This week’s HTYH is the conclusion of Dave’s story: Let me tell you about my sons. I was told when I first came around AA that if I got a sponsor, worked the steps and attended AA meetings my life would straighten out, and it did, but it didn’t instantly fix my family. Practicing alcoholics make other family members sick too. And just because we get a sponsor, work the steps and go to meetings and straighten out–our families are still sick.
Around my house, at least when I was drinking, the rule was, he who yelled the loudest and longest won. We’d be in the car on the way to a church social, yelling and screaming at one another at the top of our lungs and when we arrived, the car doors opened, and everything changed. Oh, and how are you Mrs. Jones? She’d say fine and she’d ask us, how we were and we’d say fine. We were the fine family; no matter how chaotic things were, they were always fine if anybody asked.
My oldest son stands 6 foot five and weighs 225 pounds and is a tackle on his high school football team. He started punching holes in our walls and knocking out windshields with his fist and threatening suicide. I had another son 13 and he was the quiet one, when we started yelling at each other he got on his bicycle and left. My wife and I would be screaming at each other and when the phone rang she’d answer it and gently say, “How are you all today?”
After I left the treatment center, they told me to go home and enjoy my family instead of terrorizing them, but I didn’t know how to do that. I bought a book by Milton Berle entitled “10,000 Jokes.” I was hoping that we might learn to laugh more and scream less after I got home. I made a grand entrance and said, “Let me tell you all some jokes I heard today.” When I finished, they looked at me in total amazement and silence. Finally, they said, “You’re crazy.” I thought it was my delivery and took the book into my bedroom and practiced them while looking in the mirror. I came back out of my room and ran through them again, but they laughed at me instead of the jokes–I couldn’t tell a joke. Pretty soon all of us were rolling on the floor laughing and it was the first time as adults that I can remember laughing like that. It was a wonderful thing.
Soon after that it was 3:30 in the morning and my son had the TV turned up and I was supposed to go to work the next morning for the first time in three months. I wasn’t sleeping well anyway so, I used my finest treatment center voice and said, “Excuse me son, I’m frightened as hell about work tomorrow and I can’t sleep, would you please turn down the sound on the TV?”
He said, “I’m not going to turn it down and you can’t make me.”
I regrouped and repeated myself even more politely, but he jumped up and started punching me in the chest. He said, “I’m not turning it down and you can’t make.” I lost my treatment center motif and I started punching him in the chest. I started on the “It’s mine routine, this is my house, this is my TV and you will turn it down or leave.” He yelled louder than I’ve ever heard him yell before, “You alcoholic, you have destroyed my life, why don’t you leave.” Every fiber of my being wanted to hit my son, but I didn’t. I walked to my bedroom and started crying. I was crying from frustration, I was doing everything my sponsor asked of me and my house was more screwed up than when I left. I got on my knees and prayed and then I asked my wife what to do and she suggested that I should call my sponsor. What a novel idea. I called my sponsor Keith and told him that my son had called me an alcoholic. Keith said, “He only called you what you are and were you yelling at him and punching him in the chest?” I admitted that I was and he said, “I want you to go to your son and apologize to him and promise him that you’ll never do that again. Then ask his permission to hug him.” I said thanks for the advice Keith and I’m sorry that I woke you up, but I had no intention of following his instructions.
I went to the office early the next morning and my stomach turned into a big knot and I knew that if I didn’t do what my sponsor suggested, I would regret it. I drove back home and saw my son pacing back and forth by the side of the house. I walked over to him and said, “Son. I’m sorry that I yelled at you last night and I promise that it will never happen again.” I hugged him and it was like hugging an emotionless object. I was out of bullets and I didn’t think it had worked, but after I let go of him, he grabbed me and hugged me like he never has before.
I called my sponsor later in the day and he said that he never wanted me to give my sons any advice unless they ask for it. I started sponsoring my sons instead of trying to parent them and if I didn’t know the right answer when they asked me something, I directed them to somebody who did. We have a great relationship today and although it took longer for my second son, it worked with him too. The AA program works, it really does, but we have to do the footwork and learn to follow a few simple instructions.