The year our oldest son dropped out of high school and became an addict was a very dark and difficult year for us. It was also a time of deeper exposure to life’s most important lessons. I didn’t fully realize it until much later, but it was during that anguished time that I gained a greater understanding of humility, honesty, courage, trust and grace.
In this week’s post I want to share with you what I learned about courage.
Courage is the capacity to take action in spite of our fear. Courage does not feel like freedom from fear, because it is not. The fear is still there. Courage is choosing to not allow the fear to decide for us what we will do and what we will not do. Courage is the God-given strength to make decisions based on the wisdom we have gained from humility and honesty, rather than based on our fear.
The serenity prayer teaches us to pray for the serenity to accept what we cannot change, the courage to change what we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Accepting the truth about my son’s problem and the truth about my inability to change or control him led me to see the things I could change. I could not change him, but perhaps I could, with God’s help, change myself. I was a part of the problem. Perhaps I could also be a part of the solution.
One thing I could change was to take better care of me. It took some courage to begin taking better care of myself, because in this situation I sometimes confused self-care with selfishness and was tempted to berate myself for even the most basic acts of self-care. But self-care is always a gift to ourselves and to other people in our lives, because it fosters self-respect and respect of others and because it allows us to live more sanely.
For me, at the time, taking better care of myself meant not living my life obsessed about our son’s choices, but allowing myself to pursue my own life. It meant spending time alone with God and time alone with my husband. It meant spending time with our other son and spending time with friends. Taking care of myself also meant getting all the help and support I needed, so that I could continue living in humility and honesty. All of this took courage, because I was afraid that if I moved my primary focus off our son and onto my life, I was in some way abandoning him and that might make his problems worse.
When I took better care of myself I began to notice my limits. Our son was living in our home, and he was often up all night. His behavior was erratic. He had days of paranoia and times when he lashed out at us verbally. All of this was not only painful to watch but very disruptive to our lives. I began to see clearly, because of my ongoing self-care, that I could not go on living that way.
One day my husband and I agreed that we could not continue to live that way any more. We contacted a treatment center to secure a place in their program, and then sat down with our beloved son, who was terribly paranoid by this time. We told him that we loved him and that we could not continue to live with his drug use. We told him that he needed to either go to this treatment program or move out on his own. We knew that moving out on his own would mean he would be on the streets, loaded and paranoid. Our fear was so great that we felt like our hearts would stop. And yet, by God’s grace, we found the courage to do the sanest thing we had done in months. God granted us the courage we needed to change what we could change, the courage we needed to tell the truth and the courage we needed to speak from humility rather than from shame or blame.
If we had allowed our fears to be the guiding principle of our decision making, the chaos and insanity of our lives and of our son’s life would most likely have continued. But when we humbly told the truth about our limits, when we accepted that we could not stop or control our son’s drug use, and when we were granted the courage to change what we could by asking him to go into treatment or move out, new possibilities for healing were opened for all of us.