Finding Al-Anon and Loving a Daughter Struggling with Addiction

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I was a cradle Catholic raised as the oldest of four children. Being part of a large extended Irish-Catholic family, we had lots of celebrations where beer and liquor were always plentiful. When I was 10 years old my world fell apart, my father was a detective and he was killed in the line of duty.

My life was never the same after that. A true sense of sadness took hold of me, and since I was the oldest, at 10 years old I became another parent, watching over my younger siblings.

When I was a teenager, I would drink but would get sick almost every time. One time I drank too much and my girlfriends, in an effort to sober me up, gave me an entire pot of black coffee. Needless to say, I was sick all the way home.

As they turned 18 all of the guys I hung around with became volunteer firemen. I started to hang out in the firehouse on weekends, and I met my husband at a neighboring firehouse. I spent a lot of time at firehouse functions, which revolved around drinking. We did our fair share of drinking but I never was very good at it.

I had three children in rapid succession, all girls, and so my partying days were limited. Around this time I realized just how many people in my family and life drank. I also found out my brother-in-law was experimenting with drugs, and, eventually, his addiction became severe. It would be my first true connection with someone with an addiction. He eventually died in a horrific car accident in California.

I moved to Florida with my husband and three girls, and life was great for a while. Problems started when my middle daughter was in her senior year of high school and started dating a boy who I considered my worst nightmare. She started staying out really late, eventually not coming home at all. I eventually kicked her out of the house after she threatened me when she was 19.

About 6 months after that I lost my oldest 21-year-old daughter in a car accident. The loss was unbearable, and I threw myself into work day and night to escape the pain. For years after she died, I wouldn’t acknowledge she had been drinking and driving. I do not think she was an alcoholic, but to this day it’s something I will never know.

It would take me a while to realize how out of my control my middle daughter’s life had become. When I did see her she had bruises on her arms and legs and always had excuses for what happened. She looked terrible but I was still clueless. I never saw her drink, no less drunk.

She left her husband, and that’s when I started to realize just how bad things had gotten. She would call me late at night, rambling about things, and she always needed money. We eventually started getting calls from police to pick her up because of her drunk driving. She moved back into our home, and that’s when I saw her disease full-blown. She would drink every day after work until she passed out. We put her out again. I was terrified I was going to lose a second child to drunk driving, and I couldn’t bear that. 

I devoted myself to curing her alcoholism. My life became consumed with her addiction: worrying about her two children, about who was watching them, about what were they eating, about her driving drunk with them in the car, about where she was, about why she won’t answer the phone. I learned there was a warrant out for her arrest and I was terrified she would go to prison.

I came to Al-Anon unwillingly at someone else’s strong suggestion—my manager’s. My manager was tired of seeing me coming to work exhausted, eyes swollen, crying, and a wreck. She knew Al-Anon was the place for me even though I didn’t yet.

I tried to get out of going right up to the moment I was at the door of my first meeting. I was going to leave when a sweet lady named Judy walked up behind me, put her hand on my back, gently pushed me through the door, and said, “Hi, I’m Judy. Is this your first meeting?”

I immediately started crying. That was in December of 2000.

Everyone shared what brought them to Al-Anon and they talked about things I was experiencing. They seemed to have the same problems I had and yet they were not falling apart or crying like I was. I felt an immediate kinship with a room full of strangers at that first meeting. I was not sure what it was but I knew I wanted to come back. I wanted what they had.

I bought a Courage to Change book at my first meeting and read it from cover to cover a couple of times and worked the Twelve Steps by myself. I went to the meetings every Monday and Wednesday, crying through them all. I had no sponsor since I was too embarrassed to ask anyone—too ashamed to tell anyone my story. How could I tell anyone I loved my daughter because she was my child but hated everything about her?

5 and a half months after joining Al-Anon my husband died of a massive stroke. My whole world collapsed, again. I was numb, and I had lost not only my husband but my best friend.

It took me a while, but, eventually, I did find a sponsor and started picking up that 500-pound phone to call her for help. Once I began working the steps again with my sponsor, little by little, my life got better. My sponsor listened, sharing her wonderful words of wisdom. It was a slow process. I had to learn how to let go. That I was not in control. I had to learn to listen, think, and not take any action. I also started to do service work, becoming the treasurer for my group. Gradually, I started getting it.

At the time I still had very little contact with my daughter. She only called when she was drunk or needed something. I was still praying she would not go to jail since there was a warrant out for her arrest but on a retreat I had a profound and miraculous realization. I heard a district attorney talking about sending someone to jail and I realized that my daughter would be safer in jail. That for the first time in a long time I would at least know where she was. That she would have food and medical help if she needed it.

I went home from that retreat with renewed hope and a new outlook on the possibility that my daughter might end up in jail. Six weeks later she was picked up and sent to prison for 18 months.  

With the help of my sponsor, I was able to put restrictions on the calls I received from my daughter in jail. At first, they were frequent, hateful, and just plain ugly. She cursed at me for not getting her a lawyer, blamed me for this and that, demanded I send her money, bring her clothes, and so on. With my sponsor’s help, I was able to set boundaries. I was able to tell my daughter she could not curse at me, talk to me in a disrespectful manner, or blame me for anything. If she violated this I would hang up. After a few disconnected calls, we got to where we could talk, even developing a decent relationship over the phone.

I continued working the steps, working through my anger, and going to meetings. I already knew I was powerless over alcohol but I began to realize just how powerless I am over people, places, and things. Accepting that I cannot change anyone or the course of life is huge because I used to think I could fix everyone and everything.

Now, I have truly come to love my daughter unconditionally. If she chooses to drink it is her business, not mine. But I also have learned that, “but for the grace of God” I could have been an alcoholic, too. That insight helped me let go of my anger and realize that my daughter didn’t ask to be an alcoholic.

Recently, I heard a nun talk about CIR at my parish and it was a light bulb moment for me. She asked me if I would be willing to lead a CIR group and I said yes. I fell in love with it. We share our stories as well as talk about our Catholic faith and the Sunday readings.

Catholic in Recovery enhances my faith, and I’m able to share and talk about the readings and listen to what other people have experienced. I’m able to see again and again how others have experienced recovery and how their faith plays a part in that.

Diane S.’s Testimonial