I recently had a very serious talk with my boys, ages 11 and 13, about a topic they heard about from me, but didn’t relate directly to me. Since I have been in recovery, I have always had an open dialogue with my boys about the importance of staying on the right track, and the dangers of drinking and doing drugs. I told them that alcoholism is a disease and it is in our family and that was pretty much the extent of it. Each time an article or a video comes across about not doing drugs or consequences from it, I share it with them. For my older son, who is obsessed with sports, especially football, I typically talk to him about sports players who have suffered consequences from drinking or drugging as well as those who have pulled themselves out of it. I want him to see that some of them never made it out of their troubles, and where their life is today. But also, that some have, and they have opened up about their struggles and found the right path. They do notice that I don’t drink and I would tell them that because of our family history I stay away from it. When I would go to a meeting, I would tell them I was meeting a friend for coffee and would be back soon. I went around the topic a lot because that is what I was comfortable with, but as they got older, I realized that at one point they need to know the truth about me. I found out that my mother was an alcoholic when a rumor spread in middle school and someone came up and told me that the principal was spreading it around. She was still active in the disease and it was mortifying for me to find out that way.
As my kids got into middle school themselves, I had to think about the right approach for our family as far as if and/or when I was going to open up to them about me. Many people knew I was recovering and I realized that there was a chance they could hear or misinterpret something and I decided I didn’t want to take that chance. I never wanted them to be blindsided by the truth like I was. I sat my boys down on a Sunday evening and told them that we needed to talk. They sat on the couch looking at me, I’m sure wondering if they were going to be told to do their laundry or clean their room. I started out by reiterating what I had told them about alcohol use in our family and asked if they remembered those conversations. They both nodded. “You know how Mom always tells you that alcoholism runs in our family and that I don’t drink alcohol and that you need to be very careful since it can become addicting and is in our genes?” They both looked and nodded, seeming intrigued now. “Well, I want you to know that the reason I don’t drink now is that Mom is an alcoholic, and that when I go for coffee with my friends sometimes, I am going to meetings that keep me from drinking.” They both paused, not too much expression on their faces, but they are not overly emotional boys so I didn’t expect a lot. My older son asked me how long it had been since I quit drinking and I told him three years. I also told them how I found out about their grandmother and that I didn’t want them to find out from anyone but me. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they didn’t recall my bad years, and felt so grateful that maybe I stopped before it started to disrupt their lives as much as my mom’s drinking disrupted mine. We talked for a bit longer and they asked a few more questions and I answered them all. All of a sudden, my 13 year old walked over to me, hugged me and whispered “I love you Mom” in my ear. My younger son came up next and said the same. It brought me to tears. I told them how much I love them and squeezed them as tight as I could. I let them know that any time they want to talk about it or ask me questions I am here for them.
My boys came on either side of me and we sat there for a while, their heads resting on my shoulders. I don’t know exactly what they were thinking but for some reason, they wanted to be close to me and just be there, next to me even with no words and I felt a sense of peace. I also felt more vulnerable at that point then when I told my close friends and family and I’m not sure why. I felt good that I came out and was upfront with them but I also felt a stronger need to protect them now. I wondered if they thought less of me, or saw their perfect mom now as having an imperfection. I realized that my alcoholic mind was projecting and quickly stopped myself. This was another step for me in being vulnerable and breaking the stigma of this disease. It starts with me, and it was time to now be honest with my boys. I knew I was taking a chance, I knew that I was letting a major cat out of the bag, but it was time; at least it was for my journey. The next morning, I woke them up for camp and they jumped out of bed and hugged me like they do every day. Maybe they talked about it in their bunk beds that night, and if they did, that’s ok. They are informed and they know that they are at risk and maybe, just maybe, that will help them make different decisions one day. Maybe that will open up our lines of communication in the future, and they will talk more openly to me when they are introduced to alcohol. I grew up in the stigma, and it didn’t help me. In fact, looking back, it hurt a lot. If I am going to try to break this cycle, it has to start with the truth. I will always be there for my boys along their journey, no matter where that takes them. Now they know that I will do it with an open heart, an open ear and an open mind. That’s the best that I can do, and from here I will continue to handle what comes my way, the only way I know how, one day at a time.