‘The Scourge’

In Features, Non-fiction on February 10, 2015 at 6:57 pm
Larry, an Al-Anon member who lost his son Lucas in 2012, holds up his nine-year coin: "One step at a time."

Larry, an Al-Anon member who lost his son Lucas in 2012, holds up his nine-year coin: “One step at a time.”

As alcoholics battle the disease of alcoholism, loved ones learn how to cope

Written by Alex Ashley

Sitting in a small, corner Café one afternoon, Larry drew a small symbol on a piece of paper and passed it across the table.

It was a triangle with a circle in the middle of it.

“This is Al-Anon,” Larry said. “In Alcoholics Anonymous, the symbol is a triangle with a circle around it. They both mean the same thing.”

Larry requested that his full name not to be used. A degree of anonymity, he said, keeps the focus on the purpose behind Al-Anon, rather than individual people.

Al-Anon, by the way, was the reason for this meeting. Larry has been a member for the past nine years.

He slides a nine-year coin across the table to prove it.

The inscription reads: “One day at a time.”

Al-Anon is Alcoholics Anonymous’ “little sister.” It’s a support community for those who have alcoholics in their life, rather than the alcoholics themselves.

In the 1940s, when William Griffith Wilson found himself at odds with the incurable disease of alcoholism, “condemned,” he said, “to obsession to lunacy and to death without knowing it,” he started a support group based on the principles behind what have come to be known as “the 12 steps.”

Al-Anon’s not much different.

Shortly thereafter, Wilson’s wife, Lois, along with a close friend, realized in those formative years that, rather than sitting in the car, they could come in from the cold and use that time to talk about what they were going through as well.

Al-Anon (the first syllables of Alcoholics Anonymous) was born.

The perspective was unique, from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t drink but loves somebody who does.

“Here’s the scourge,” Larry said.  “Innocent bystanders. You know, that’s how we perceive ourselves.” That is, those caught in the crossfire of a loved one’s fight with alcohol abuse.

Across the table, he peers into a cup of black coffee and starts to tell the story from the beginning.

“Nine years ago, I had never heard of Al-Anon.  I was going crazy because my son was drinking and going to jail and wrecking my cars…”

Then Larry got the first call from the school, his son Lucas was in eighth grade. He had snuck alcohol out his father’s liquor cabinet and taken it to school to pass around with his buddies. He was suspended and Larry thought, “Boy’s will be boys.”

Fast forward in time a few years, and Lucas got a DUI.

“He didn’t tell me of course,” Larry said, “But then he gets another one. And this time, he’s going to jail.”

Larry said the saga with his son only got worse.

The downfall, he said, was when he got pulled over while riding a motorcycle at night with no license.

“He ended up going to inpatient treatment,” Larry said. “He just never could stop drinking.”

According to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2006, alcohol abuse in the United States created a $223.5 billion problem. It is estimated that about 62,000 men and 26,000 women die from alcohol abuse annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

Larry turned to Al-Anon. The group, he said, sounded like something close to a “quick fix,” a way to resolve the problem with his son and move on with life.

“That’s not what it’s about,” he said.  “I’ve seen it a thousand times. People come to Al-Anon and think ‘I’m going to learn how to get him sober, how to fix him or her.’”

Larry said this isn’t how it works.

“We know for a positive fact that alcoholism is a disease, and we ain’t gonna get em’ sober.”

The first of the 12 steps Al-Anon members live by: “Accept that we are powerless over alcohol, that our lives have become unmanageable.”

“It doesn’t come easy for me,” Larry said.  “I’m not powerless over anything. If I want something bad enough, I will get it.  I’ll work harder, I’ll get up earlier, I’ll stay later; I’ll come at it from a different angle. But not this. Not the alcoholism of somebody you love.”

There’s a somber, painful pause.

“They’re just sitting there dying, and there’s nothing you can do,” said Larry.

Larry’s job is to work with Al-Anon District 28, which comprises Camano Island, Stanwood, Arlington and Granite Falls.

Lisa has been with Al-Anon for 31 years. Her experience was different.

She fell in love with her college sweetheart, Daryl, the captain of the football team, while going to school in Spokane in the 1980s.  They got married, and then things changed.

“He turned out to be a mid- to late-stage alcoholic,” she said. “I didn’t know that at the time. He was a really lovely young man. He was just a cool guy; everybody loved him. But when he drank, he got a little crazy.”

Lisa thought getting married would “calm him down,” that it would level out what she had chalked up to be nothing more than the typical college experience: drinking a little too much, being a little too rambunctious.

“Then one night, he got arrested. He’d tried to escape, and the police followed him home,” said Lisa.

Lisa remembers a younger version of herself watching out the living room window in her pajamas as her new husband was tackled by police in the front yard of their Gig Harbor home and hauled away.

“We were married in 1981,” she said, “and divorced by 1984. My progression into darkness was really short. It was like a train wreck. His drinking went downhill and I went the same way.”

Just like Larry, Lisa found Al-Anon and thought, “here’s a solution.”

Even after their divorce, Lisa kept attending Al-Anon meetings. She’s not sure where she would be mentally or emotionally without the support of Al-Anon.

As Larry kept applying the guiding principles at Al-Anon’s core, he began to see a change in his behavior toward his son. It taught him to cope with the problem, not try to swoop in like a superhero and solve the problem himself.

“I mean he was 25, 26, 27 years old and I was still trying to run his life,” he said. “But I discovered that, even though I didn’t like the symptoms, the outward signs of his alcoholism, I learned that I could put those over here, and put my son over here and just love my son.”

Separating the disease from the person, he said, helped him be more realistic about the disease.
As Larry was learning how to better cope with the symptoms of his son’s disease, unbeknownst to him, Lucas had started to do something Larry said his son swore he would never do: “stick a needle in his arm.”

A friend had come over to visit him, and Lucas started having trouble breathing. Panicking, he told his friend to call 911.

“And … they couldn’t save him,” Larry said.

He grips his nine-year coin: “One day at a time.”

“Had it not been for Al-Anon and this process it’s taken me through, he might have died and we would still would not have been on very good terms. And that would have been horrible. Worse than it already is. I used to say that if I could just keep him alive and out of jail that it would be all right. And I could do neither.”

“My son died,” Larry said, “On May 7, 2012 as a direct result of alcoholism.  He drank that morning. It was a beautiful, bright sunshiny day.

[This story was written for Stanwood Camano News.  An abridged version can be viewed here:]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: