Since I recently visited Chicago, I was reminded of one of the last trips I made to the windy city. Oddly, today I came across a journal entry I made after returning from Chicago in August 2005.
A bit of background: When I first separated from my husband in 1997, I dated a man who was a tortured alcoholic. I learned many lessons from this relationship, with the most critical one being the ability to walk away from chaos (if only in the moment). I outright refused to spend time with this man when he was drinking.
If I found him to be drinking (trust me, he attempted many ways to hide it), I simply left the situation, regardless of where we were. I wasn’t strong enough to leave the relationship immediately. However, I did leave uncomfortable situations, time and time again.
My son and I drove to Chicago to visit this man in 2005—after he had many years of sobriety under his belt. After he worked as an addictions counselor for the Hazelden Betty Ford Rehab and Recovery Center for five years and after he had accepted a job as an addictions counselor for fellow attorneys in Chicago.
The journal entry begins on 8/4/5: My son woke up with a smile. The man cooked us breakfast in bed. My horoscope said to trust my instincts when unexpected events occurred. I should’ve known. The man decided to drink at the game. I decided we had to leave. We packed our things and stayed at a hotel.
8/6/05 After time away, we came back and spent the afternoon swimming with the man. The man left for an AA meeting and didn’t come back for more than four hours. Before he returned, we packed our things, and hit the road. My son sobbed when we left.
8/7/05 Driving home was sad and surreal. I found myself wishing we hadn’t made the trip and second guessing all of my decisions.
I was proud of the way I communicated with my son about what happened and the fact that we have such an open relationship. I was prouder of the way my son handled things. He understood it was the man’s fault we left and told me it never occurred to him to be mad at me for the situation. So many kids would have thought of me as the bad guy for having to cut our vacation short.
My son desperately wanted to go to Navy Pier before we left Chicago. We also had to leave the Yankee’s game early, because the man chose to drink at the game. On the way home from Chicago, my son and I cried and told each other how lucky we were to have one another and how great we are as a team. This situation also gave me another opportunity to remind my son that I’d rather be alone than be with someone who could hurt us so deeply. It was so sad to see my son make excuses for the man and give the man the benefit of the doubt he so clearly did not deserve.
While I’m suffering some judgement from friends and family for putting my son in the environment with this man, I’m trying to see the good in the situation. Following are the positive lessons we learned from this disappointing situation:
- My son and I got to send a message that we will not be disrespected or taken advantage of. Just to be sure the message was crystal clear, we got to send the message twice.
- I was able to reinforce the message to my son that sometimes it’s better to be alone than have negative influences in your life.
- It was an important demonstration of the fact that when people disappoint you, it has nothing to do with you. There was nothing my son or I could have done to stop the man from drinking by being “better,” funnier, thinner, cuter, more entertaining or any other thing that is different from the way we naturally are. The man was clearly determined to drink, regardless of any action or inaction on our part.
- It reminded my son and me how lucky we are to: 1) Have each other and 2) be able to talk so openly.
Often, we internalize the behavior of others, automatically assume their behavior is related to us in some way, and use it as fodder to feel bad about ourselves. While the way our “vacation” unfolded certainly didn’t feel “good” at the time, the result and the lessons I was able share with my son enabled me to see it in the best possible light.
That’s really what it’s about for me. No matter what happens—good, bad or indifferent, there’s always a lesson (or four), and a way to see the situation in the best possible light.
The choice of how to view the situation is ours. I choose to see the positives.