Sometimes miracles come on tiny wings

I've heard it explained that a hurricane begins with a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa. And so I am led to conclude that even the most infinitesimal action can produce tremendous consequences. It was a curious wind that blew on Valentines Day 2004, nothing sweet about it.

Alcoholics swim freely in our society. Every family has one, everybody knows or knows of one, everybody's life has been shaped by one, and yet, like death, nobody wants to talk about it.

I remember that Friday morning well. My sister was on her way down from Seattle and The Gunfight at the Alcoholic Corral was set for high noon. I had been away on business the previous week when Vivian came down to pick up our mother from the hospital. Her reason for being there remains a mystery, but it was not a reaction to antihistamines as she had nervously explained.

We arrived at the doctor's office, and as the meeting began he was firing away his bullets of long-term substance abuse health hazards and Mom was deflecting them beautifully. Vivian and I were attempting some inaudible crossfire with zingers like, "If you don't go to rehab we aren't going to be able to see you anymore, nor further converse with you by phone on the appointed neutral nondrinking Sundays either ..." We meant business!

Her response equated to something along the lines of, "Don't bring a knife to a gunfight!" Mom was downright celebratory, demanding, "Is that all you got?" We left the doctor's office once again humiliated. Out of nowhere Mom turns and says, "So now what "¦ are you taking me to rehab?"

"Yes", was our collective and immediate response. Of course we hadn't made any arrangements, nor did I see any butterflies in the area, yet there we were smack dab in the middle of a miracle.

In the beginning "¦ God intended man to be happy without alcohol "¦ Yes, the Genesis Recovery Center was for us. As a lifelong registered nurse, Mom was comfortable in the hospital-like environment and addressed the counselors with the same respect she had always shown doctors. As we were driving away we felt euphoric. We had done it. We had broken the chain, and just maybe our family would finally be freed from the shackles of the bottle.

I was scared but optimistic Saturday, arriving for family therapy. The conference room walls were covered with words. The introductory seminar was proceeding nicely when Bill, a counselor, asked a patient how he was feeling. "Like dirt," the man replied. Bill was rather deliberate with his response "¦ "Oh, you feel warm and brown?" A nervous laughter filled the room as he continued "As your eyes attempt to search for a way out of here, find a word to describe your feelings."

Over the next six weeks words like abandoned, angry, apathetic, betrayed, condemned, destructive, exasperated, fearful, guilty, hopeful, overwhelmed, relieved, tempted and withdrawn became part of my daily vocabulary. "Good and bad are much too vague," he went on to say. "When you say good, do you mean happy, open, loved, excited, grateful or fulfilled? What does bad mean: sad, afraid, angry, lonely, ugly, desperate or trapped?" Even the strength of a monarch's wing can't quiet the power of the spoken word.

I was feeling some combination of all of the above when I read in the paper a few weeks back that Genesis was closing because of cutbacks. How many lives will be lost because of such short-sightedness?

My mother's sobriety remains the single most important event in my life. I realize there are other facilities available, but Mom had been to rehab before and failed. Were it not for Genesis and their amazing staff, where would I be now? It is too painful to ponder.

I had not taken a drink in 10 years when I walked into Genesis. I was sober, but I didn't know the first thing about the true dynamic of this disease.

The real tragedy of this economy is yet to be realized and will manifest itself in ways we cannot begin to imagine. In the meantime, I am reminded of my mother's frequent comment in her early sobriety "¦ "There isn't one circumstance that will be improved by taking a drink. Period."

Susan Bundgard Hatfield lives in Medford.

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