Patience and Fortitude

Swenny and I have been getting on about the business of life. Armed with more than five weeks of sobriety and emboldened by the possibility that the worst might very well be behind us, we are beginning to resemble the happy family central to our story.

Less often do I find myself in the darkest corners of our home searching for bottles. And while old habits die hard, I believe that someday soon, I might make true the promise I made to Swenny when he committed to his own plan for recovery that I will stop scavenging for evidence. And he will make true his promise to me and all who care for him that he is done drinking.

And eventually, as we move beyond the years that have been scripted by alcoholism, we will be able to appreciate our story for what it really is…a story about a marriage that is imperfect, but real. One in which the partners, when faced with decisions of increasingly heavy enormity, do not just reflect on their vows, but say them aloud when nobody is there to listen. Reminders of their commitment in the absence of simple solutions. A story in which the measures of friendship are taken in depth rather than vastness, necessary when invitations ceased. A story in which the children’s belief in their family is at times stronger than their parents’, beautifully illustrating what it means to have faith.

As I continue to turn the pages to what I hope is a happy ending, I become more and more acquainted with two important characters.

Patience and Fortitude.

When a chapter seems filled with more despair than hope, Patience brings tolerance that heightens our threshold of pain, enabling us to endure more. And when the letters on the page spell fear, Fortitude provides the courage we need to persist.

Without them, our story would have ended long ago. And while their presence doesn’t guarantee a happy ending , it does ensure another chapter. Another chance for us to write our story as it is, knowing that we have what we need to continue.

 

 

Family Table

Earlier this week, Swenny and I shared dinner with 12 men living in a recovery home. They have removed themselves or have been removed from their families, friends, and everyday lives to focus on their recovery 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These individuals have hit bottom, some harder than others, and are finding the will to get up and reclaim themselves and the men they were before alcoholism and addiction stole the best of them.

We have been sharing meals with residents of this home for many years. At the first meal, we were a young family wanting to give back. Nice people from a partner congregation who enjoyed taking our turn around this very special table.

As Swenny’s alcoholism worsened, I would marvel at how he separated himself from them. Acting as if he had no idea what they were going through, a struggle that was theirs but never his. Now, though, he has accepted his place as one of them. As a man seeking sobriety and the possibilities it holds. Some recognize him from meetings, and occasionally he can be found in private conversations with those aware of their shared position on the front of a battle to which they were drafted.

Each dinner begins with two questions. One for the residents and one for the guests. Answering is not an option, and dinner isn’t over until everyone takes their turn. The questions are never easy, and the answers can be difficult to hear. Every person’s answer is acknowledged with a simultaneous thank you from the group, followed by the respondent’s name.

While rote, the practice is not insincere. Residents and guests listen to one another so intently that silence follows each answer, leaving long periods where no one speaks. I have never known there to be a spontaneous response. Instead there is nodding, appreciation, acknowledgment and respect.

When the formality of the guided conversation is done, the men sit back in their chairs and tell tales, encourage one another, make fun and enjoy each other’s company. Just like a family.

A family to which we, too, belong.

 

 

Legacies

Swenny and I met in college, at a university known for its leadership in teaching, service, and research. A top public university recognized for the beauty of its campus, the enthusiasm of its sports fans, and the drinking of its students. Alumni and students are known to boast about the university’s undisputed rank as the Number 1 Party School.

Where I was the first in my family to attend, Swenny followed a well-worn path forged by his grandparents, graduates of the Class of 1924. His parents graduated in 1962 and 1963, and we are members of the Classes of 1989 and 1990.

Our daughter is a fourth generation legacy there, now in her junior year. She is social, and, I understand, recognized in some circles for her annual Friendsgiving party and her recipe for wapatui. As the daughter of an alcoholic, though, her intake is modest in comparison to many classmates, tempered by her experiences growing up in a home where alcoholism had a place at the table, and lives on today in pictures, memories and relapses.

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This fall, our son will join his sister there, making come true the dream Swenny and I have had that our children follow in our footsteps as Badgers.  We have always wanted them to walk as students the expanse of the campus they first visited as infants, instinctively grab whoever is closest and sway along with thousands of others whenever Varsity is sung, and in lecture halls filled with hundreds of other students, find themselves.

Unlike his sister, our son’s attitude toward alcohol is abstinence, not moderation. Now at the age where friends are testing their limits, he is known to encourage his closest friends to remain sober, asking that together, they refrain from drinking.

In college, especially on the campus he will call home, my hope for him is that his earnestness isn’t mocked. I hope that somewhere among his classmates is at least one other student wanting to fill his red solo cup with soda, yet willing to hold back the hair of friends visiting the porcelain god after over serving themselves. Watching without judgment and at peace with the decision to go through college sober.