Dealing with Loss and the Gifts of Sobriety
This morning I received the phone call at 4 AM form my mom that my grandma passed away. This wasn’t unexpected at all, and I’m oddly at peace and have been able to be extremely grateful for where I’m at today. When I write these articles, all I hope to do is maybe share a little experience and strength with you all so you can have a little bit of my hope. I’m going to write about my relationship with my grandma, where I used to be and where I’m at now because my sobriety is a priceless gift, and I’m able to walk through these types of things today without having to pick up.
My Relationship with My Grandma
My grandma is my “Nana”, and she was by far the most important person in my entire life growing up. When I look back at my life prior to using, I can see how I never felt a part of. A big chunk of this was that I didn’t feel loved or wanted by my own family even though I was a pretty good kid. With my mom’s alcoholism and my being the kid who just came to see the family when I visited on holidays, it always felt like I was just an outsider to everyone.
My grandma never made me feel that way. Whenever I went to visit, my grandma went out of her way to see me and spend time with me. She was a teacher and always encouraged me to read, practice math and do well in school. She’s actually the person who introduced me to Star Wars. Not only did she take me to see all three of the original movies when they were re-mastered for the theaters, but she’d stay up late with me playing a one-on-one game of Star Wars Monopoly.
She spent her entire career as a schoolteacher, but she wasn’t just any schoolteacher. She was passionate about being a special education teacher. She was the person who taught me a lot about patience, tolerance and love at a young age. While other teachers and people would be extremely frustrated with these kids, my grandma took pride in helping each one of them succeed in academics as best they could. This isn’t just an assumption either. She would take me with her to school sometimes when I was a kid, and I saw her do it.
When I was about 19 to 20 years old, I became addicted. I became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and I was no longer the little boy she remembered growing up. It must have hurt her in ways I may never truly understand. She saw it happening to me the same way it happened to my mom, and she must have been worried sick about me. I stopped calling her and visiting her as much because I was so ashamed of what I had become. I was ashamed that she was so proud of me for being on the right track for so long, but then my addiction made me throw away all of my dreams and aspirations. I was ashamed that I had given up on life, and she didn’t know if she was going to get a call that I was dead.
I Don’t Have to Live that Way Anymore
My grandma has been towards the end of her life for the last couple months when the doctors realized her Parkinson’s Disease was progressing. We didn’t know if she was going to be around for the rest of the year or a couple weeks or months. I’ve been sober since 2012, and I’ve just been thinking about what this would be like if this was happening during my active addiction, and it’s helped me stay grateful.
About six years ago, I lost one of my dearest friends in the world to alcoholism. How did I deal with the loss back then? I drank and used more than ever before. I was extremely selfish and self-centered, and all that mattered as that I could somehow numb myself from feeling the pain. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but I kept turning to this temporary solution to a much larger problem.
If I was still in my active addiction not only would I probably be getting loaded right now, but I wouldn’t be there for anyone. I wouldn’t be there for my family. I wouldn’t be there for my son when he found out the news. I would be too busy trying to wallow in my own self-pity and completely disregard what anyone else is going through.
Not only that, but my grandma would have passed away not knowing what kind of future I would have. Chances are, I wouldn’t have come to visit her when I found out the news that she was heading towards the end of her life because I would have been too busy getting drunk or high. I would have had to live with that guilt for the rest of my life, and it would have taken me further down the hole of my addiction.
The Gifts of Sobriety and Where I’m at Today
About a month ago I was doing a group at IOP, and a client asked me, “Do you ever just feel like the only reason you’re staying sober is so you don’t lose the things you’ve been able to get? Like your job?” The question caught me off-guard, and I gave a pretty generic response. Today, I think back to that question and think about how I have a much better answer to that question. I stay sober because I’m able to be present.
For the last three-and-a-half years, I was able to be present for my grandma. I was actually fortunate enough to get sober in my hometown where she lives. She was so proud to see that I was turning my life around and doing the things suggested of me to stay sober. She had faith in me, and thanks to the fellowships of AA and NA, I was able to solidify her faith. I was able to spend a lot of time with her my first year sober, and half of the time she was just driving me to doctor appointments because I had ruined my body so much in my addiction.
Last month, while my grandma was still able to get out of bed, I was able to take a couple days off to take my son down to visit her. Since I was sober, I could take my son to see his great grandmother. They have been writing each other letters the last six month, and she’s been so proud of how well he’s doing with his reading, writing and other schoolwork. She was even able to see me introduce my son to Star Wars Monopoly, which was the game her and I used to play when I was his age.
The most important thing about my experience seeing with her was I finally had the courage and strength to tell her what I’ve always wanted. I had some alone time with her, and I let her know how she was the most important person to me while I was growing up. I was able to let her know that while I felt like an outsider my whole childhood, she always made me feel welcome and loved. Don’t ask me why it took me so long just to tell her this either, because I honestly couldn’t tell you.
Not only was I able to be there for my grandma during her final days, but my sobriety has allowed me to be there for my family. My mom got sober 10 years ago, and she helped save my life by helping me get sober back in 2012. I was the son who she thought was going to die from this disease of addiction, but now I’m able to be sober and be present for her.
The last month or so, my mom has had to watch her mother slowly pass away, and it’s been difficult for her. One of the greatest gifts I’ve received in sobriety is that my mom can turn to me for support. My mom is proud of the man I’ve become as a result of my sobriety and working a program of recovery. She knows she can call me to talk, and I can be there to talk recovery with her and read quotes out of the big book. I can not express how incredible it feels to know that I’m able to do that for her today because of my sobriety.
Lastly, there’s my son. My son may have had to go through the loss of his great grandmother without his father around to support him through it, but I’m here today. I’m here to be there for him when I tell him the news that she’s no longer here. I’m here to hug him when he gets sad, wipe away his tears when he cries and let him know that it’s going to be alright.
So, in closing, we don’t get sober to get materialistic things. We get sober to regain our soul and sense of purpose. We get sober so we can be there for the people who love us, and we also get sober to be there for the people who need us. The most important thing is that we get sober to give hope to others because we can show them that no matter what type of tragedy happens in life, you don’t have to pick up no matter what.