Hitting Rock Bottom

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My father was an alcoholic. For years, the members of my family pretended it wasn’t so. We pretended that dad was just dad. He had a lot of good points about him – generous to a fault, reaching out to others who had less than he did (a lesson he and my mother instilled in me that is still alive and active to this day, long after they have both passed away). My father finally admitted he was an alcoholic, and my mother and I finally admitted we were co-dependents, and we started attending AlAnon meetings. A number of years after that, after more pain and anger and confusion and downright craziness, I admitted I still had problems, and started attending ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings.

One of the common themes of AA, AlAnon, and ACOA (as well as NarcAnon and other similar groups) is that at some point, we all hit rock bottom. That we realize that, as much as we have denied our problem, lied about our problem, ignored our problem, and tried to imagine our problem(s) out of existence, they are still there. And we have a choice. We can continue on that path, and continue to watch our lives fall apart while pretending they aren’t, or we can choose to wake up and we can choose to change.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, many of us are asking why. We are asking how. We are asking why and how this could have happened. And, in chorus with this, some of us are asking why now? Why didn’t the Aurora shootings, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Sikh shootings, the Columbine shootings, the Thurston High School shootings matter? Well, I think they did. But, like the alcoholic or drug addict and his/her family, we hadn’t hit bottom yet. It didn’t hurt enough yet for enough of us that we said, “Enough!” Like the family of an alcoholic or drug addict, we could excuse Aurora or Virginia Tech or the other shootings as something awful, but as “not us.” We could say, “Oh my! How horrible, what happened to those people!” Because really, it didn’t hit home.

In my own experience, we excused many of the things my father did. “It was just this time.” “It was a fluke.” “It’s not going to happen again.” Someone on the outside could say, “Hey, folks, are you kidding me?” But unless we, those directly involved, could hear that, those on the outside could just as well be whistling in the wind. We could continue to ignore it.

But when my dad crashed the family car into a telephone pole, and then shortly after, got arrested for drunk driving and I got called to bail him out of jail, well, it woke me up. A bit. After that, my dad started attending AA meetings and my mom started attending AlAnon meetings. Then she brought me with her. Over the years, along with AlAnon, I attended ACOA meetings and also found a therapist who specialized in treating family members of alcoholics and drug addicts. It took some time, after I hit bottom (bottom being I tried to kill myself), but I have grown since then. I have shaken loose from that which I knew, that which blinded me, that which held me prisoner.

And I deeply believe that that process has everything to do with where we are with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Was Virginia Tech awful? Yes, it was. Was the Aurora shooting horrible? Absolutely? Was Columbine? No doubt about it. Was Thurston High School? Yes, it was, and doubly so because my daughter’s step-sister was enrolled in that school at the time, so it was personal for us. So why wasn’t there the type of outcry that there has been since Sandy Hook Elementary School? Why have we allowed the stories to fade from view, from concern, when it seems like we are not so willing to do that after Sandy Hook?

I will posit a reason why. It’s because we have now hit rock bottom. We have now, in our national conscience, arrived at a place where we can no longer ignore it. We can no longer pretend that it’s just an instance where dad plowed the car into a telephone pole. We cannot pretend that we’re okay and it’s just the “other people” who are crazy. We have been presented a mirror and we are horrified at what we see. We do not just see ourselves in the mirror. We see the faces of those 20 young children in the mirror alongside us, and we say, “Oh my God! It’s come to this! I cannot, and I will not, pretend any longer. It’s about me, but it’s not just about me. It’s about our children, and our grandchildren, our brothers and our sisters, our mothers, our nieces and nephews. It’s about all that could have been, and that now will never be.”

But if we are willing to wake up, if we are willing to face ourselves (and those babies) in the mirror, and if we are willing to take responsibility, we CAN make things better. Not overnight. Not all at once. And yes, we will have to face the NRA and their bleating. We will have to face those who say, “Hey, the way to end gun violence is to bring in more guns.” (Even though many of us know that is not the answer.) But we can do that, one by one, by realizing that we have hit rock bottom, and that we are not alone, and that together we can make a change. A change is gonna come.

If we are willing to admit that, at last, we have hit rock bottom, then we have a choice. We can ignore that fact and we as a society can die a painful death, or we can say, “Yes, this is it. We’ve been falling down for quite some, time now, and we’re tired of falling. We want to change. We want to get up, and we want to get better.”

What is it, folks? What is your choice?

For the sake of all of us, I hope we want to get up and get better.