I just learned Marvin, my angry son, has not invited me to an upcoming family event. I like being with my five adult children, and most of them like being with me. So missing out hurts.
I had to think about this today to calm down. After all, I am not a victim; and I have choices. There is an irony here, too. I uninvited Marvin to my birthday party last month so there is some bad blood between us that goes way back. So many of us find ourselves in these unexpected places of being surprised, one more time, by the lingering painful effects of a damaging disease. Alcohol use disorder in a parent has impacted how my children and I relate to each other even years later. This is how it goes. Marvin thinks I hurt him, so he hurts me. Then I, without meaning to, hurt him. Now he hurts me back. Surprise. As a widow raising 5 adult children affected by the disease of alcohol use disorder, this is how I handle recurring family crises.
Step One: Breathe Awareness
I take a deep breath. I immediately feel a little better. When a problem finds me I often try denial first, but have quickly learned to just look at the truth and not be afraid of my reality. Even as I admit what is happening, my heart is still beating too fast. I take another deep breath. Breathing deeply is a great stress reliever. It works whenever I remember to do it. I remembered today and I am glad.
Step Two: Slogans
There is a reason that the Al-Anon slogans are so short, only 2-4 words; because when you are in crisis your brain can’t comprehend more than those few words. The slogans that are coming to me right now are:
How Important Is It?, Easy Does It, Live and Let Live, It Is What It Is.
These small phrases are working their magic on my racing heart. I can stop here and pause and just let these simple sayings continue to help me decompress. This step helps a lot, but I need to be brave and find out what is really going on.
Step Three: What is Really Bothering Me?
Often when this baffling disease strikes, I am thrown off course. I try to figure what other people are thinking, and that is honestly a huge waste of energy and time. It is better to uncover what is really bothering me? If I were honest, I'd have to say it's embarrassing to be left out, but the deeper truth is I am so sad to be reminded one more time my family is not able to be together. I am the Mom, and I am not invited to my own family’s get together. Once I realize I am just sad, it seems to help. Now what?
Step Four: I Can Ask For Help
I suffered alone for decades, too embarrassed to ever tell anyone what was happening in my family. My husband’s out of control alcohol use was our family’s dirty little secret. I learned in Al-Anon that to ask for help is a sign of strength. Now when I ask for help from another member of Al-Anon I am being brave and wise. I may text my Sponsor later today to see what thoughts she has. I may text another friend to see if this has ever happened to her. It brings me great comfort just knowing no matter what is happening I can ask for help with it. Life may not be easy, but I don’t have to handle it alone, ever again.
Step Five: Acceptance
This last step takes me some time. The problem isn't that my children are about to have a great time without me or my wounded pride. The problem is Marvin and I can't resolve our conflict. We can't be together. That is an ongoing painful reality. Each time we make the choice not to be together where others are having fun, one of us is going to be hurt and angry. I should not expect it to be any different today than it was last month when I elected to leave Marvin out of my event. This for me is accepting life on life's terms. I can't change the situation for now. I must move on with my day, and plug positive thoughts into the equation, like being grateful for everything good that's happening right now. There's always plenty to be grateful for no matter how badly I might feel. That is perspective.
These 5 steps are my game plan for handling most of the crises my children and life send my way. It isn't complicated or even that clever, but they work beautifully for me. When I am stressed, I am often not able to think clearly and Keeping It Simple is often my best plan.