and praying, all of which help me corral the worries that have a tendency to run wild. Each time I let fearful thoughts have free rein, I am taking the chance that guilt will rear up to trample me down. That is when I end up doing things I regret and, in trying to “save” him, I lose myself. When I forget to use the tools and support of Al-Anon, my own life becomes unmanageable as I unsuccessfully try to help others manage theirs by figuring out things for them that they need to be taking care of themselves.

Experience with my adult son has taught me that there must be a letting go process similar to the “holding back” process that developed between us when he was young. When he was a boy, he became skilled at doing things when I “held back” from doing things for him. It would have been faster and less messy for me to do everything for him when he was little, but then how would he have learned how to button a shirt, tie a shoe, pour some juice, or make his bed? When he was able to figure out how to do difficult tasks on his own, he felt pride in his accomplishment. He usually asked for help when he could not. But there were some tasks he was determined to do on his own, making the same mistake over and over, doing it incorrectly and getting frustrated, yet loudly rejecting and resenting others suggestions and offers to help, saying he wanted to do it all by himself.

So, what if my little boy, now a man, has to learn without any more "coaching" from me that his life will get more and more unmanageable if he does not get help with his drinking problem? My efforts to convince him of this certainly are not going to work since part of his disease is the inability to see that the mood-altering chemicals in drinks and drugs cause any kind of problem other than the problem of how to get more of them! 

I have finally stopped trying to convince him of anything and no longer provide him with things that enable him to live the life he chooses to live. My own life is restored to sanity when I let go or detach with love, as we call it in Al-Anon. I will always love him, and being his parent, sometimes I still fear for his safety as I watch the progression of his disease from the sidelines. Replacing my obsessive worry about, "What if this or that happens?" with “What if this is one of many things he must learn on his own?” helps me pause before trying to get him to see he must change his ways. To truly help him, I must change my ways and no longer wrack my brain and open my wallet to try to save him from the natural consequences of his choices. The support I get in Al-Anon to maintain sanity in my life rather than getting swept up in the insanity of my adult son's lifestyle, frees me from the unnecessary guilt that was making my own life unmanageable.
by a grateful member of Al-Anon

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My Work On Step One

Due to working on Step One of the Al-anon program, I have now been able to let go of the resentment and anger I have been harboring toward my alcoholic daughter.  The many years of her drinking and more recent addiction to pain pills, along with my enabling, was slowly but surely eroding and chipping away at the deep motherly love and devotion I have always had in my heart for my daughter.

While working on Step One I spent many hours of reading and talking to fellow Al-Anon members at meetings about the belief that alcoholism is a disease.  Through this process I came to understand, believe and accept that alcoholism is a powerful, progressive and incurable disease. My belief, prior to work on Step One, was that alcoholism had to do with having a weakness of character or just plain laziness, and that one should be able to stop drinking with a little effort and determination.  Acceptance of alcoholism as a disease has helped me understand both my daughter's compulsion to drink and her inability to cope with the responsibilities of adulthood which included caring for my granddaughter, but also helped me in an unexpected way.

When my alcoholic daughter was a little girl of nine years old, my ex-husband, her dad,  made the choice to continue abusing alcohol and drugs, instead of choosing sobriety and keeping our beautiful family together.  I could never understand how he so easily let our family break up and I guess I never quite got over that hurt.  I have long moved on from that time in my life and have been happily remarried for many years now, but while working Step One, these deeply buried resentments and the pain from the break up of my first marriage resurfaced.  The difference this time was that along with the painful memory came a new understanding of that choice my ex-husband had made years ago.  It had nothing to do with me or our daughters, but rather, the powerful and incurable DISEASE of alcoholism.

My current husband and I just returned from a trip up the Oregon Coast to visit my daughter who has been in recovery for several months now.  I am grateful to the Al-anon program and my working on Step One for helping me replace the feelings of resentment and anger with overwhelming feelings of renewed love and compassion for my daughter.  We had a positive and comfortable mother-daughter visit, and I felt closer to her than I have in a long time.  It was a healthier closeness than we had ever experienced together; it felt so nice.  Being able to look beyond the disease of alcoholism to see the true beauty of my daughter is a gift I have found from Al-Anon in working Step One.  I am amazed and grateful daily for the changes in my life  due to this program and so thankful  thatI listened and kept coming back!

Beverly H

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I recognized myself in the phrase, "Addicted to Mood Altering Men"

Many people in my life have qualified me to be a member of Al-Anon. My most recent, did me a huge favor. Actually, maybe two. We have been living together off and on for approximately three years. A month ago, for various reasons involving surgery and losing a long-term lease, he and his mom both moved in with me on a temporary basis. After his recent hip replacement surgery, he started exhibiting "using" behavior. I assumed initially that it was a reaction to overuse of pain medication and tried to stay out of the way as best I could. His behavior got even more bizarre and actually scary, and although I pointed out to him that he was not keeping his agreements - those being working with a sponsor and attending meetings, I did not asked him to leave. In the meantime, his mom suffered a stroke which required her moving into a long-term rehabilitation facility. Predictably, he got increasingly moody and difficult to be around. After a particularly stressful day of badgering and bickering alternating with avoidance tactics he handed me my key and asked me if I wanted him to leave. As I was tired and frightened of him in the moment, I told him if he wanted to go he should. I certainly was in no mood to beg him to stay. He packed up his car and moved out. 

We’ve played this particular scenario out several times in the last three years, so initially, I wasn’t that upset about it. In fact, I was glad to have the reprieve and to have some peace and quiet in my home. After a few days of no contact, which is not the "normal" case, I began to fret a bit about what I had done wrong. Replaying all of his projections in my head, "You’re so controlling," he said, "It’s not all about you", "You’re kicking me out again when I’m down," on and on it went. As I began to wonder if I had fallen that far out of program, I decided it might be better for me to attend more Al-Anon meetings and listen to speakers online.

I came across a speaker that talked about her "addiction to mood altering men." I’ve heard that phrase many times in Al-Anon but never had it clicked like it did now. Suddenly I realized that my restlessness and trying to figure out what I had done wrong was all about figuring out how to be back in contact with this man who is clearly detrimental to my serenity and sanity. Out of that realization I began to take a look at all of my past relationships whether romantic or not. Clearly, I’ve attracted "energy vampire" men and women with lots of drama into my life for a very long time. I chose these people because they were familiar. I was raised by a drama mama - my mother. Life at home was living through crisis management. It’s where I used to get my energy. Solving problems, cleaning up messes, taking care of other people, monitoring moods, walking on eggshells, making sure "they" were happy. Of course, none of them were ever happy, whatever I had was never enough. It became a vicious cycle for them and for me and my low self-esteem.

I’m beginning to ferret out my part in the cycle. I’ve noticed that since I’ve been attending Al-Anon meetings some of my former friends have dropped out of my orbit. Not that I’ve said anything in particular, just that when we get together we don’t have the same interests anymore (namely gossiping and sarcasm). We don’t play the same games or do the same dance. It was easy to let those people go and feel healthier for it. I’m already feeling better about this man walking out the door. What felt like punishment for the first couple of days is beginning to feel like an opportunity to grow. To hear about my addiction so plainly is helping put my problem in perspective. Now that I’m aware that I’m the one "thriving" on the drama and not really helping anyone, I can work on acceptance, forgiveness and change.

contributed by a member who wishes to remain anonymous

* share reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Hdqts., Inc.
Virginia Beach, VA