Last night, my husband’s grandfather passed away unexpectedly. Currently, my in-laws live with us, so our home was a natural spot for the family members to gather to discuss the details, comfort each other, and to do all the other things that come with the notification of a sudden death in the family.
Being freshly sober only a few years, I haven’t had many opportunities to deal with death. A year ago while I was getting sober, my older sister committed suicide, and honestly, that was my first experience with death of a close loved one in my entire life. All four of my grandparents had passed away before I was a teenager, but I wasn’t close with them and I didn’t learn much about handling death.
So when my sister died, I certainly didn’t drink or use, but I fumbled my way through its aftermath clinging to sobriety “with all the fervor with which the drowning seize life preservers”. I made it by the grace of my higher power, but just barely. And it certainly wasn’t by my own willpower or self-knowledge that I survived without taking a drink.
Now, here I was confronted with the topic of unexpected death again. I was honestly terrified. Like always, my very first thoughts were all about me: What if I try to support my husband but it’s not enough or not the right way? What should I say to everyone? What should I do? What if they are so emotional and worked up that I pick up on that energy and start getting in a bad headspace myself about my sister? What if my mother-in-law is expecting me to support her more than I am able and so I let her down? What if my aunt-in-law thinks I should be playing a more active role in the matter and starts judging me? Who’s dealing with the affairs and practical details? Should I be trying to offer to do that? Is that appropriate to discuss or is it too early? Am I even capable of comforting these people without falling apart myself? What if my co-dependent tendencies jump in during a weak moment and I commit myself to some activity or task that I really shouldn’t or can’t do?…. The insanity could go on and on…
And then… quite instantly and intuitively, I started to hear this inner voice recalling the third step prayer that I recite most mornings “God, I offer myself to Thee To build with me & to do with me as Thou wilt. 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 & Thy way of life.”
From that moment I became aware of three things:
- That is just my self-centered fear talking
- Isn’t it cunning, baffling, and powerful that my disease can turn something as serious as a death in the family into an issue that I think is all about me. Because it’s NOT about me.
- I just need to show up and let God run the show from there.
Today, because I am sober, I get to show up and be there for my family, even if I’m feeling scared or overwhelmed. Today, I am OK with the fact that I am on a “need to know” basis with my higher power, and I don’t need to have all the answers before I can go do the next right thing. Because I am sober, I won’t have to carry around guilt (or make an amends) for being drunk or worse, ducking out of the whole affair. And when it’s all over, I will have this experience to draw on when building my faith that my higher power is doing for me what I can’t do for myself.
It’s not easy or comfortable (yet), but it’s a design for living that works in all circumstances… even when faced with the sudden death of a loved one.
If you feel so compelled, please share your story of dealing with sickness and/or death of a loved one in sobriety. We can all use the shared experience, strength, and hope.
The opioid crisis has devastated my family, but I’m not here for treatment. I’m volunteering. My sister, Jenny, died last year from cirrhosis of the liver from alcoholism and opioids. She was 44 — a college-educated, middle-class suburban mom. I experienced the entirety of her addiction, struggle and death in six days last July. Our family was close and saw each other often, but we didn’t know Jenny had substance use disorder.