Message in a Bottle

We all know someone who has struggled with the disease of addiction. Maybe it was a friend, an aunt, a brother, sister, father, or co-worker. None of these people wished to end up where the cruel disease brought them. They didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey, you know what? I think I’m going to drink or take pills to the point where I destroy my marriage or lose my house.” Often there is a sad story of loss or grief behind the self-destruction.

No, addiction is much more cleaver than that. It is much more deceptive and seductive. It very slowly makes you believe that you need it in order to be a better, more interesting, or happy person. You start to think everyone else is crazy to believe that you can’t “handle it”. Addiction twists the truth into appealing half-truths, or full-out lies, yet makes them look and feel like they were meant to be. There were times when I found my mom very visibly intoxicated, yet she still claimed with complete seriousness,  “I haven’t had a single drop to drink.”

I imagine addiction can make you feel like you are shipwrecked on an isolated island. Suddenly, you are alone, afraid, ashamed and unable to live out the expectations of those close to you. You send out your tiny, obscure messages of repentance and reconciliation, in small weathered bottles stuffed with lame appologies…that have weakened corks….hoping your message of peace will finally last. But they never do. They just come back unread again and again…because the recipients stopped trusting and believing in you. You have caused the erosion of the thing you once most treasured in all the world.

 After awhile, your brain starts to slowly chemically alter itself in order to get more of what it desperately craves, the very thing that is slowly and viciously destroying it. A person deep in the clutches of chemical addiction often can not simply just willfully “stop” taking that next drink, because their body and brain won’t allow it to without an extreme amount of  physical and mental pain (withdrawal). It all becomes a vicious cycle of shame, guilt, self-loathing and hiding. The sad part, I feel, comes in when the addict herself and even those around her expects her to just “fix the problem” on her own. They may think they can “handle it” without doing anything much about it at all.

Honestly, the only consistent, long-term success stories I have heard of come from those who have willingly and honestly attended a chemical treatment 28 or longer stay, which includes a detox period to get your body and brain adjusted to life without those chemicals. The process of detoxification can be very dangerous, so a person needs to be monitored with meds and nursing care. During a detox period at one of her treatment stays, my mom almost went into cardiac arrest, and they needed to admit her into the hospital, and was subsequently in detox for a few days longer than normal.

Then, success can be achieved, while attending a frequent spiritual program, like AA, to help support the person and help them avoid relapsing back into their old life of chaos and deception. I have heard of people needing to attend AA or Mass, or even both, every single day in order to help them battle those relentless temptations to abuse chemicals.

I believe my mom was probably one of those who needed AA daily (and more frequent mass attendance), but what do I know? She never believed AA was for her, anyway. She thought that it was for, “those other people”. Little did she know that addiction doesn’t need to discriminate from what part of town you live in or what kind of car you drive. The town drunk is typically NOT the one who is sitting on a park bench with a bottle hidden wrapped up in a brown paper bag. But my mom never bought into that truth. If she did, maybe that truth could have set her free from those chains that kept her trapped with her sly, cruel demons.

Although mom’s sobriety came as a result of her needing 24 nursing care in a nursing home at the age of 66, I am still extremely grateful for that. God found a way to make it happen. Granted, it wasn’t the way we would have chosen, but who am I to be so picky? Besides, we all know God often takes us down roads that we most don’t want to go down, just so that we can learn the most lessons. And who am I to argue with that? I know He will always know best.


3 thoughts on “Message in a Bottle

  1. Thank you for sharing this very personal story, Mary. I find it interesting in this piece that you have taken a position of trying to empathize with and understand the perspective of the addicted. That is very hard for me to do–and I’ve tried–since both my father and brother were alcoholics. I recommend an essay by author Scott Russell Sanders titled “Under the Influence.” Despite its title, Scott actually wrote his essay from the perspective of one who grew up “under the influence” of an alcoholic, which is the story that you and I know well. Again, I commend you, Mary, for taking on this difficult writing challenge. I look forward to reading your other upcoming writings on this matter.

    • Thank you, Steve, I will check out that essay. It sounds powerful & something I can certainly relate with. When I first began this blog, I hesitated including the very personnal details of my mom’s addiction. But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t really see how I could tell my story without including them. Afterall, it has been a reality for me and my family for close to thirty years. I also realized that I couldn’t reach others & help them find hope in their simillar struggles, if I didn’t tell the full truth of it. So many of us have lived a life of “don’t talk/don’t tell” for so long. Authentic change can’t happen though, if we never face and deal with our “skeletons in the closet” in a truthful way. Understanding that others go through the same types of tough situations helps them know that they are not alone. And that is the goal of most inspirational writing!

  2. There has been a lot going on lately. I am trying to catch up on blogs. It is interesting how those who think that the disease doesn’t apply to them are the ones who so need help . Thank God for being willing to be humble and for surrender.

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