By Christine Suhan of Feelings and Faith
Most of you know I’m an alcoholic. A low bottom, should-have-been-dead-hundreds-of-times kind of alcoholic. But I found a way out; I’m sober. I’ve been sober for a while and I thank God every day that I was fortunate enough to get sober before I had children. I can’t imagine their precious lives would have survived the storm of my addiction.
I am no longer an active alcoholic but in order to maintain my sobriety I must continue to treat my alcoholism on a daily basis. One of the ways I treat my alcoholism is through 12 step meetings. When my eldest son was eighteen months old, shortly after I gave birth to my second son, I found a meeting that offers child care. I’ve been consistently going to that meeting ever since. My kids have grown up in that nursery and have come to love it. They didn’t at first though. The older they got, the more they’d fight me about going. In the midst of their whining, complaining and tantrums they’d say, “but mommy, what do you have to keep going to these meetings?”
I always told them that my brain was sick and meetings are my medicine. That answer sufficed for a while, but today was a different story.
My boys haven’t complained about going to the meeting in over a year but this morning my almost six year old didn’t want to go.
“Ugh, why do we have to go today?”
“Mommy needs a meeting, sweetie. I had a very hard weekend and I need my medicine.”
He stopped what he was doing and looked up at me. “But why do you have to go? Why do meetings help you? You aren’t sick.”
I thought about brushing him off but something inside was nudging me to tell him. “Well, sweetie, mommy needs to go to meetings to remember why I can’t drink alcohol. If I go too long without a meeting, my brain forgets that I’m allergic to alcohol.”
“What’s alcohol?” He looked very curious.
“Alcohol is a drug that’s in drinks like wine, beer and liquor. A lot of adults drink alcohol to help them relax but mommy and daddy can’t drink it because we are alcoholics.”
“So because you’re allergic you are an alcoholic.”
That’s right. Normal people’s body and brain can handle alcohol but alcoholics don’t process alcohol like everyone else. Our brains get sick if we drink alcohol and because our brain can’t process alcohol we do bad things if we drink alcohol.
My two year old, who had walked up as the conversation started, chimed in. “You do bad things, you go to jail?”
“Yes, when mommy drank alcohol she got into a lot of trouble and had to go to jail.”
My five year old’s look shifted from curious to extreme concern. “You mean you went to jail for two weeks and then went home, right?”
“Actually, I was in jail once just for a night and then I was in jail for two whole months. I was there for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s one year.”
“Whoa, that’s a long time.” He stopped to process what was said before he continued.
“So you have to go to meetings to remember not to drink alcohol so you can do good things and take care of us?”
“That’s right, pumpkin,” I paused.
And because daddy and I are both alcoholics and drug addicts, and addiction is a genetic disease, you boys might be alcoholics or drug addicts too. Your brains might not be able to process drugs and alcohol so as you grow up I’m going to help you learn about addiction so you don’t do the bad things I did.
“What are drugs?”
“Well, there are good drugs and bad drugs. The good drugs are what a doctor gives you to make you feel better when you are sick. But the bad drugs are drugs that people make and they are illegal. Mommy used the bad drugs and now since I’m an addict I have to be really careful when I use good drugs because my brain starts to get sick with the good drugs too.”
“Why did you use the bad drugs?”
“I thought they would make me feel better, but they didn’t. They made me feel so much worse.”
“Were you sick before you had to take the drugs?”
“Kind of. I was really hurt and sad and my brain was already sick from the disease of addiction so I tricked myself into thinking that drugs and alcohol would make me stop hurting. But they didn’t. I kept hurting and the pain got so much worse.”
“Well, I’m not going to get hurt, so I won’t need to use drugs.”
“I hope so, sweetie. I really, really hope so.”
This was the first detailed conversation we’ve had about addiction and I’m sure it won’t be our last. My husband and I have always been open with our kids when it comes to heavy subjects such as these because although they can’t possibly understand the complexity of what I’m trying to describe, I don’t ever want our past to be a surprise.
I believe it’s never too early to start the conversation about addiction.
This post originally appeared on Feelings And Faith.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christine Suhan is a wife and stay-at-home mother to three toddler boys. She has a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and is currently authoring her first book. She blogs regularly about marriage, mental health, chronic illness and motherhood at www.feelingsandfaith.net. You can find her on Facebook.