Cultural differences, as I love to point out, are all around us.
Depending upon where and how we grew up, the ways in which we view the world — even among Americans — can vary tremendously. What we see as right and wrong, good and bad, strong or weak, fun or not, are moderated by what we call “culture.” Since it is our own culture, by and large, that we take as “normal,” when confronted with a different culture, we can be somewhat thrown, at least at first.
How we maneuver across this my-culture vs. your-culture border (i.e., my normal vs. your normal) is the ongoing focus of my blog. And, fortunately for me, cultural differences can be interpreted quite broadly.
Today’s guest blog post helps do just that.
Memoir author Kathy Pooler tells her story of maneuvering across the “border” that separated her from her alcoholic son. She offers 9 steps that helped bring her from the insanity that living with an alcoholic loved one brings, to the serenity she enjoys today.
As I said, “cultural differences” can be broadly interpreted.
First her bio. Then her story.
Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir and a sequel about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer, and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.
Kathy is also the inveterate supplier of wisdom, guidance, and support for aspiring social media neophytes — like me — at her blog, Memoir Writer’s Journey.
One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” was published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.
Another story: “Choices and Chances” was published in the “My Gutsy Story Anthology” by Sonia Marsh, September, 2013.
Kathy, I give you the floor:
From Insanity to Serenity: A Mother’s Story About Living with and Loving An Alcoholic Son.
I looked at the poster on the wall depicting a tornado. The caption underneath read: Living with an alcoholic loved one is like being in the middle of a tornado. The stark images of furniture and debris swirling around in the darkness matched the feelings that brought me to my first Al-Anon meeting in 1990. It wasn’t just me, I thought, as I sat quietly waiting for others to gather around the table. Brian was fifteen and I was a single parent of him and his seventeen-year-old sister, Leigh Ann
Brian was my kind-hearted, beautiful boy who stole my heart from the moment our eyes locked when he popped into the world, all squirmy and bright-eyed. He was a happy little guy who seemed to take things in stride, content to play with his Matchbox cars or share his Popsicle with a friend.
Somewhere between being a model fourth grader to becoming a teenager, he developed a surly, manipulative and defiant stance that he did not outgrow as he moved into his young adult years. I found out in the family meeting at the end of his first stint in a drug rehabilitation program in 1990 that he had his first drink when he was twelve. How could I have missed that? I needed rehabilitation too.
Where did he come from? What happened to that sensitive little boy who loved to play baseball and climb trees in our backyard? He might just as well have been from a foreign country. We were not speaking the same language or even living on the same planet it seemed.
The first time I saw him drunk is etched in my memory as if it happened yesterday. He was fourteen years old. We had moved from Missouri to New York State three weeks before this devastating moment:
“He stumbled, reeled and fell on the floor at my feet as I looked on in horror and disbelief. His dark eyes, flashing and blazing from some unknown odorless substance, were fixed somewhere beyond me while I was locked in the reality of the moment. A searing pain in its rawest form pierced me, sending my heavy heart crashing down onto my churning stomach. The panic tried to escape as I struggled to find my next breath.
“No, Brian, please no, not this,” I cried, deep wracking sobs that left me weak and shattered.”
My handsome, sensitive young son, developing and growing into manhood, was slipping away.”
The tears, confusion, chaos — insanity– lasted for years to come as he cycled in and out of rehabs, homelessness, jail, and institutions. When your child is suffering, you are suffering. In between times, he experienced significant periods of recovery and productivity. Each relapse was worse but each recovery brought him to a new and better level of function. All he had to do was survive his relapse.
I hung on tightly to the reins of that young stallion on his first run of spring until I finally let go of my need to control his life. Trust me, it didn’t happen quickly or easily and I vacillated back and forth until one snowy night when I let him walk away in a snowstorm because I knew it was my only choice and his only chance. He was twenty-six years old.
I’m not feeling insane anymore. I still hurt when life doesn’t go well for my children but by the grace of God, Al-Anon and my family and friends, I am living a life of serenity. I know I can only be responsible for myself and my own happiness. The love has always and will always be there but my son and I are free to live our own lives. At thirty-eight, Brian is sober, one day at a time, and we are enjoying a loving mother-son relationship.
Today, as I look back, I realize life didn’t turn out the way I had dreamed it would.
So how come I feel so joyful now?
How come I am living life on my own terms and loving it?
How come I am so grateful for the life I have lived?
I’m not an expert on life, but I do have to admit I am an expert on my own life. Here’s how I’ve maintained a positive attitude and brought myself into a state of serenity. Originally posted here.
I don’t profess to have all the answers, but this is what has worked in reconciling the differences between Brian and me:
This means getting in touch with MY uniqueness, needs, desires, flaws, and humanness. If I can view myself this way, I can view others who are different from me, in a nonjudgmental way. I don’t have to LIKE the behavior but I can still love the person. But this is a lifelong process, with many twists and turns, which leads me to the next point:
As I write my memoir, I have come face-to-face with the mistakes, missteps, and foolhardy decisions of my past. Confronting the pain of these decisions has enabled me to move beyond them; to view them as lessons and opportunities to change and grow. The ability to forgive myself and others clears the path for healing.
3. Make Obstacles Work For You
Sometimes our greatest obstacles can lead to our greatest blessings. Somewhere along the line, I learned on a gut level that most of the time people act the way they do for their own reasons, which have nothing to do with me. I don’t have to take their misbehaviors personally. This helped me look beyond my son’s erratic, disrespectful behaviors and see the symptoms of an underlying illness requiring professional intervention.
4. Attitude is Everything
I know there are a lot of things in life I don’t have control over, but I do have control over how I respond to whatever life throws at ME. It helped me to think positive thoughts and convey them to Brian.
When I focus MY thoughts and energies on all I have to be grateful for, there is little room for negative thinking.
6. Develop a Support System
Al-Anon was my lifeline for many years.
7. Nurture My Soul
For me, it has been my Catholic faith — attending Mass and saying the rosary — Al-Anon, friends, family, exercise, journaling, playing the piano. I had to find what works FOR ME, just as I respect others’ right to do the same.
8. Honor Myself
Know MY needs and MY boundaries. Learn to say NO as a complete sentence (Al-Anon saying).
9. Hope Matters
And perhaps the most important for me: never, ever give up hope.
These are just a few ways that have helped me find serenity while loving an alcoholic son. As they say in Al-Anon, Live and let live.
How about you? How do you find serenity when someone you love is acting in a way you neither understand nor agree with? Please share your thoughts below.
Thanks so much Kathy. I love the question you posed for my readers: “… when someone … is acting in a way you neither understand nor agree with.” That sentence highlights for me how the differences we face, even within our own family, have much in common with the differences we would face, immersed in a different culture. The specifics would be different, certainly, but how we negotiate them, remains strikingly familiar.