I'm sick of alcoholism.
This past weekend I went to yet another funeral for an alcoholic who died of her disease.
I'm 51. I went to my first alcoholic funeral when I was 11. That one was my father's. I'm the daughter of an alcoholic who was the son of an alcoholic who was the son of an alcoholic, etc. And, in spite of my plans to the contrary, when it was time, I got the disease too.
But when I was 11, sitting across from the casket of my father-who-never-was, I resolved that it could never happen to me. I was certain that if you just focused on achieving stuff, you would be safe.
That was my plan for living. Perfection. It wasn't such a bad plan. It paid for college. It got me an amazing job. It worked.
Until it didn't.
And now, at 51, I've been sober for 23 years. And I've had a lifetime to experience both the tragic nature of this disease as well as its awesome beauty.
This last funeral was for someone who died of her disease. But I've been to many funerals of alcoholics who died sober. My grandfather was the first sober funeral I attended. I was 16 that time.
My grandfather was an amazing man who helped bring recovery to the small rural county where he lived. He and my grandmother worked tirelessly to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
If you are an alcoholic, those are pretty much your choices: You can either be a powerful and sober force for good and change, or you can die an alcoholic death. It's an awful way to go, and I'm sick of seeing it.
I'm tired of the wasted potential, the brokenhearted children who remind me too much of myself at just 11 years old. It's heartbreaking to share a pew with a child who is burying their parent. To see their bewildered faces, confused by what has just happened to them and embittered because they have been denied the happiness and normalcy they think they see in the lives of their friends.
I used to get really angry with the alcoholics who relapsed. I'd see them shirking their responsibilities just as my father had shirked his.
But, as I got older, I began to see that no shirking was really involved. Alcoholism is a powerful foe. I have lived long enough to understand that no alcoholic really wants the suffering they experience and bring to others. They simply can't embrace sobriety long enough until it sticks.
I want to tell myself that I'm not that kind -- that my children are safe from that potential outcome. But, when I came home from the funeral this weekend, my 16-year-old asked me about it. "Was she just not willing, Mom?"
That's what we want to think. That there was something that could have been done but wasn't. But, in this case, I didn't really know the woman who died well enough to say. And, at any rate, it is not my business to be anyone's judge.
"No, son," I answered. "I no longer think that willingness is the thing that is missing."
In truth, I don't know what is missing. I don't know why some of us die with our disease while others die from it.
All I know is that I'm sick of it.
And yet, because I am an alcoholic in recovery, I know that I must surround myself with stories of recovery. Day after day, year after year, the most important thing that I do each day is not pick up a drink of alcohol. When I die, I want to die sober. I want my children to be unburdened by active alcoholism. I want to be the change agent for them. I want to be the buffer generation between the disease in its active state and whatever comes next.
I have three sons. They've all been raised in sobriety. They have been taught that because the disease is rampant in their family, it would not be a huge surprise if they had it, too. My children do not fear alcoholism, they simply know what to do if it happens.
When you have a genetic, life-threatening disease, it is the responsible way to parent. We have always spoken very matter-of-factly about the disease in our home. I have worked hard to model sobriety for them. But, if I drink, my children know what they are supposed to do. They are not to keep it a secret. They are to tell their teachers, their father, their friends. They are to seek sober counsel and follow the advice they are given.
And, if the day comes when they find themselves in trouble with alcohol, they also know whom to call and where to turn. They know that they should find a man who is sober (they know many) and do exactly what that man tells them to do, even if they think I would disagree.
They know that they don't need to be afraid of this disease, but that they do need to respect it. They are all nearly grown now, and this has been a part of their childhood education just like riding a bike, playing well with others, respecting their teachers and themselves.
But my guys have also known the joys of sobriety. They have been surrounded with scores of sober alcoholics, all deeply loving people committed to serving others less fortunate. We sober alcoholics have an acute sense of gratitude and a zest for living that I haven't really seen elsewhere.
Every time we bury one of ours, we truly truly know it could have been us. Except, if it wasn't, then the next right thing to do is turn our attention to whom we can help and how we can serve.
I'm so incredibly sick of alcoholism. But, I'm absolutely in awe of sobriety.
My father lived to 34. And this is his legacy.
Note: If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, you're probably right. Please tell your healthcare professional today. And, for more about how to triumph over adversity, please download your 94-page copy of my book, Breakthrough. It's free. Because you're priceless.
Photo: Flickr, alpha du centaure
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