Gray Areas

It’s all a gray area . . .

I’m told that in twelve-step-style
recovery meetings, they discourage sharing “war stories,” or telling about
specific incidents of being under the influence. By not talking about using, or
the surrounding drama, various triggers are avoided, the group can better focus
on recovery—and hang onto those 30-day chips.

The No War Stories rule also gently helps
those inclined to feeling victimized. If you can’t talk about the ways you’ve
been wronged it gets a little harder to blame others for one’s situation. You
might become a little more accountable and look for ways to stay motivated. Unless,
of course, you relapse and end up at the starting gate again. I’ve watched my
three sons go around the black and white racetrack too many times.

Watching them is the worst thing, until I see
the truth: I’ve been trapped in black and white thinking too.

I’ve obsessed, hoping my three adult sons will
agree to treatment, stay in treatment or otherwise not have to start over. And
whenever the relapses or crises come, I’ve skulked back to my own version of
the starting gate, wondering if I’ll ever pass go. Then I’ve overanalyzed.
Where did I enable? Where should I have used tough love? Did I do it right or
am I wrong?

My big discovery? Black and white thinking
holds me hostage in a lot of the same ways as my sons.

This either/or way of relating only gives
me two choices: either I see him as someone in recovery or not. In treatment or
not. Clean, sober or not. These “nots,” I now see, point to our Western views
of good and evil and subconsciously influence my attitude toward my own
children. Especially when they create chaos or there’s ugly fallout from their
using, it’s not far from a not to a not good. In this simplistic
way of thinking, I can quickly get to dislike or even hate if my standards
aren’t met.

A friend recently commented, “If someone
with type two diabetes struggles with their diet and makes the decision to eat
a sugary snack, we don’t ridicule them in the public stocks for the sin of
gluttony. Why then, do we condemn people with the disease of substance use? For
many, it’s another black-and-white area: choice.

The question of choice often justifies my
need to blame my sons for their refusal to get into recovery. Like meetings
that discourage war stories, my recounting of their sins and my wounds only
cements my status as a victim. My sons choose to keep hurting themselves and
me, so I can feel as sorry for myself as I like. I can be angry, bitter and
refuse to see my own part in what is often called the family disease.

Yet I’ve chosen too. I’ve chosen to be
miserable, to sit in shame because the neighbors watched the police roll up to
our house again. I’ve acted as if God picks on me by sticking me with three
sons who mostly harm themselves. I’ve bought into the idea that I either have produced
kids who are good, or . . .not so good.

So. I’m starting over and the truth is all
gray. Yes, it’s embarrassing that the sheriff knows us by name. It upsets me if
a friend crows about her kids’ successes. It’s horrible, but I’m jealous of
those whose kids do find long-term recovery. It’s lonely and sad on days when
you feel as if God really doesn’t like you much. Life, especially life here in
the Pacific Northwest can be depressingly gray when I really really need the
sun to shine.

For me, the sun has been shining on a
myth. A black and white myth of I got my miracle, praise God he’s
finally healed
. The new grayer story is more like oh wait he fell off
the horse but whew he’s climbing back into saddle
. And I can stay connected
to him while we both figure out this thing Jesus calls love.

In a both/and gray world, I’m starting over so that I may seize every possible moment to love on my irregular but wonderful sons. I’ll encourage them, nudge them just a tad when I sense they are more receptive. To tell my sons that I’ll always help you into whatever recovery looks like for you. That I’ll love you forever and ever, amen. It’s not black or white, but it’s a start.

I’m so excited! My newest book, Prayers for Parents of Prodigals, releases January 2020 from Harvest House Publishers. As I begin the countdown, I’ll be giving away bonus material with a pre-order campaign you can access HERE. Prayers for Parents of Prodigals provides a handy, quick way to connect to God as you walk this journey, or a comforting gift for someone you know. Remember: You are not alone!

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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