I was so stuck on terrified that I couldn’t make much forward motion after I stopped drinking. My AA sponsor told me to get off the couch and do the something when my brain got locked into disaster mode. “Do the dishes!” she’d say. “Then call me back.” For some reason, action was a reset button for me. If I called her back, it was to tell her that I was okay. Most times, I’d dismiss what was terrifying me and wouldn’t call her until the next time my mind decided to play a sudden death round with my thoughts. At a meeting a few years later, I heard someone say “Move a muscle, change your thoughts.” It worked then as I tried to get sober; it works today when I deal with grief.
The other day, grief snared me. I had to “do the dishes” to get myself unstuck and make it through the day. I wound up having to take it one tiny item at a time. The good news is that last Friday, I could do that. There were days after my son Jack died when the best I could do is call the office to tell them I couldn’t come in to work. Even then, sobriety taught me that I make contact with the outside world, call or email or text someone on the other side of my nose. Just letting my mind swirl as I sit alone on the couch is disastrous for me.
On Friday, God kept me busy. Requests for “just a quick bid” came in steadily at work. Mid-morning a sober friend called; she needed a ride. After a heavy mental sigh, I told her I’d pick her up. My friend had been laid off from her first “clean” job and terrified that she’d never find another one. She comes from the streets where hooking is a career choice. She found another, better job; the big grin on her face told me so. We ate a road lunch between an AA meeting and her bi-weekly probation appointment where she found that she would get an early release from probation because she’d met all terms and paid all fines.
When I stopped by Bob’s, his daughter Chelsea was there. Chelsea’s pregnant with her first baby and she asked me if I’d accompany her to her first OB/GYN appointment. I was so honored that she asked! I thought about my daughter GE and that made me smile: “Jonathan explained the physiology of fertilization to me. I understand how it happens, but the explanation made it more of a phenomenon, not less. It’s so against the odds and it happens anyway. What can that be but a miracle?” The wonder of it all overwhelmed me and I felt like dancing around the room. OK, I did dance around the room, but it was impossible to suppress the joy.
The day ended at the Restitution Center AA meeting. I didn’t want to go. I could have begged off, pleading exhaustion, and stayed home, but I was on a roll by then. Once the momentum of the day kicks in, it’s not so hard to keep going.
I’ve been sober for a few years, but I didn’t appreciate the 3 Legacies of AA until I needed them as I mourned Jack.
1. Recovery—There’s no recovering from the loss of my child, but being gentle with myself helps. Rest when tired, eat when hungry, talk to someone else when lonely. That may seem like common sense but it’s rocket science to me when I am deep in grief. Shortly after Jack’s death, I had to give myself permission to eat a good meal or laugh with friends. It seemed like such a damn betrayal, but I came to the reality that life goes on whether I like it or not.
2. Unity—I need people in recovery as well as my family. Sometimes it isn’t recovery friends, but other mothers who have lost children, who share this common ground, and who can give love and support. Most of all, though, it’s touching base with family and friends who loved Jack and who are hurting, too.
3. Service—As long as I can remember that I’m not the only person who has suffered a loss or battle the disease of addiction, I can put my hand out in support. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “coming out on the other side” of this grief. What I know is that I am not walking through anything in my life alone. When I think God’s taken a leave of absence, all I have to do is look on the faces of those around me, listen to their voices. God’s still here.