On Saturday, as I stood in Walgreen’s photo center waiting with my family for pictures to be developed, I glanced around at the grocery aisles. My eyes landed on some shelves that held 4-pack glass containers of the personal size bottles of wine. I immediately felt a twinge of sadness and thoughts of my former sister-in-law came to mind.
Years ago, while I was in college back in Arizona, my sister-in-law was my drinking buddy. I would sometimes pick up these small bottles, throw them in my purse and head to her house. Two for her. Two for me.
As I stood there in Walgreens, tears welled up in my eyes. I made it out, Lord, and she didn’t.
At the time of our mid-afternoon drinking meetings, I was unaware (and I believe she was too) that she struggled with bi-polar disorder. Recovery from addiction is one of the hardest roads a person walks down. But, attempting to stay on that road when suffering from mental illness too? Beyond hard.
Because of her struggle with pills and alcohol, her life eventually fell apart. She lost her husband. She lost complete custody of my young nephews. For a decade she was in and out of treatment centers. She would briefly stay clean and then quickly fall back to her old ways. In the Fall of 2012, an overdose finally took her life. She was the mother of my nephews, yet she hadn’t been a mother for years to them. Addiction took that away from her. Addiction robbed my nephews of their mother.
As I stood in Walgreen’s the other day, I silently cried as I remembered the loss again.
On Monday, as I was driving my son to school, a news report came on the radio sharing details of the overdose of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The heroin needle was still in his arm. The news report prompted a discussion about addiction. I shared with my son the advice my dad used to tell me years ago about drinking alcohol. Deciding to drink can be a risky choice when you have a history of alcoholics in your blood line. My dad told me as a teen, “if you don’t start, you’ll never have to stop.” I didn’t understand how true that was until I came to a point in my own life when I had to stop nearly 13 years ago. It was the hardest road I have ever walked down in my life. In many ways, surrendering my drinking problem, was even harder than losing my mom to cancer, one I could try to control and one I had no power to control.
I told my son that when it comes to drugs like heroin, the choice is simple. It’s illegal for a good reason. Heroin is highly addictive and it will kill you. If you don’t start , you’ll never have to stop is the only choice when it comes to drugs like that. But, alcohol is different. It’s legal and the choice to drink or not drink becomes ours.
The other day in the car, I didn’t tell my son to never pick up a drink when he hits drinking age. Instead, I shared with him all the reasons why I couldn’t drink anymore. I used to use drinking as way to run away from my problems instead of facing them. When I drank, I didn’t have an “off” button. If alcohol was there, I had to drink it. I told my son that normal drinkers don’t have this problem…alcoholics do.
We also talked about the facade of having it all together. It never ceases to amaze me how celebrities ,who seemingly have it all, are really dying on the inside. I told my son that this will be true with peers he will encounter in his own life. They might drink and smoke (or do harder drugs) and look happy and cool on the outside. But on the inside, they are scared, and lonely and desperate.
I pray my son makes wise choices when he gets older. I pray he is a leader who can see through the facade. I pray he has the confidence to walk away knowing, with complete certainty, that he’s chosen real. He’s chosen life. He’s chosen freedom.