I really struggled writing this. Not because it’s hard to say, but because there is too much. I broke off a part about forgiveness that I’ll be revisiting shortly, and I also had to leave out a delightful story about pooping.
My Dad died nine years ago this month. He was 51. He laid down in his bed, and at some point before his wife tried to wake him up, he had stopped breathing. When the paramedics got there, they managed to get his heart going again, but there was no brain activity. There were some questions surrounding his death (why a man with a history of drug and alcohol abuse was prescribed and had access to so much methadone and other pain killers, for one), but basically, after a lifetime of abuse, his body just said, “I’ve had enough. I quit.”
The Christmas before he died he was really messed up. While he was eating his food, I looked at him and he was bringing his fork to his mouth about as slowly as you could move something–All while his mouth was open, just waiting for the food to get there. It would have been sort of funny if it wasn’t so sad. At some point during the meal, he went upstairs in kind of a huff. I followed him up there, and he was sulking in a chair, saying something about how no one even cared that he had left the party. I tried to tell him that that is why I came up to talk to him, but he didn’t really buy it. When he came back downstairs, he had a bone to pick. With EVERYBODY. He started going around the room and telling people what their problem was. It was like some sort of surreal, pain med-induced Festivus “Airing of Grievances,” only in real life. Without the Costanza comedy and without the laugh track.
When his finger started pointing my way, he said, “And YOU. You are not the father in this relationship.” I think I said something like, “Dad, what are you talking about?” I think everyone probably had a shocked look on their face, but my wife of seven months, who hadn’t seen anything like this at a Christmas meal before, probably looked pretty startled at the whole scene. Then his finger pointed at her, and shit got real. He said something about her thinking that she is better than everyone else and I was instantly pissed. I grabbed her hand and said, “We’re leaving.” While we were driving home, I remember saying, “I don’t think he’s going make it to next Christmas.” I was right. Two months later he was dead.
I have some regrets about that day.
I wish that, instead of reacting with anger, I had just looked at him and said, “Dad, I love you. Everyone here loves you. You have a problem. Let us help you.” I sometimes wonder if saying something as simple as that could have kept him around long enough to see my beautiful kids…. But anyone who has been around addicts knows that they have ways of controlling the people who love them. My Dad had overcome his alcoholism before. When I was young, he went to rehab. He would take me to AA meetings and show me “The Big Book” and tell me that I couldn’t tell anyone who I saw there (I was like ten. It’s not like I was going to be talking to my friends and say, “You guys will never believe who I saw at the AA meeting…. Frank M! Yeah, I don’t know who who the crap Frank M is either, but he sure was there. And his breath smelled thickly of coffee and cigarettes.” But it’s a whole lot easier admitting that you are powerless over your addiction/admitting you have a problem/admitting you need help when you have hit rock bottom. The sneaky thing about addiction (and the Devil, if there’s a difference) is that as you get healthy again, you start to feel a little bit good about yourself–“I can do this.” Then, when you fall off the wagon again (as my father often did–as we all often do), it is that much harder to admit you screwed up and you need help.
We’re all basically a bunch of addicts—We’re just addicted to different things. Some of us (like my Dad) are addicted to things that are more likely to ruin our lives in ways that other people can clearly see, others of us are addicted to things that ruin our lives in less visable ways. We’re addicted to work, or food, or sex and pornography, or feeling important, or dependent relationships, or TV, or facebook, or people reaffirming that you are funny and talented and you write well and your blog is awesome…. Regardless of what our drug of choice is, we all need help.
So, yeah…. I realize this one is kind of heavy. Fear not. My next one will be entirely about pooping.
Anyway, I guess I’ve been thinking about how our pride is the main thing that keeps us from getting the help that we need–whether it’s help from people or God (again–If there’s a difference). Shame and pride are two side of the same coin—a coin that keeps us from becoming the sort of person we would rather be. There is something powerful about being honest with other people about how big of a piece of shit we really are–being transparent. It makes me think about the truth in those 12 steps written on the wall of that crappy, smoke-filled building that my Dad would take me to. I think the Devil and Addiction are dealt with the same way.
So…. Just in case you never saw them before, or just in case you haven’t seen them in a while, or just in case you were wondering how to let get rid of a mess that you just can’t seem to let go of, here are the 12 steps:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or whatever your personal addiction happens to be)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.