This Woman Who Showed Me the Way~

I don’t write about my mom too often. Not because she wasn’t important to me but because, since Chuck’s death, all I can think about is him, and my life without him.

I’ve always known that I inherited some very clear traits from my mom. She passed along her love of reading to me. Her inability to suffer fools gladly…that she got from her mom. Her sense of humor.

This morning I realized I got a trait from her that I’ve not given much thought to, but one that looms large in my life. The one that has brought me to where I am, 6 years after the death of the man who was my life.

Betty Catharine, my mom, passed along to me the tenacity, the determination, the grit, that has kept me grounded and sane, to the degree that I can claim any sanity at all.

My mom, Betty Catharine, was an active alcoholic for most of my growing up years. There were some rough years, especially in high school.

She got sober, cold turkey, on the day my younger brother Kysa was diagnosed with cancer, and set about making amends (without calling them such) to her eight kids.

How she managed to get sober on her own, without medical intervention, after 30+ years of heavy drinking, I don’t know how she didn’t suffer delirium tremens or anything life threatening, and she never spoke of it, but she did it and stayed sober until she died one and a half years later, of breast cancer. Six months after Kysa died of Hodgkins cancer.

Honestly, as I’ve grown and matured, in the years since mom’s death, I’ve come to know her in more ways than I knew her during her life. As milestones have come and gone in my life that were nothing in degrees to what she’d gone through, I’ve wondered about how she got through the challenges in her life.

She was an Army wife at a time when the military did a bare minimum in supporting families, moving, as she said often, 29 times in 30 years. She had eight children born in 5 states and 3 overseas, and was always either pregnant or had just given birth with many of those moves. My dad frequently reported for duty ahead of her so she’d be in charge of kids, supervising packers/movers, adapting to new homes/countries, knowing nobody, far away from family.

I don’t wonder at all that she took up drinking. The family story is that she went to a doctor for stress (this was in the 50’s) and he told her to have a drink of sherry each evening after the kids were in bed.

She was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who, in adulthood, converted to Catholicism. She was a nurse. She was the most intelligent, well read person I’ve ever met. She never remembered the punchlines of jokes. She had a droll sense of humor. She adored the royal family and, the older she got, the more like Queen Elizabeth she looked. She left me notes on my pillow as a young teen and called me every morning at 7:30 AM after I left home, cluing me in on political news and encouraging me to call the White House comment line to express my opinion. She’d given me the phone number and I kept it next to my phone on an index card.

She loved me the best she knew how and gave me what she had to give me, in spite of her struggles.

And what she gave me the most of was the grit and tenacity and determination that made her keep standing up when she was knocked down. She never gave in, in spite of what my young eyes saw growing up.

My mom was more than her alcoholism, and it didn’t take me long after her death to realize that.

I’ve no regrets, no blame. Only Love and the heartwarming memory of sitting at the kitchen table with her and my younger sister, Maggie, sharing Hollywood gossip, family stories, politics, everything under the sun, while laughing over our coffee or diet pepsi, in the last year and a half that I had with her, sober and loving and joyful, holding her hand over her mouth when she was doubled over with laughter.

My mom, Betty Catharine, gave me everything I would need as an adult, and it was my privilege to call her mom.

I hope, this Mother’s Day, that, if she is somewhere…and she believed in Heaven so I’ll picture her there…that she has found Chuck, and I hope that they share a hug with each other, from me, the woman who loved them both. Who loves them both so much, still.

I miss you, mom. Thank you for who you were.

What you gave me has helped me continue standing up again and again.

And I always will.

Just like you did~

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A Life of Grace and Dignity~

Each April 26, I post a blog I wrote in the days after Chuck’s death. I called it “Happy Anniversary, Dear Man”. But it wasn’t about our wedding anniversary; it was about his sober anniversary.
One year, when I posted it, I was criticized for posting about his sober anniversary, because it broke Chuck’s anonymity, which is a crucial underpinning of the program of AA.
I understood where this person was coming from, as I myself am a recovered alcoholic, but I take another tack on it, now that Chuck is, you know…dead.
Chuck and I found sobriety together; it was another anniversary that we celebrated. In reality, if we didn’t both have a sober program, our marriage wouldn’t have happened the way that it did.
His program of sobriety was his to live when he was alive, and he lived it with grace and dignity. He believed in carrying the message of sobriety wherever it was possible, to whomever might need it.
In our hospice time, there were more than a handful of men and women who came to his bedside, to bring meetings to him, to receive final sponsorship from him, to learn from him, and thank him for his service and guidance to them.
And they presented him with his 25- year sober coin, even though he died 3 days shy of his 25th year. I had to convince him to accept it when he did. Chuck was very specific in previous years about not accepting a coin until the very day, aware as he was that up to that day, his sobriety wasn’t promised. The thing is, I told him, we didn’t know if he would be alive TO receive it on that day and he owed it to those he’d sponsored to honor him with it.
So, he accepted that coin.
A few evenings ago I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine who was also one of Chuck’s sponsees in AA, and she said to me “Do you even realize, Alison, what a miracle that was, seeing the lines of people outside of Chuck’s room? All of them coming to thank him for helping them change their own lives, because they saw what he’d done with HIS life? The level of sobriety that he had in his life, that commanded such respect among AA, that brought these men to his bedside at the end of his life?”
Chuck was a strong and passionate man. A confident man, but one who struggled with demons from his past. He found sobriety, though, before he and I married, and strove to live his life according to the principles of AA.
He lived a life of sobriety that commanded respect not only from others in AA, but from the outside world who didn’t know he was even in AA…the anonymity thing, you know. He lived a life of grace and dignity, and that allowed him to die with grace and dignity. Nobody was left, afterwards, heaving a sigh of relief that he was gone, and with him, his addiction.
Instead, he lay in his hospice bed for those 3 final weeks of his life, receiving all of the Love he’d given to so many, as they paid their respects to him before his death.
What greater gift is there than to know that you have made a difference in the lives of so many, and just a sampling of that number now stand at your bedside to tell you that, in no uncertain terms.
And then Chuck died.
And I wrote about that time in hospice, and his life of sobriety and what it meant for him and for me and our family.
I have no regrets when I break Chuck’s anonymity, since his death.
It’s how I carry the message now, when I meet an alcoholic.
A couple years after Chuck’s death I met a woman who is also a dear friend. Her husband was struggling with addiction. He had a year’s sobriety.
I’d been carrying Chuck’s 25-year coin with me, not quite certain what to do with it but knowing I’d find a purpose for it along my way.  IMG_1059
That purpose was suddenly in front of me and I removed the coin from my backpack and gave it to her to give to her husband. All I asked was that he remember the name Chuck D, and the life of sobriety he lived. The grace and dignity with which he died. The Love he’d left behind, because of his sobriety.
I carry Chuck’s message of living a life of grace and dignity through sobriety, now, as much as I carry the message of Love that he and I lived for our 24 years together.
Our years wouldn’t have been possible without sobriety on both our parts.
His message is still very much alive, and I carry it proudly.

Happy Anniversary, dear man~

You might think, seeing the title, that Handsome Husband and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. And you would be wrong.  Today we’d be celebrating a much more important anniversary, because if this particular one hadn’t happened, we would never have been married for 23 years.  Our life together wouldn’t have happened at all.  So much wouldn’t have happened.  And much more would have likely happened, with none of it being good.

Handsome Husband wanted so badly to make it to this day.  He struggled with the knowledge that he wouldn’t make it.  This is the anniversary that meant as much to him as our wedding anniversary.  I can say, happily, that he and I share this particular day also.

This dear man, who lived joyously, would have celebrated 25 years of sobriety today.  I’ve struggled with writing about this, to be honest, because of anonymity, but my heart says that I want you to truly know this man who was my husband, and the impact that his sobriety and recovery had on him,  helping him live his life in a way that honored the gifts given to him through his sobriety.

Being in hospice, and at the end of his life, didn’t stop him from continuing his recovery, and his work of sponsoring others.  His sponsees  came from the East coast to pay their respects to him, to bring meetings to him, to show him and tell him how much he’d helped them change their lives, and the lives of their families, through their own sobriety.  He tasked me to put all of the information he had from his step work on a zip drive in order to distribute it to others, knowing he wouldn’t be here to further support anyone.

I was so proud, I am so proud, of how he changed his life.  Our lives together started out with him already sober, with both of us sober, but he stayed engaged and built the years of sobriety, and made a difference in the lives of so many because of it.  He spoke at many meetings, and there were un-counted numbers of evenings when he was hours on the phone, talking AA with those who sought his experience, strength and hope.  What he’d been given, he passed on, with all the love in his heart.

Being recovered helped him get through the last part of his life, where he was in so much pain.  He didn’t drink.  He could have-what the hell did it matter any longer?  But he chose to stay sober, and gift all of us who loved him with the clarity of time.

Chuck D was my husband, yes, and I miss him as passionately as I  loved him.   A very strong part of what I admired and respected most about him was that he was also a man who found a life of recovery and made his life count for something and touched many other lives because of it.

So, congratulations, dear husband of mine.  You aren’t here for this important date, but many are remembering you and holding you close and feeling gratitude that your example of living sober led them to their own version of living the dream.   Your sobriety lives on in so many.

” God, I offer myself to Thee-to build with me and to do with me what you will.  Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.  Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.  May I do Thy will always”.

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