I didn’t see him for two years, though he lived close to me. I was confused. I didn’t understand why he disappeared from my life. I knew he was angry, and I supposed all manner of reasons, but when I asked him, he would not respond. When my son was born, I finally began to understand what love was. I held him in my arms and I knew I wanted one thing for him: that he would know he was loved. He grew up, and I loved him with all my heart—but I didn’t like him very much. I was a single mom and he was a handful. He got kicked out of three daycares before he was five. I knew the assistant principals at the schools he attended by first name. He was out of control, and so was I. When he acted out, I tried harder to make him do what I wanted him to do.
As he grew up, there were problems with the police. I remember these incidents now, and I am sure alcohol was involved. But I denied it until he was 18, and I found whiskey under his bed. “What’s this half-bottle of whiskey doing under your bed?” I shrieked. “I drank the other half,” he grinned. I exploded.
Just a little later, I opened a closet and found several cases of beer. Alcohol was all over the place. I couldn’t be blind to it anymore. I am amazed today to remember the progression of the problems, and to understand how I could not see what was right in front of my face. I have felt a lot of shame over that. In the rooms, they told me I was doing the best that I could. I tried for a long time to control his drinking, and his actions, and that just made him angrier. When I gave up trying to control him, I set a simple boundary: if you bring alcohol or drugs into this house again, you have to leave.
A week later, he and a friend had a drunken fight in the kitchen at three a.m. They dropped a beer bottle that broke on the tile floor, and woke me up. He left the next day. He was homeless. He sold drugs. He spent some time in jail, and he went to prison when he was 21. This was not my dream for him. Someone told me that dreams for someone else’s life are not dreams—they are expectations. Well, my expectations for my son included college, a nice home, a wife I liked, a few children, and maybe a picket fence. I had to grieve all that. In addition, I had to grieve that my beloved son didn’t want me in his life anymore. After a year or so of silence, he sent me a message. He was angry, he said, because I hadn’t been a mother. I had kicked him out of our house when he was 18 just because of a little drugs and alcohol. I had not given him rent money. After he got out of prison, I did not let him live with me and my new husband. He said there was no use having a mother. That last part broke my heart, but I responded in the most loving way I could. Once again, there was silence. I questioned the actions I had taken, the boundaries I had set. I questioned my program, and all I had learned in the 15 years I’d been coming to meetings and working the Steps. But people I loved hugged me, held me, and reminded me that nothing I could have done would have made a difference.
And I knew, deep in my heart, that if I had let him stay with his cases of beer; if I had bailed him out of jail; if I had paid his rent, and scooped him out of the troubles he had created for himself, I would have done him no favor—at great cost to me. I got through two years without my son, with the love and support of my Al‑Anon groups. I shared what I felt, and I shared all the tools I used to get through that time. In the two years that he was gone from my life, two very close friends and my sister lost a child to alcoholism. As I supported them, the fear grew and became almost unbearable. My greatest fear was that I would lose my son, and it no longer seemed improbable.
Throughout the estrangement, I’d send occasional messages, just saying “I love you” or inviting him to the house for major holidays. He didn’t usually respond, and when he did, it was through a text that said merely “No.” I was always grateful to see the “No” because I knew he was alive and he still had a phone.
Then, last December, I got a “Maybe” to my invitation for Christmas dinner. I’ll admit, I dangled my from-scratch lasagna to tempt him. I was overjoyed. I missed my boy so much, and my heart sang.
That maybe became a yes, a day before Christmas. I still didn’t believe it until the doorbell rang and my 26-year-old son stood at the door with his eight-week-old puppy. At that moment, we began a new relationship, based on some brand new trust and acceptance—on both our parts.
I didn’t realize how many people were praying for us and supporting me until I shared, wherever I went, that my son was with me for Christmas. Messages flooded in, as my friends and fellow Al‑Anon members celebrated with me.
My husband and I took my son out for dinner for his birthday just two weeks after Christmas. Later, I turned to my husband and said, “I like that man.” I could see the kindness, strength, intelligence, and the humor that I was blind to before, because all I saw was his drinking.
I’d like to say that he’s sober today, but that’s not true. I’d like to say there’s no need for boundaries and guarding my heart, but that’s not true either. But I love and like my son today, and that is a gift I never believed possible. I can celebrate that he is kind, strong, intelligent, and humorous. I can also celebrate that we are building a relationship based on mutual respect instead of judgment and control. I thank my Higher Power for the tools of this program, and for my beloved son, and the knowledge he has that he is loved.
The Forum, November 2014