What I learned when I stopped trying to control everything

My mother suffered from severe anxiety and depression, with bursts of unreasonable anger. Doctors put her on strong prescription medication. She took small amounts every day for the rest of her life. She had also been raised in chaos by a mentally disturbed mother. I had early training in caretaking, accepting crazy behavior, having no boundaries, living in constant fearfulness, coping with self-blame, and all the other dysfunctional character traits I brought with me into adulthood.

At the age of 18, eager to get out of the oppression of that house, I married the first boy who told me I was wonderful. His drinking began in our late 20s. At the age of 30, I was growing up and planning for our family’s future; he was drinking. I was frustrated; always trying to get him to be the man I knew he was, the man I needed him to be. With three children by then, I was going to make it work. I tried and tried in every way. Nothing worked.

I went to Al‑Anon a couple of times. It didn’t click. I was angry that he was the problem, and I had to work it out. I lived through that whole crazy alcoholic world: hospitalizations, jail, bankruptcy, shame, fear, anger, sadness—without Al‑Anon.

I found myself constantly sick with hives, allergies, insomnia, or digestive issues. My back kept going into spasm, and I was getting bronchitis on a regular basis. My body was speaking to me in loud messages. Emotionally, I was irritable and anxious. Fear was my constant companion. I was at the point of desperation.

After my divorce, I found out how mentally ill my husband was. I found out about his many lies and deviant behavior. I had no idea what was going on. Everything came crashing down on me and spilled over onto the children. Our life without him was very hard and very sad, because even though he was a man who was addicted and did bad things, we still loved the man he had been.

My 13-year-old son was so wounded by the experience that he began to seek comfort with friends, who became his surrogate family. They introduced him to drugs and alcohol, which opened the door to nine long years of emotional upheaval. He got in trouble, dropped out of school, and lived on the streets.

I spent my time crying, looking for him, pleading, and helping him to start over and over, until I realized I could do nothing. The first time I saw my son in handcuffs I fainted, right there in the courthouse. I went to Al‑Anon, and this time I stayed. My son got sober by himself when he had enough.

After being single for 20 years, I married again. Within a year, we were dealing with my husband’s son, whom we found out was an alcoholic. The disease moved fast and he passed away at the age of 43 from alcoholism. Again, we dealt with many hospitalizations, blackouts, and seizures. The frustration, fear, and sorrow from this loss were unbearable for my husband.

A year later, my daughter, married with two young children, became addicted to drugs and then alcohol. She was running from her pain. There were day and night calls to take her to the hospital: she had fallen, her heart was beating out of control, or some other drug-related ailment. She spent all the family’s money and they almost lost their home. There were more hospitalizations, arrests, and jail. She began cutting and burning herself. Ten years later, she is sober. But that experience left its mark on her, physically and emotionally.   

God had always been present in my life, but once I started really practicing the Al‑Anon program, I embraced my Higher Power and relied on Him for everything in my life. I found that it does work. I have turned my life and my own will over to the God of my understanding. That Power is my constant companion. I really have accepted that I am powerless. I know that if I step back, God will work a perfect plan that I could not even imagine.

Through the Twelve Steps, the meetings, and the people who shared their stories, I looked at my own behavior. I became more observant of how I lived my life, of what words came out of my mouth. I learned how to mind my own business and respect others, even if I don’t agree with them. I learned how to apologize quickly for any wrong behavior on my part. My prayer and meditation time has become a daily habit. This time keeps me centered and at peace.

This previous paragraph makes it sound so simple, but my transformation was a process that took 30 years of practice. Letting go of my own will was not easy for me. My childhood of living in a crazy house led me to be controlling. I needed that character trait to survive. The problems came from when I tried to control others.

In order to have freedom and peace in my life, I practice the Twelve Steps in all aspects of my life. I go to meetings weekly because they sustain me. My weekly meeting enriches me on every level. It gives me time to pause, reflect, and stretch myself. It keeps me in touch with my spiritual core. It keeps me connected to a healing community.

At the time of this writing, another much-loved close member of my family is struggling with the disease of alcoholism. With all my experience in this disease, you would think I could do something to change it. I cannot do anything. I must stand still and steady and let God be God. I pray for their safe healing and recovery. I know in my heart that prayers are positive healing energy that over time will have an effect.

By Linda C., New York
The Forum, August 2014