“My life is immeasurably better since I have gotten sober” is something that I often say when I talk about my recovery. That being said, life continues to have its ups and downs in recovery, and I have faced some of my toughest challenges over the last almost nine years since I took my last drink. I have faced serious legal issues, my wife’s cancer diagnosis (she is doing great now), and the deaths of three people very close to me.
I lost my brother-in-law, Ken, who was like an older brother to me and had been part of my life since he started dating my sister when I was in middle school; my father-in-law Joe, aka Poppy to my daughters, who I had grown close to and bonded with over our love of sports; and the most difficult loss was that of my mother-in-law, Judy. It may be a little out of the ordinary for a guy to say that he had a special relationship with his mother-in-law, but I did. We shared a love of obscure historical facts, and she was the person I would turn to when I was doing a home improvement project that was starting to go bad. She was immensely talented and could do almost anything, including carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing. No project was too big or small for her. She was one of my biggest supporters, even when things got really bad with my alcoholism and she had every reason to toss me aside for the pain and suffering I was causing her daughter and three granddaughters. Her loss was devastating to my wife and daughters and left me wanting to ease my pain with a drink. Thankfully, I didn’t take that drink and fell back on some of the tools and supports that I developed during my recovery.
I admit that I am a 12 Step guy, and I sought the help and support of the men in my home group. I was lucky to have a group of people that I could share with who had similar experiences with the loss of loved ones. Whether it is a 12 Step group, a faith-based community, or another pathway that helps you make healthy choices, it is crucial to seek the support of those people in times of crisis. Recovery is difficult on its best day, and even more so when you are trying to do it on your own without supports. Lean on the people who have those shared experiences and have successfully navigated through them.
Service is a concept that is often encouraged in 12 Step communities, whether it is making coffee before a meeting, driving somebody to a meeting who doesn’t have transportation, or one of the many additional ways of assisting others in the fellowship. The idea is that by helping others, we will find contentment in being part of a greater good and not focus on our own isolated struggles. This idea can be translated to family and friends during times of loss. Although our grief may be great, we are not the only ones affected by the death of a loved one. For me, my wife had lost her mother and my daughters had lost their “Grandma”. I was able to be there for them and support them by doing the little things that made their lives a bit easier. It may have been picking up pizza for dinner or taking out the garbage, but it was one less thing for them to worry about. Ultimately, it gave me a sense of purpose. My family no longer had to worry when or if I was going to show, and when I did, what condition I was going to be in. I was there to support them, and they knew that they could rely on me.
Remembrance and Honoring Their Memory
Leading up to and right after my mother-in-law’s death, the thought crossed my mind more than once that a drink would make me feel better. At those times, I had to think, what would it look like if I had a drink? Would I stop at one or two? Based on my track record, the answer was most likely no and I probably would not have stopped after numbers three and four, either. Then I would think, is that what my mother-in-law would have wanted for me? That answer was clearly no. She always wanted me to be the person that she knew I could be. She wanted me to be a good husband to her daughter, a good father to her granddaughters, and a good uncle to my nieces and nephews. She wanted me to be a good person in general. That is why she supported me through my struggles. Would taking that drink honor her memory? Remembering what she wanted for me and my family was a strong deterrent from taking a drink for me and still is to this day.
The loss of a family member or a friend is never easy, but for a person in recovery, it presents another set of pitfalls and challenges. At these times, we must fall back on the tools that we have learned in recovery. For me, relying on my sober network, being of service to my family and friends, and playing the tape forward to see if my actions would honor my mother-in-law’s memory were three of the tools that helped me navigate a difficult time.