I’ll never forget the scene that followed after she came back from the hospital. It’s been burned into my memory forever.
“I’m going to go get us some food. Would you eat something if I brought it back Deb?”
“Sure, I’ll try and eat something. You didn’t even get to finish your food at the wedding Mike. You must be starving.” She said.
“I’ll be right back,” he said as he turned and closed the hotel room door behind him.
She was lying on the bed with her arms folded over her aqua knit top. Her black skirt covered to her knees but exposed the wound dressing on her left lower leg. It looked like it had finally stopped bleeding.
“This disease…” she trailed off as if in disbelief of her current state of health. “I’m so sorry.”
She didn’t cry and her voice didn’t crack. She was so matter of fact with her apology. As I stood there in that hotel room, in a simple black dress that I wore to the reception, I was nothing short of captivated by her. I had not seen her so sober and clear in years. And in that moment, it was her authenticity, and not her jaundice color that had my full attention. I climbed onto the bed and kneeled beside her.
“They wanted to admit me to the hospital for more than just the big skin tear. But I had tried so hard to be here today and Dad was so tired. I just said I didn’t want to be admitted. I’m going to look into that program on Cape Cod. I’d like to go,” she said.
It was her next statement that showcased just how much insight she had possessed regarding her drinking patterns, her cravings, her limitations and ultimately her addiction.
“This disease has been like trying to wrestle a bear off my back. I never meant to become an alcoholic,” she said plainly.
The simplicity in which she admitted to her disease comforted me. For once, she finally owned it. Finally. She stopped running in her denial. I gazed at her in awe and I wondered how many other people could identify with the eloquence in which she described her addiction.
She was lying there on the bed and I watched this woman who had an alcoholic father who suffered from PTSD following World War II, and a kind, loving, and ever-patient mother. I saw her for exactly who she was; this unreal athlete, a long distance runner, a beloved social worker, one of the most creative teachers in the state of Rhode Island, an amazing cook, a chocolate chip cookie master, this person who cared so deeply and genuinely about the lives of others, a tremendous writer, an advocate for education, a woman whose laugh was infectious, a lover of family, a maestro of holiday gatherings, and my mother.
I replayed those words in my head quietly. “This disease has been like trying to wrestle a bear off my back. I never meant to become an alcoholic.” I longed to hear her admit to this vice for as long as I could remember. The truth, when you hear it, strikes every chord of your being. I felt like I had been holding my breath for years trying to swim through the dysfunction of a parent never owning a problem. And for the first time in my life, I came up for air.
I realized in that moment that she had an amazing perspective on her addiction; one that only a recovering alcoholic could ever have. I had thirst for so long for her to own this vice and in that place and space, she was undeniably and honestly herself. She was bold and courageous and remarkably vulnerable. There in that hotel room, she was just about a week sober. I could finally recognize the woman I admired, a woman of strength and integrity. Her drinking, although a major issue in her life was never actually a part of who she was as a person. The disease of alcoholism is not unlike a parasite; it will feed on its host for as long as it can but it’s never actually a part of the person. This sin that she battled for decades plagued her, but it did not define her.
“Mom, that’s the first time you ever called yourself an alcoholic,” I replied.
“I know. It’s not something I’m proud of at all. But I know. I never meant to hurt you or your sister or Dad. That was never my intention. I used it as a crutch, and then…” she trailed off. “I never thought I would get to this,” she said.
“I’m so proud of you.” I took a deep breath and crawled over to her on the bed. I laid down next to her in the cove of her left side. For the first time in years, she was the parent and I was her daughter.
As we waited for my Dad to come back with food, we rested there on the bed in that quiet space. The moment was so profoundly peaceful. The silence was kind and loving in its very nature. It was the type of quiet in which words do not belong; the kind of instant in which both people know how much they love the other. For the first time in years, I felt as though I had caught a glimpse of God. I savored it in every single way. In my heart, I know she did too.
Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
—2 Corinthians 12:8-10
“Sin is not part of who you really are. God blesses us despite our sins, and he is sovereign enough and good enough to use even our mistakes for His glory.”
—Unqualified by Steven Furtick
“God can’t meet you where you’re at if you’re always pretending to be somewhere else.”—-me