I received a phone call a few days ago. A woman was calling looking for “transitional living for my son. Somewhere where he will be treated well. I understand there has to be structure but I don’t want people being mean to him”
I wanted to be sure I was clear on what she was asking for. “What is your son transitioning from?”
“He’s homeless, has been for quite a while. He keeps turning up at mental health facilities. He’s in Concord. They know him well there. I would like to find a place for him closer to me so I could support him better. You know, visit him.”
Wanting to be certain before I started making referrals, I asked, “does your son have a drug and alcohol problem? ” Oh no, not drugs. He’s never done drugs”.
Does he drink? “Well yes, he’s homeless. Everyone who is homeless drinks. My son has told me that”.
I immediately thought of the kingpins of alcoholism: rationalization, justification and denial. Whether or not the boy believed the story, he certainly had convinced his mother.
I asked her if her son wanted to come to Southern California. “He will do whatever I tell him to. I want him here so I can be more active in his care. I want to be sure he’s treated well.”
I consider myself fairly skilled at conducting phone assessments but we were five minutes in to a conversation and I was still unclear of what her son’s needs are. At the initial stage I do not like to ask someone to “tell me a story” but I was stuck on this one.
Tell me about your son.
“Larry is 60 years old. I was 80 last month. The Lord has blessed me with good health, I don’t need glasses, have all my teeth and I can still drive.. . “
At this point I was glad the conversation was on the phone because I cried a little and I know that’s not very professional. For 60 years this man has been a tornado roaring through his parents lives. His father died ten years ago, “Larry couldn’t make it to the funeral. He was in a shelter and they wouldn’t let him out. I want him someplace where he can get out if there’s a family emergency”. The alcoholic lies and the family member believes the lie.
Her story really wasn’t very long. She was twenty when her son was born and her entire life has been devoted to him.
She said he started drinking in high school “you know, normal drinking like all boys do”. Rather than run the risk of any legal consequences if he was driving under the influence, she just let him, and later and his friends as well, drink at her house. She said her husband never approved and started staying away from the house when “the boys were there”. The alcoholic gives up everything for one more drink and at the same time family members give up security, sanity and peace of mind.
I asked her if her son had ever been to Alcoholics Anonymous. “Sometimes Mental Health finds him a place to stay and he has to go to AA. He says he likes the meetings that have doughnuts. Larry has always had a little sweet tooth.”
I talked to her a little about Alcoholics Anonymous. I told her about the steps, sponsors, meetings, fellowship and a higher power. “Larry needs structure, but that seems like a little too much structure. Is there no room for individuality in Alcoholics Anonymous?” I attempted humor by telling her the members who insisted on being individuals in Alcoholics Anonymous ended up at Mental Health. She missed the humor. Family members often lose their light heart and the ability to laugh as they struggle trying to control and cure another person’s alcoholism. Being Larry’s mother is serious work.
We talked for several more minutes. This 80 year old woman, this mother of an alcoholic, had heard and believed all the promises and lies Larry had been telling for 40/45 years. How many times had her heart been broken by his actions? How many more times will it be broken?
Just before the conversation ended, the woman apologized to me for wasting my time. I assured her this call had not been a waste of my time. I apologized for not having a magic pill for her and her son. I asked her to call me back the next day and let me know if any of the referrals I had given her had been able to help. She said she would. I don’t expect to hear from her again.
I wondered how many times she had made phone calls like the one she made to me. Alcoholism is a disease and family members are affected and develop their own sickness. This man’s mother labors under the delusion that she can help her son. The truth is she is powerless and she will continue to make the calls asking for a place where her son can “transition in to healthy living” but she will not transition herself. She will not move in to a place where she can believe the person on the other end of the phone really understands her son and his needs. This is her insanity.
I asked again what she wanted from me. How could I help her. Why had she made this phone call. “I just want a nice place for Larry to transition in to normal living. He keeps ending up at mental health. A nice man, Jimmy, calls me and tells me Larry needs a few dollars for clothes and food. I wire the money but I need to do more for him. He needs to be close so I can help him”.
I asked many times but she never told me her name. She always referred to herself as “Larry’s mother”. The disease of alcoholism has taken over every area of her life. She has given her peace of mind, her pocket book, her social life, her identity, her marriage and her future to alcoholism.
I gave her two referrals. Places I know have a tract for older alcoholics and where the person answering the phone would be kind and patient. I called both programs this morning. She hasn’t called either.
For the family member, a little hope will sustain them for a period of time. They will convince themselves no one can care for their loved one as well as they do. They will continue the same dance. Nothing will change and no one will get better.
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