Heart to Heart is a column for individuals and families struggling with addictions. It appears on The Buffalo News Health Page the last Tuesday of each month.
Dear Heart: I can't believe I'm writing this letter. I never thought I'd ever want to quit drinking, let alone need to. I thought AA was for a bunch of old drunks who were miserable and were forced by their families and employers to go to boring, stupid meetings. I thought people who didn't drink were rigid, uptight and afraid to live life in the fast lane. I was shocked to find out how wrong I was.
One day, I woke up so sick from drinking too much that I decided I'd quit drinking. Within an hour I opened my first beer and started having a dialogue with myself about what drinking was doing to me. I asked myself if it wasn't just an hour ago that I was so sick I swore off the stuff. I could hear myself arguing with this other person inside me about my drinking. Then I realized I was a slave to the booze. I was scared.
I started to look back at my life and at age 41, realized just how isolated I had become. I was proud to be single all these years having never given in to marriage when it hit me that I had never been close to anyone. All of a sudden, I had a need to be honest with myself about how lonely I was.
That night I went to my first AA meeting just to listen. I was amazed at how familiar what people were sharing was to me. One guy made it so simple for me when he said he was finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. Wow! That hit home!
It's been three months since I've had a drink and I go to at least five meetings a week. My eyes are beginning to open up a little more each day as I learn the steps. It's ironic how much I am enjoying being wrong. I still find it unbelievable that I am saying this but I can't argue with the results. I haven't been sick and tired lately. Have you?
Dear David: Thanks for the laughs. Being right is not all it's cracked up to be. They say this is a disease of isolation and my experience is in line with that thinking. It takes time and a great deal of learning how to trust to come out of it. Learning new ways to cope with life is not only fun for me, I find it very empowering. Thanks again for writing and I hope to hear from you soon.
Unfair to the children
Dear Heart: My husband recently died of alcoholism. During our horrifying marriage, we raised two children, a boy and a girl. Their father treated my daughter like a whore and my son like a king. His son followed in his footsteps and became a nasty drunk who treats his wife like dirt. My poor daughter is devastated by her father's death because she never got the love and approval she deserved.
I should have left this drunken slob when the children were young but I continued to believe him as he offered up one promise after another. I blame him for the way my son has turned out and for the damage he has done to my daughter. I don't think my daughter will ever trust a man and that she is destined for a life of loneliness.
I am ashamed of myself for not doing something sooner. Is there any way I can help my daughter get over this horrible situation and find happiness?
-- Mrs. L.
Dear Mrs. L: The effects of this disease on children are horrible and certainly unfair. However, as we become adults we have the opportunity to heal from our past environmental experiences. Growing up in an alcoholic home affects each and every one of us differently as your letter painfully and clearly proves. Both of your children and you have the choice to start a new life.
The 12-step journey offers hope and healing. A return to innocence through understanding and forgiveness awaits all of you. A fresh new start awaits anyone who chooses. Life is not over for you.
The best way for you to help both of your children is by showing them that happiness is not only available but also possible. As in the past you could only teach what you know; so for the sake of a good day, you must learn something new. Celebrate your freedom. Forgive yourself! Accept this moment as a gift and enter it with great expectations. It's your turn.
The embarrassment factor
Dear Heart: I am 25 years old and I think I am finally willing to admit that I hate my mother. She has been a hopeless drunk my entire life. I got it together enough to get my own apartment with one of my girlfriends. Now, she bothers me every day. She either calls or goes on and on about nothing or she comes over without asking if it's OK. Not only is it embarrassing to have her at my apartment but also my roommate doesn't want her here. I don't blame her. My mother can be very nosy and rude.
Do you think it's mean of me to tell her that if I want to talk to her or see her that I'll call her or that I'll visit her? My roommate doesn't want me to use her as an excuse. She says she doesn't want to get stuck in the middle and I don't blame her. I can't let her mess this up for me, so I have to call her. Right? Don't tell me about Al-Anon.
Dear Noreen. You're right. You do have to set boundaries. Do you know how to do that successfully? If not, write back and I'll tell you about Al-Anon.
Write to Michael Ristau, c/o Toler Media Services, P.O. Box 168, Fort Edward, N.Y. 12828, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
For locations of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Erie County, call 853-0388; in Niagara County call 285-5319. For information about Al-Anon Family Groups, call 856-2520. Narcotics Anonymous has support groups and a 24-hour helpline, 878-2316.