Sunday, April 01, 2007


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This is the Serenity Prayer. Something I have known for a while because it is a mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction related programs. I know because my dad is a recovering alcoholic.

This evening, my mom and I went to his 10th anniversary of his sobriety at his AA group. I have gone to AA meetings on occasion since my dad started going to them, well over 10 years ago. Mainly, I went during his anniversaries, when there was a celebration for him.

Tonight, he and another member shared 10 year anniversaries, and a woman celebrated her 5th year anniversaries.

I always feel a kinship when I go to these AA meetings. Now, I don’t have an alcohol-related problem, but there is something about the men and women there that I feel I can identify with.

Of course, the fact that my father is one of them is one reason. But also the fact that those men and women experienced and/or are experiencing things that I have witnessed, and have felt.

Right after graduating from law school, before I realized that I was on the cusp of suffering from a major depression, I attended Al-Anon meetings which are for family members of alcoholics. I found them useful but at the same time, I felt weird about going to these meetings with folks on a Saturday evening when I could be doing something more fun, not that I had those options necessarily, and being with these folks who were for the most part older than my mid-20s self at the time.

But the fact that I could be part of a support group was comforting, even if I could not or did not fully let myself be free to express my thoughts in those meetings. I did not go that many and probably not too consistently for that to really happen. Also, it was before I started my individual therapy so maybe I had yet to feel at ease about my self-disclosure, although I seemed to do it fine with friends.

In any event, the group my father belongs to is mostly made up of middle-age and older white men, made up of blue collar types, bikers, with some women who fall in the same mold, and an occasional person of color. My dad may be the only professional, but I don’t know that and maybe that’s my bias without really knowing what the folks in the group do.

Tonight, besides my dad, there was a light-skinned black man or maybe he was Latino or even Indian, and there was a half-Korean, half-Polish guy, who looks Asian.

The last guy was one of the speakers. What he had to say was really powerful. I mean what he said and what any of them say is not a polished speech or anything. In fact the half-Korean, half-Polish guy (let’s call him Jimmy) started by basically saying that he has a lot of anxieties, he rushes things, he needs to learn how to calm down, and the coffee he was holding in his hand while speaking wasn’t helping matters.

But as he settled himself, he told us about his upbringing, how he was an A student, exceptional athlete up until high school, when his dad left the house, or was kicked out. That’s when he started drinking and getting in trouble.

His dad, who was Polish American, was an alcoholic. He had met his mother while he was stationed in South Korea during the Vietnam War days. He was born in Seoul in 1972 so he was around my age.

He told us he was Polish by saying his last name ends with "ski", and that he’s from New Jersey. He was pretty funny at times, telling us that when he went to high school at Newtown High in Elmhurst, he was just amazed that no one spoke English.

Anyway, what moved me about what he had to say is that he always felt out of place and alone whereever he was. In Korea, kids used to make fun of him because he had the dad with the gold hair. And growing up in New Jersey, he would get the whole "chink", "gook" thing, although as he pointed out - he’s not Chinese.

Alcohol made him feel accepted, made him feel confident. Alcohol led to drier substances that he became hooked on. Jimmy’s dad died while Jimmy was studying at Queens College. His dad was 44 and suffered pneumonia which caused him to develop seizures leaving him in a coma. Jimmy said the fact that he was an alcoholic made him more vulnerable to his condition deteriorating so fast.

He then told us that he went to Japan and got married (to the enemy, he says tongue in cheek, since he’s Korean), had a daughter in 2000. His low self-esteem affected his relationships too. As he said, oh, you like me. Wow, great. I can’t believe it. Of course, his alcohol problems caused him to lose his family, his jobs.

When I go these meetings, I feel comfortable because while I don’t have a drinking problem, on some level I feel I share the underlying root cause of the drinking problem for these folks. Maybe it’s depression, a sense of not fitting in, low self-esteem, not feeling loved enough, not feeling accepted.

So these folks talk about those underlying problems and how drinking was the outlet, and now they are finding a new, constructive way to deal with those issues.

I feel I could use a support group. I don’t qualify to be an alcoholic. (I’ve denied having a drinking problem so many times by now, you must be thinking, maybe this guy has a problem). But maybe I could go to some group dealing with depression, or a group for folks who are having issues in their marriages. I could use a support group.

I particularly appreciate that I identify with folks in the AA group, not on the basis of their race or ethnicity, but because of their condition, their feelings, their insecurities, anxieties, and hope for a new way of living.
That’s why I think I’ve always had as many issues relating to folks who are of the same ethnicity as me as folks who are not. Because it is less about ethnicity and more about who I feel comfortable with, personality, and past shared experiences.

I hear the stories of folks who have been through hell, who saw their life as a prison, and somehow their lives turned around. That gives me hope. I feel at times that my life is stuck, that I can’t find the key that can unlock my spirit so that it can infuse my personality and bring it to life. That I can have the courage to take steps to liberate me from my inertia and confusion.

A support group would help.

I have seen how my dad benefits from his support group. I know he feels that he is in a very difficult situation. How much of that is objectively true, and how much it is based on his perception I won’t say. But he feels he has few outlets, and few people that affirm him.

The AA folks affirm him. At the meetings, he comes to life. All the good things about him come to life.

And so I believe that I could benefit from this social support. I will see what outlets there may be for someone like me.

The bottom line is that the testimonies of the AA members gives them strength and gives them hope.

And seeing that hope, I can feel hope too. My own quest to find myself, to liberate myself continues.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Baba! You’ve done well!
May I have the serenity, courage, and wisdom needed to liberate myself.

1 comment:

Ganesh said...

congrats to your dad, buddy!

as for you, what about group therapy?