I knew not to bail him out, but I didn’t know what to do when he asked if I would clean out his apartment. He had money hidden there that he was saving for a car, a dining set, clothes, and a new flat screen television for which he had worked hard. He lived four hours away from where I lived.
Was cleaning out his apartment enabling him? I wasn’t sure, so I talked to my Sponsor and several other Al-Anon members who had adult sons. After contemplation and prayer, I decided that it would be okay to clean out his apartment. I learned a lot about myself through the process.
I learned that I can take my time and that I have choices. I can think about what I want to do, and why, and what the consequences of my decision might be. Then, I can make a decision. I don’t have to react immediately and do something I might later regret. There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions in Al-Anon.
I was raised in a very conservative home where there was never any “gray” area in any decision that needed to be made. Everything was right or wrong, black or white, yes or no, and all or nothing.
In Al-Anon, I learned that most of life happens in the “gray” areas. I will not be so quick to judge those making decisions that are different from those I would make. Most situations are more complicated than they appear to be from the outside looking in. Helping my son by cleaning out his apartment and salvaging his belongings definitely fell in the “gray” area. I am more comfortable in “gray” areas these days thanks to clearer thinking in Al-Anon. I feel like one of my lifelong character defects, being judgmental, may be in the process of being removed. I can see now how I judged others who made decisions that I didn’t agree with at the time.
I learned that a couple of my beloved Al-Anon friends did not agree with my decision, but we could agree to disagree and still respect and love each other. One of my closest friends did not approve of me cleaning out my son’s apartment, and for that reason she did not feel comfortable helping me. This was hurtful and difficult to accept. But that decision was hers to make. I had the full support of plenty of others in the program. Everything fell into place so perfectly with those who were willing to help, so I knew it was the right thing to do.
Prior to Al-Anon, I probably would have changed my mind, if a friend disagreed with me, because I needed approval so badly. I am listening closer to my heart these days and making decisions that are good for me. I’ve also noticed that my decisions are more often than not coming from love instead of fear and from compassion rather than judgment.
I found that when I asked for help, people stepped up to help me. I was humbled. My sister offered her help, without my asking. I cried. For years, our relationship had been superficial, but since Al-Anon, I have learned to accept her as she is. I no longer try to control her life, and our relationship has improved and deepened. I am so grateful that I have a “real” sister I can rely on, who is supportive and understanding.
I learned that I need to allow myself to be vulnerable in order for people to see and to know the real me. I hid parts of myself for years. No one ever realized I ever needed help because I always acted so strong and in control.
I learned that if my decisions turn out to be a mistake, it won’t be the end of the world! I am human. I can make mistakes. It’s okay. I don’t have to be perfect. And I can change my mind at any time. There are always options.
I feel good about helping my sober son where I can, as I know what it’s like to have parents who are not supportive or helpful during critical times. I learned I would rather err in the direction of helping rather than not helping. There can be limits to my helping. I don’t have to go overboard. I want to be a loving, caring, and supportive parent. I also know that I can set limits and boundaries, as I need to keep in mind that taking care of me comes first.
Upon arriving at my son’s and opening the door to his apartment, the tears started flowing. It was beautiful—homey, organized, clean, and creatively colorful with recovery literature and sayings everywhere. I came to appreciate how much effort he had exerted to create a comfortable space for himself even though he was working long hours, six days a week, fulfilling his probation requirements, and had no car. I had a new appreciation for his efforts. It also helped that the 80-year-old man living in the apartment below spoke very highly of him.
The progress my son had made was done without my assistance, and the fact that he had been sober a whole year was a miracle. I don’t know what will happen to him next, how or if I will help him, but I do know that I don’t have to worry about it today. I don’t need to lose sleep over it. I can wait to see what happens next. I can make another informed decision when the time is right. And for that, thank you, Al-Anon.
By Julie E., Minnesota
The Forum, February 2015