The Biggest Battle of our Lives

(A typical American family or so it seemed - Parents in the throws of there adult sons addiction)

(to listen to an audio record by the same authors - click here)

Ours was a pretty typical American family: Mom, Dad, 3 sons, dog, cat, station wagon…you get the picture. Dad was a corporate business manager, Mom a “stay at home” busy volunteering in kid’s school and sports activities. Our middle son was a very busy toddler, an outgoing elementary school child, and a challenging teenager: having fun was more important than school. Upon graduation, he chose to work rather than go on to college and soon was having major money problems.

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We assumed it was poor habits by a teenager but soon it got out of hand and started to impact our lives:  there were missing checks, calls by bill collectors, unsubstantiated charges on bills, etc. etc. 

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Because he had no plans for what he wanted to do with his life and had been moving from place to place, my husband suggested he join the Army National Guard…we both felt that experience would “straighten him out” and teach him disciplines that would get his life back on the right track.

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He joined the Guard, participated in boot camp and then for two years attended the monthly training meetings required by the Guard.  Although self esteem and focus improved, we saw little (if any) improvement in what we considered “money management”. He shared that he thought he had a gambling problem (this had never crossed our minds) and told us the casinos had a special program to make sure gamblers wouldn’t come in.  They’d take your photo and would not admit those in whose picture had been taken and had gambling addictions!!!  YA RIGHT!!!  We felt relieved by this and our son’s commitment to stop gambling and put the situation out of our minds.

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Then in the fall of 2003, we got the devastating news that our son was being called to serve in Iraq. When he left in December, we didn’t know if we would ever see him again.

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It was a long 14 months.  Thankfully, he returned to us safely in March of 2005 and we were thrilled.  He had survived, come back to a wonderful girlfriend, bought a townhouse, and was ready to embrace life and enjoy the peace and freedoms of America.

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It was shortly after that that another battle resurfaced: fighting the awful addiction of gambling.  

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My husband and I talked and each of us came up with a solution to “fix” the situation with confidence that each of our methods would “cure” our son.  Mine was the “Pay the Bills” Technique:  Get him out of financial duress and then he’ll be so grateful at the fresh start that the gambling would stop When that didn’t work my husband tried the “Threaten him within an inch of his Life” approach saying that if he didn’t stop the gambling “right now” that he’d be in big trouble!!....Needless to say, that produced “0” good results and lots of exhausting nose to nose yelling.  We began the blame game: We blamed ourselves, we blamed each other.  What did we do wrong????

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Things came to a head when our son called one night to say he had spent his whole pay check at the Casino.  I giggled at first…I thought he was kidding!!!  When I realized that it was true, I fell apart emotionally. My son had survived the battles in Iraq and now he would be fighting an even greater battle for victory over addiction. I was terrified!!  My son was on his way over to our home and I didn’t know what to do.  I cried for about 45 minutes. And then a light bulb went on in my head.  By the time my son walked into our home, I felt peace and hugged him. I think he was puzzled.  He asked if I was going to write a check to help his girlfriend and to pay their bills and I looked at him and said: “I didn’t do this to her…..You did!!”

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He didn’t argue, cry, beg, etc...The usual.It was a defining moment for both of us.The situation was out of our control and outside help was needed.

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He began coming to GA meetings the following week and his girlfriend and I went to GamAnon. I think I was excited that I was going to learn how to “cure” our son.  I purchased the two books certain that I would find answers and that in a short time the battle would be won. We began that first meeting with readings and when I read the line,  “There is no cure…this disease can only be arrested” (A second light bulb in my head), I knew that there would be no quick fix to the problem.  There is no replacement for hard work.

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I began to work my program and my son worked his. Each week was filled with revelations and learning.  We continue to learn and grow are both still attending meetings after 2 ½ years.  My son and I have never been closer.  When we talk, our focus is on family and other things.  We each work our own programs, choosing life over the chains of addiction and worry, relying on our high power for strength when we need it.

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The 12 step program not only teaches correct ways to handle addiction, it teaches skills to handle life in general. Relying on one’s higher power gives strength when we are weak.  Resolving inner conflicts gives peace.  Making amends with others develops community.  Finding ways to develop inner happiness promotes healing and changes negative attitudes. Letting go of the past helps us make the most of and really live in the present, taking all that life has to offer.  Continuing to attend GamAnon meetings not only helps others in their journey, but is a strength building gift to myself in knowing that I am part of a circle of members on a journey towards healing, hope and recovery.