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Finding Serenity Through Al-Anon

My son Fred is a recovering heroin addict. The journey our family started

When he was in his late teens spanned 19 years of deception, discovery, recovery, and setbacks. I am not a substance abuser, but as the wife of a functioning alcoholic and mother of two sons with addictions, as well as being an adult child of an alcoholic, I almost lost myself trying to keep everyone afloat. I spent twenty-one years in counseling and attending Al-Anon meetings to help me recover from abuse, blaming myself, and enabling the addicts in my life.

This post is a free excerpt from Drugs Make You Un-Smarter.

A Hard Life

I didn’t know my husband Jeff was an alcoholic when I married him. I remember standing in the back of the church on my wedding day, with my father, who too was an alcoholic. He said to me, “You still have time to change your mind.”

I looked at him with amazement and replied, “Dad, what are you saying? You think we can just turn around and walk the other way with all these people waiting here in church for us?”

He replied, “You will have a hard life with this man.” I did marry Jeff, and my father turned out to be right.

In those days, most people never talked about counseling, codependency, or alcoholism. Although my dad and grandfather drank every night, I didn’t know there was another way to live. Even though most of my dad’s brothers drank, no one ever thought it was wrong. They would just say, “Well, you know that’s just how Uncle Carl is.”

I should have suspected something was wrong when I married Jeff. As I recall, he always had one or two six-packs in the back of his car, and very often drove holding an open can of beer on his lap.

His drinking continued throughout our marriage. When my two sons and my daughter were born, he’d get a phone call at the bar, telling him he had a new baby boy or girl. My husband Jeff is what’s called a functioning alcoholic. He was a guy who hid his liquor all over the house, but managed not only to get up and go to work every morning, but to actually do well at his job. He was a very intelligent, highly successful executive, but he lost control when it came to alcohol. There were times when he went in late to work, but I’d call and cover for him by making excuses about why he wasn’t in on time. That’s what’s called ‘enabling.’ The way I enabled my husband was just an imitation of the way my mother enabled my father, and my grandmother enabled my grandfather.

I raised my children in a loving home, teaching them morals, but always trying to hide the fact that their father was an alcoholic. Even though his beer took precedence over time with his children, I made the excuse that their dad worked hard and he was tired.

My oldest daughter went on to become a lawyer, was married, and has two children. My middle son, Jacob, is an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a playboy. Oh, he’d work, all right, but kept losing job after job because of his drinking. I tried to help him, but he said he knew he didn’t have a drinking problem because he didn’t drink while he was working.

A Successful Path, Thwarted by Addiction

My youngest son, Fred, is the one who turned to drugs. He got hooked on heroin and became a drug dealer.

Before drugs came into his life, Fred made the Honor Society in high school and he was editor of the school yearbook in his senior year. He loved animals and won a full scholarship to Benson University in Montreal, Canada, where they have a combined six-year curriculum for Veterinary Medicine. My youngest son always took care of himself. He had a polished look, as if he just stepped out of GQ magazine. Fred changed when he was on drugs. He never shaved, and most of the time his clothes were dirty and looked like he’d slept in them. He lost a lot of weight, had dark circles under his eyes, and was always bringing home new friends. With this drastic change, I first discovered checks missing from my checkbook, as well as cash that was laying around and even coins in a bank that I saved from when I was a child.

When Fred came home from college on weekends, I started finding spoons, lighters, tweezers, and sometimes pipes under his bed or hidden in his closet.

A Mother in Denial

Like most parents who go through drug problems with their kids, I was in denial. I didn’t want to believe my son was using drugs, but all the signs were there.

What really got me to open my eyes was an anonymous phone call saying that my son was a drug dealer and a user. When I found a packet of white powder that dropped out of his jacket, I took it to a doctor I trust. He had it tested. “It’s heroin!” he told me.

My mouth dropped open in disbelief. I left the office speechless. I still didn’t turn my son in to the police. I wanted to help him.

Money started disappearing from my pocketbook. My husband kept his winning

scratch tickets from the lottery on his bureau, and they came up missing as well. My son always denied taking anything from the house.

My husband loved to gamble at the racetrack. He often kept his winnings in his sock drawer. When the large sums of money he kept in the house came up missing, he was furious, yelling and blaming me for taking it, telling me that I was a loser just like my son!

Fred soon dropped out of college and stayed at the house when he had nowhere else to go. As the weeks went by, a couple of gold chains, some gold earrings, and a 14-carat gold charm bracelet came up missing. The bracelet was given to me by my grandmother just before she died. It meant a lot to me, because she said I was her favorite. I was shocked to find that it was gone!

He Wasn’t Going to Change

It wasn’t until Fred was arrested for possession of drugs and landed in jail that he admitted he was not only addicted to drugs, but he was dealing drugs, as well. When I asked him why he stole from his family, he said he wanted to be part of the crowd and he needed the money to keep up with them.

I went through the humiliation of going to the jail to visit and being searched by a female prison guard each time before I went in. I was so ashamed; I tried to hide the truth from everyone.

I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. What did I do wrong?

Fred’s mind was so immersed in his addictions, he couldn’t make rational decisions. He told me he was sorry he got caught, but he wasn’t going to change his drug habits, even when he got out of jail.

Seven months later, Fred was out on probation. I know he had a choice to get clean and sober, especially while he was in jail―but the substance abuse was just too powerful for him to handle. He’d tell me he could take care of himself, but he never could when he was using. He didn’t care about how he looked or whether he had food to eat. Even if his body was still physically there, I couldn’t recognize anything about my son. It was as if he were dead.

Even though I didn’t know much about addiction, I’ve always blamed myself for the problems of my husband and my son. Even my husband blamed me. As long as I was willing to take the blame, they had no reason to change. I found out eventually that by continuing to give Fred money when he said he needed help to pay his rent or buy cigarettes, I allowed this type of behavior to continue. Fred’s life consumed me, up to a point where all I did was focus on him.

A Mother Finds Help through Al-Anon

From attending Al-Anon meetings, I’ve come to realize how the disease of addiction in someone we know or love can affect a wife, a husband, a child, extended family, and friends. I think we all experience feelings of guilt, anger and denial, but because I’d never known or understood how they affected me, I was unable to discuss or understand what was happening. By attending Al-Anon meetings and hearing others express their experiences, frustrations, and despair, I realized there are so many caring people in similar situations. At these meetings, I was no longer afraid to share my own experiences. In essence, before I found Al-Anon, I used to feel like I was fighting a hopeless battle all alone.

The more I came to meetings, the more I began to understand that the illness of addiction can be treated, just like any other disease. I came to understand that the problem never was entirely my fault.

I’ve benefited from listening to the stories of others, being deeply touched and even weeping with those who are suffering. I grew stronger in my own faith and trust when I heard how someone else’s ‘higher power’ had helped them get through a hopeless situation. Little by little, I began to gain courage and, instead of becoming angry (because I know that anger can turn to hate), I’ve been able to share some of my nightmares with people who care and understand. I’ve became stronger, believing I’m capable of taking care of myself in this challenge.

I came to realize that no matter what I’d try to do to help my addicted son; I would never have a normal, happy life if I continued acting out the role of an enabler and co-dependent. I was allowing him to keep my life in constant turmoil, havoc, and worry.

Going to meetings has helped me be able to step back and look at my life. I can now see that with all I did to ‘help’ Fred, I was really doing too much. I learned that I had to do two things. First, remove myself from Fred by not being an enabler, and concentrate on my own life. And second, I had to reprogram myself not to look back, but to look forward. If I kept looking back, I’d stumble and fall. I needed to keep looking forward and moving forward. I also realized that I’m not responsible for my son’s addiction…I never was. He was always free to make his own choices.

I also recognize some of the signs and behaviors of the addicted personality, like Fred’s deceitfulness, his unethical behavior, loss of feelings, lack of responsibility, and dishonesty. These symptoms of drug abuse enabled his life to spiral downward, causing his physical and mental failure.

Al-Anon helped me to see how I could move away from the problems of addiction by taking away my doubts and fears, and to begin looking at my own accomplishments and the talents I possess.

Living with addiction for so long, I often think back about things that have happened to me. I’ve learned to look at where I am now, and from this I can begin to see that I can change for the better no matter how small each change may seem to be. I’ve also learned to practice real, sincere compassion for everyone else in Al-Anon who are going through family problems of addiction without losing myself in their problems.

Changes in My Family

I finally divorced my husband after forty-two years of marriage. One year later, he died of cirrhosis of the liver.

My son went in and out of clinics for years; on and off methadone. I don’t think he really wanted to stop using heroin. But then one day, he told me he wanted help and that he really wanted to stop his addiction. He’s on methadone now and it’s been two years since he’s used drugs.

I’m also healing from so many years of abuse and denial. I ‘m a teacher and advocate for American Humane. I have become a writer, combining my story with those of others, in my soon-to-be published book: The Whirlpool – Surviving Your Child’s Addiction-A Survival Manual.

High Five

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