I will always wonder if I did everything I could to save him.
I sat in the coffee shop with my new friend talking about our mutual love for the day shelter for homeless individuals where we both volunteer. As we shared our stories, I discovered we were drawn to this unique place of grace and mercy for some of the same reasons. Like me, she had a family member who battled addiction. Like me, she had helplessly watched someone she loved deeply hurtling head long down the path of self-destruction. Like me, something about this holy place brought healing to the broken places left behind.
When Daddy died in 2008, I wrote about the complicated messy reality of saying goodbye to my intelligent, charismatic, loving, tragic hero of a father. In spite of multiple treatments for his illness, he could never escape the demons which haunted him and ultimately killed him. My siblings and I, along with his parents and his multiple wives, begged, cajoled, scolded, ranted and cried hoping to convince him to stop drinking and take care of himself. We alternately tried to take control of his life and left him to fend for himself in our efforts to persuade him to do what he needed to do to get better. Ultimately, I couldn’t stand by and watch him bring about his own destruction and my contact with him in the last decade was strained and infrequent. He called on Thanksgiving, 3 days before his death, but I was too busy preparing the holiday meal and told him I would call him back later. I never spoke with him again.
In my 20s, I attended Alanon and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings to help me deal with my grief over my dad’s worsening illness. I eventually became a trained addictions and mental health counselor. Through the profound wisdom of the 12 step program, much of which comes straight from the pages of our Christian bible, I learned how to set boundaries with my emotionally manipulative, yet loving father. I learned his illness was not my fault and ultimately not his either. I learned he was the only one who could choose to get better and no amount of righteous anger or desperate pleading on my part could “make” him choose the path to wellness. I learned I had a choice about whether to ride his emotional roller coaster with him or instead love him from a distance. With increasing frequency, for the sake of my own mental health and my young family, I chose the latter.
Still, I would sometimes wonder if I had done enough. If I had called him more, if I had been less angry, if I had tried harder to understand, if I had made the time to speak to him that last Thanksgiving day… maybe then things might have been different?
It was several years into my work at The Lamb Center before I made the connection. As I patiently listened to our guests sharing their stories, I began to see the parallels to my father’s story. Many, like my dad, have complicated relationships with their families who have perhaps done everything they can do to help their loved one and have no more to give, the pain of betrayal and disappointment too great to keep trying. I remember the times my dad had been on the streets and I wonder if someone, somewhere listened to him in the way I am listening now to my new friends, if he too talked about how much he loved his kids and how proud he was of them. In bible study and in private conversation, I remind my friends of God’s unconditional love and the power of surrender. I speak the words to them which brought healing to me:
- One day at a time
- Do the next right thing
- Let go and let God
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
- First things first
- HALT- don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired
- Expectations are the seeds of resentment
- God doesn’t make junk
- Keep coming back, It works if you work it
I give to them what I could no longer give to my father. And, as I trust God for their healing and redemption, I find them for myself.
Welcome #LiveFreeThursday friends! Our theme this week is “when you’ve done everything you can.” Read more stories of grace, surrender, mercy and redemption here.