With Mother’s Day here, I am fortunate enough to have some great mothers in my life to celebrate with. Being clean and sober for myself means that I can be an active participant in the lives of these great women. Firstly, my wife is the best example of a perfect mom that I’ve ever seen. The fierce love that she has for our 4 kids is truly remarkable. Trust me, our kids test her patience daily (and mine) … But she loves our kids without reservation, loves God, and is tough on our kids all at the same time. The fabulous young adults that they are becoming is a testament to the way that she has raised them. In the exact same way, my wife is great mother because she learned from the best example that she had – her own mom. My mother-in-law has all the exact same qualities that my wife has. Additionally, she has loved me as if I was her own son. This kind of mothering lineage has created generations of truly exceptional people, and I am blessed to be a part of this family.
…she had severe mental problems which when she wasn’t self-medicating, kept her in bed many days – leaving myself and my siblings to fend for ourselves.
The family that I now love so much is NOT the family that I came from or the mothering that I had when I was growing up (which explains a lot about me). I am the oldest of 5 kids – kids which had no rules or expectations. My “normal” when I was growing up was that of chaos, yelling, divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, verbal abuse, and finally – physical abuse. I attended 3 elementary schools and we were constantly being uprooted and running from one of my mom’s failed relationships. My mom had issues. Not only was she dirt poor and didn’t have the means to raise 5 kids on her own, but she had severe mental problems which when she wasn’t self-medicating, kept her in bed many days – leaving myself and my siblings to fend for ourselves. When she started smoking crack, the little bit of safety and stability that we had was quickly and permanently ripped out from under us.
I do believe that my mom did her best. That’s the truth. But her best effort always left me feeling empty and longing for love. Her best simply wasn’t good enough – not for me. I was a good student and was active in wrestling when I was in school. I recall distinctly looking into the stands at every wrestling meet for my mom when she said she would be there, but nobody was ever there. She only ever attended one… She watched two of my matches – which I won – ultimately leading me to wrestling for first place in that tournament against a person I had beaten several times before. I looked up in the stands, so excited that she would get to watch me win… She wasn’t there. She had left early. This was one of only a few total wrestling matches that I ever lost.
I loved my mom and I would have done ANYTHING for her love and approval. I didn’t comprehend in my brain just how far into oblivion I would go to get that approval. One night when I was 16, my mom asked me for a ride to a friend’s house. I was excited to spend some time with her and I gladly drove her. We ended up in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Detroit. When she left the car to go inside, she told me to wait in the car and that she would be right out. I waited for two hours – full of fear, anxiety, hurt, and sadness. When she came back out, she opened the door and dropped a baggy of cocaine on the center console. In a hurry, she left again and said again that she would be right back.
Within moments, the fear, anxiety, hurt, and sadness that I felt for 16 years melted away and was instantly replaced with euphoria. I found the solution!
I had plenty of experience by that point with weed and booze, but I had never tried cocaine before. I dumped a pile of that powder out and did with it what I saw in the movies. Within moments, the fear, anxiety, hurt, and sadness that I felt for 16 years melted away and was instantly replaced with euphoria. I found the solution! This was it! I had arrived! I don’t remember how much longer I waited for my mom to come out of that apartment, nor do I recall any other events from that night… But from that point forward for the next four years, my mom and I became best friends.
What started with powder cocaine turned quickly to the endless chase of crack. My mom and I would hustle to get money together. We would drive around together. We would score crack together. We got in and out of countless dangerous situations together. We would use together. And we defended each other from the constant concern from the people that cared about us. I finally felt as though my mom loved me. But every other area of my life started crashing… Hard!
Legal trouble closely followed which led me to probation violations and jail time. I had no more morals and would have done anything for more drugs. When I was arrested for stealing a car while I was already on probation, I prayed a fox hole prayer for God to help me and I had a glimpse of what my future was going to look like if I kept on the path I was on. My grand sponsor calls those moments “God winks”. That was the day that I decided to give sobriety a real shot.
…her addictions coupled with her mental issues had her believing that I was trying to “get her”. I was now the enemy.
My mom, on the other hand, did not get clean or sober. In fact, the progression of this disease was rapid for her. I started attending meetings daily and collecting coins – 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years… I was so proud of myself for the progress I was making in my life, and I wanted desperately for her to recognize this and to be proud of me. She wasn’t. Instead, her addictions coupled with her mental issues had her believing that I was trying to “get her”. I was now the enemy. I would often try to let her in for the big events happening in my life, but she always let me down one way or another – often in very big ways. She stole tens of thousands of dollars from me, stole my siblings’ identities, would disappear from my life and that of my daughter, embarrassed me at family gatherings, and would make endless promises to be somewhere or do something and never keep them.
I decided that I needed to keep my distance from her and create healthy boundaries if I were to experience any serenity in my own life. For the next 6 years, I can count on one hand the amount of times that I saw or heard from her. I hated her for not wanting to be a part of my life or that of my wife and kids. Because of this resentment, I never experienced the healing of amends in Step 9.
…something very suddenly happened… Where I felt the same fear, anxiety, hurt, and sadness that I did as a kid minutes earlier, I now felt comfort, love, and grace.
On October 6, 2017 I received a phone call from a sibling that my mom had overdosed. She was revived and sent to a local hospital. She left the hospital against medical advice and was picked up by all my siblings and they did an intervention of sorts. I knew she was alive, and I was happy about that (I’m not sure how many of her nine lives had been used up by this point), but I did not participate in the intervention. The following morning, I went to my 8am home group meeting and made coffee as usual. When I started sharing about what had happened the night before at that meeting, something very suddenly happened… Where I felt the same fear, anxiety, hurt, and sadness that I did as a kid minutes earlier, I now felt comfort, love, and grace. I called my sponsor immediately after that meeting and I told him what had happened and that I was finally ready to forgive my mom. We discussed at length what that would look like in practice in the long term – but that I had already forgiven her in my heart and my work was done. I was finally free.
About an hour after that call with my sponsor, I received a hysterical phone call from my brother… My mom had passed away in her sleep. Once the overdose drugs wore off, she had retained enough drugs in her system to overdose her again in her sleep. For the next several weeks, I was full of anger, confusion, sadness, and a thousand other emotions that I can’t describe. I think those feelings were natural. What really mattered was that I had truly forgiven my mother.
I admitted for the first time what a large part my mom had in my sobriety – a fact that I did not realize prior to that point.
I hate looking at obituaries or attending funerals where the family tries to hide the fact that their loved one died from an overdose or complications caused by extensive drinking and/or drugging. They always use soft words and phrases like “Johnny died peacefully in his sleep of natural causes” or “Mary died tragically in a car accident” – never revealing that their loved one was a sick person who needed help. This is a terrible disservice to people who need to hear the truth. It keeps the stigma around the disease of addiction alive and keeps awareness of the real issues that cause these tragedies dead. At my mom’s funeral, I spoke for 20 minutes about my own experience with addiction, I shared openly and honestly about our affliction, and I explained how my mom, myself, and countless other have lost the power of choice. I also shared about the joys of being clean and sober and what a blessing it is to finally be an active participant in my own life; how I spend my life in constant service to others in sobriety and how that service to others help to keep me sober. I admitted for the first time what a large part my mom had in my sobriety – a fact that I did not realize prior to that point.
God is always revealing new things to me. Today, I celebrate my sobriety anniversary. It’s ironic that I got clean and sober on Mother’s Day. Actually, it’s not ironic at all… It’s another “God wink”. Not only do I get to live my life clean and sober, but I’ve learned how to forgive and how to ask forgiveness. I learned how to handle life on life’s terms. I learned how to live life without drugs and alcohol. My life is by no means perfect and there is still so much work left to do. I was told once that “It will take you ten years to find your marbles, and another ten years to learn how to play with them”. I don’t know how true that is, but the gist of it is that I will never be done learning and growing. But if I choose to put God first and sobriety second in my life, I have a pretty good shot at another day sober. And with another day sober, anything is possible.