Chains of bitterness toward his mother are shattered through forgiveness
Returning from school, halfway down the hall leading to my apartment, I smelled the familiar mixed odors of smoke and booze. With dread in my heart, I knew what I was about to face: my drunken mother in her messy housecoat, sitting on a chair in our kitchen, no makeup, hair awry, cigarette in hand and holding a glass of booze. At one time, my mom was an outstandingly beautiful lady–so strikingly attractive that heads would turn when she entered a room. Men fell in love with her, and when she came to visit my school, the next day I always received compliments on how beautiful she was.
That was before my mom became a full-blown alcoholic, spending every afternoon in the kitchen literally stinking drunk. Sometimes I found her on the kitchen floor where she had fallen, and sometimes there was blood from an accidental laceration. I would pick her up, place her in the chair and try to dress her wounds. Quite honestly, when I was in my mid-teens, I never looked forward to coming home from school.
And almost always, my mom would force me to sit next to her and listen to her endless list of resentments. Her drunken, ranting voice would go on and on, often for two hours or more, about the real or imagined wrongs done to her, to me, to my father. While sitting there, trapped in the kitchen with my drunken mother, I swore I would never let past offenses poison my mind with horrible resentments like hers. How wrong I was about myself.
In the mid-40s, there were few doctors or other professionals who recognized alcoholism as a disease. As a consequence, my mom was diagnosed as being mentally ill, which she was not, and she was hospitalized and subjected to very uncomfortable bouts of shock therapy. After months she did improve a little, after they discovered her artistic talent and encouraged her to return to painting. After completing treatment, her intake of alcohol decreased slightly, to be replaced by the ingestion of tranquilizers and painkillers. Still drinking, my mother became addicted to medically prescribed depressants. Sadly, she remained half-sedated the remaining years of her life. If only there was an enlightened psychiatrist who could have recognized her alcoholism. But this did not happen, and my beloved mother died still addicted.
Thus, at the young age of 15, I made a personal vow not to have resentments similar to my mother’s. And I was also determined not to be an alcoholic like my mother. I was wrong on both counts.
I was to become an alcoholic with all the sick baggage alcoholics carry with them. Over the next 40 years, from my first drunk as a teenager, my drinking progressed unabated until I became a full-blown alcoholic. Eventually, I also became a resentful human being. I relished these resentments: they provided facile explanations about why I felt so miserable. Similar to the vow not to drink anymore, I failed to stop having these bitter resentments. Quite frankly, I liked having resentments. After all, they gave me justification to take another drink.
My recovery was basically with AA. After being embarrassingly confronted by colleagues, I stopped drinking, started attending meetings and thought, Now everything will be OK. But those early months of recovery were still full of anger and resentments. With the help of a sensitive sponsor, I began to work the Steps. I also discovered the magic of the Serenity Prayer, for it told me I had the power to change. I started doing Twelfth Step work.
It was amazing: The anger began to dissipate. Also, the bitter resentments began to lessen in intensity and frequency. I came to accept that even though I could have inherited an allergy to alcohol from my mom and her Native American heritage, I was responsible for my own recovery. I discovered one of the by-products of recovery is not regretting the past. Spirituality was beginning to replace my resentments.
Now, after 25 years of continued sobriety, free from the yoke of alcohol, my life has profoundly changed. Oh, to be rigorously honest, I still have bouts of anger, but they are minor irritations and last only a few moments. And when some resentments start to insidiously fester in my mind, I recognize that they are reminders of my disease and that I must continue to work on my recovery, to double up on going to AA meetings and increase Twelfth Step activities.
There is no innate evil with resentments. They are part of the human condition. Yet, unabated they can be devastatingly harmful to the spirit, for they are the antithesis of serenity and human civility. When possessed with this obsession, I was not a happy person. I came to dislike the past deeds of others and myself. With recovery and the AA program, I am now able to reach a new plateau of not only freedom from alcoholic binges, but also freedom to love others and myself. I even have come to accept my mother who, while now gone, I still continue to love.