Lent begins this week with its traditional celebration of Ash Wednesday in many Christian churches. Ashes are placed on the foreheads of the faithful to remind them of death, of the sorrow they feel for their sins and of the need to change their lives.
The practice, which dates from the early Middle Ages. Many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline.
My dad always tried to give up alcohol during Lent. He knew my mom, brother, sister and I all wanted him to quit drinking because his drinking caused pain in our family life. He would try hard but usually fail to make it through the first couple of weeks. Anyone who has fought this war, or any addiction, knows just how difficult it is. I would think that every family in our country or world has some family member who was or is an alcoholic.
When I was young I did not know how difficult it was for Dad. I just knew his drinking caused trouble. As I matured and better understood his struggles, I appreciated how challenging it was for him to triumph over alcohol. Finally when I was a fairly young adult, Dad was able to win the battle. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and never took another drink. Our lives changed when that happened and my appreciation for his strength grew. Dad was a good man who gave generously of his time and talents. He could fix anything and did so for family, friends, and neighbors. His tears were profuse as he struggled but we all learned that until he was ready, we could talk forever to no avail. What a celebration it was when we would honor another year of his sobriety.
When he died our family knew we had lost a loving and generous man who spent so many years of his life feeling pain and guilt because he felt so helpless. We were grateful that he had won the battle long before he died because it gave all of us many years to heal and enjoy Dad.
Now, years later, there is a much greater understanding of addictions. There are more resources available for alcoholic and for those who love them. Family members can join Alanon and learn how to deal more effectively with their loved one. Alcoholics can join any number of groups, including AA, in order to stay sober.
But the bottom line is that the afflicted person must make a decision that no one can talk them into or make for them. Alcoholics must admit they have a problem and that alcohol is disrupting their own and their families’ lives. Then they must get the support they need to say good-bye to what they thought of as a friend. It is tough! Recovery, as opposed to drying out, involves really coming to terms with why a person abused alcohol, how it affected them and those they love, and then remain sober.
Why did I choose this column to discuss this? Because I know there are many alcoholics out there who use Lent as an opportunity to conquer their addictions. If you are one of them admit your problem, ask for help, and change your life and the lives of every single person you love. You can do it. The 40 days of Lent that ends with the celebration of Easter can be step one on a lifelong journey that you will live 24 hours at a time.
When my Dad won out over alcohol all of our lives changed. How grateful I am that he never gave up.
Mary Friedel-Hunt, freelance writer, publisher (Voice of the River Valley) and a licensed clinical social worker, has been a psychotherapist for 32 years. Her column runs weekly in Faith & Values. You may contact her by writing to: P.O. Box 189, Lone Rock, WI. 53556.