When Love Is Not Enough,
Hope Steps In
For twenty-four years, I feared my son, Brian, would die from his addiction to alcohol. Brian was a binge drinker who experienced several significant periods—up to two years at a time—of sobriety. But he relapsed often, leaving me feeling shattered and hopeless.
I never stopped loving him. What mother does? But I hated what the alcohol turned him into—a surly, marble-mouthed menace to society. His drinking often led to homelessness, institutionalization, or jail. He was lost behind a mask of garbled words and fuzzy thinking. I kept trying to find the sweet, loving little boy I had fallen in love with all those years ago. I desperately wanted him back, and I was willing to do anything to make that happen. That included nearly losing myself in the process.
As important as love is—everything, really—it wasn’t enough to stop him from drinking. For years, I lived with the illusion that the more I loved him, the less he would drink. At the time, I didn’t fully comprehend the concept of alcoholism as a disease that took over his brain and had no regard for what I did or didn’t do as his mother. I became the typical codependent mother. I was addicted to his addiction as I took on the responsibility for his behavior—making excuses for school absences, dismissing a missing wine bottle, not following through on consequences. I hadn’t learned the difference between loving and enabling. To top it off, I lived in denial for a good many years, hoping that he was in a phase he would soon outgrow.
But these are all reflections in retrospect. I am not that same person today. I eventually learned—through Al-Anon, counseling, and prayer—that I didn’t cause his addiction; nor did I have any control over it. I had to forgive myself for all the parenting mistakes I made in the name of love. I had to practice the toughest love of all—letting go of his addiction while still loving him. I never bought into the treatment strategy of the time—“shut off communication and let your loved one hit bottom.” It went against every intuition I had as his mother. I learned that it was more important to set healthy boundaries and follow through consistently. I would give him food or help him in his sobriety, but I couldn’t hand him money or pay all his bills. There’s such a fine line between loving and enabling. But the love was always there.
In this long, daunting process of learning to let go, I had to turn to my faith in God to endure the endless, painful times of enduring his homelessness and frequent relapses. Will my son make it? Will I make it?
After so many years of waiting and worrying, it was time for me to save myself. How could I let go of my son without giving up on him? My enabling behavior was dragging us both down. The time had come for me to break my addiction to his addiction and to my own suffering.
It was hope, one day at a time, that got me through the gauntlet of addiction. Just as the alcoholic has to turn his will over to a Higher Power, I had to trust in the God of my understanding. I had to accept my limits. Basically, I had to learn to love myself enough to let go of my obsession with his well-being.
When he was in active addiction, and I didn’t know where or how he was, I turned that hope into positive visualization. I saw my son as healthy and whole, sober and functioning in society. I attended several Al-Anon meetings each week and did the best I could to take care of myself. There is a reading in the Al-Anon book Courage to Change that provides a positive visualization of wrapping your loved one in a warm blanket and handing him over to his Higher Power. I had a tangible fear, and I needed a tangible way of dealing with it.
By the grace of God and my son’s own true grit, he has been sober for six years. He did it all on his own because I was able to step back and see him as a capable person. Gradually, I learned that the less I did for Brian, the more he had a chance to do for himself. In letting go of my obsession to his addiction, I not only freed myself; I freed him to find his own personal power. And, of course, I never stopped loving him. When love was not enough, hope stepped in.
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