Many people look back on a first childhood memory with fondness and longing for those more innocent days. My first memory, though, is a painful one—forever etched in my mind as a reminder of the miracle of God’s mercy that has taken place in my life.
I was about three years old, sitting at the kitchen table. My mother was standing at the sink doing dishes when she suddenly turned and flung a dish in my direction. I couldn’t figure out why she was yelling. Within seconds my father grabbed my hand to lead me upstairs. Something was wrong, and I wondered if I should be scared. I cried for my mother, but my father told me to stop. We were moving quickly, and I remember falling on the stairs, struggling in pajama-clad feet that were too little for the task.
I looked back to see my mother closing in behind us. I smiled and waved, saying, “Hi, Mommy,” but she didn’t smile back. Instead, she had an ugly and contorted look on her face. I was confused. Maybe I said it aloud, or maybe I just thought to myself, “Why is Mommy so mad at me?” It was a question that haunted me for most of my life.
They say that our greatest sorrows can bring about our greatest joys. As a Christian, I’ve learned there is only one way for that to happen: through prayer.
Praying through Pain. As an only child growing up in an alcoholic family, I said my share of prayers, primitive ones at first: “Please, Lord, don’t make Mommy be mad at me!” The adolescent ones were more like angry shouts: “God, where are you? Do something to make her stop drinking!” As I grew older, the prayers became desperate: “Lord, I can’t take this anymore!” Then finally, as I grew into healing, my prayers matured too: “Lord, I am offering up my pain to you for the sake of my mother’s soul.” These heartfelt prayers continue to this day.
Statistics say that more than 85 million Americans have been touched by addiction. With every person that makes up this statistic, there is a backstory. In our family, my mother’s alcohol addiction was fueled by her own father’s alcoholism. My father, in turn, learned enabling behavior from his mother and her tumultuous relationship with his alcoholic father. The truth is my parents never knew anything different and did the best they could. So did I, as I grappled with my own alcoholism. You see, addiction is a family disease that rarely skips generations.
It seems ironic that I would ever take a drink, since I spent years drowning in a sea of struggle and shame because of the way my mother struggled with it. I learned the hard way that the misuse of any substance to relieve pain is like pouring acid on an already open wound. Knowing that, I am convinced that someone’s prayers must have saved me. They made room for grace.
Daily Choices. Sober for twenty-six years now, I am able to say there is hope. Grace happens if you let it. Every relationship with a person who is addicted comes to a critical point of decision: Should I stay, or should I go? Should I continue in a relationship that is painful and often one-sided, or should I disconnect and have little or no contact? Neither choice is wrong, and both can be right. How comforting to know, then, that whether we stay close or keep distant from the person affected, we can be a conduit of God’s grace through prayer.
I chose to stay connected with my mother, and I learned how to take care of myself through counseling. I put up healthy boundaries and worked with a spiritual director to help me keep on loving when there was no love coming back. It was a choice that I had to make over and over again.
My mother stopped drinking when I was in my early twenties, but her anger only got worse. One answer to prayer led to the need for many other prayers as every prayer became my revolving door to God’s grace. Many times, my attempts to love my mother were met with rejection. Many times, my own anger fueled the fire. But prayer led me to understand that forgiveness is another daily choice.
Dementia: A Portal to Mercy. After my father died, my mother developed dementia. At first I was terrified about caring for her, as whispers of a confused little girl resurfaced inside her. Over time, however, she began to change. The bitterness and critical tone of her voice softened, and her temperament grew gentle, even loving. I didn’t trust it at first, but she eventually made a complete transformation. My mother became the sweetest little old lady that you’d ever want to meet!
For two years, we had the time of our lives. We giggled and spent long hours making up for lost time. We delighted in painting our nails or watching the Yankees on TV. One evening my mother softly said, “I love you!” I responded, “I love you, too!” They were words I had been longing to hear and say for more than fifty years. Only God knew that secret prayer of my heart, and he answered it just in time.
Very shortly after this, Mom stopped talking and faded away mentally, while still remaining peaceful in her spirit. She died holding my hand in the Hour of Mercy, between three and four p.m. It was a beautiful reminder from God that loving and praying for someone affected by addiction is truly a work of mercy—for us and for them.
Anne Costa is a speaker, author, and spiritual coach. She resides in central New York with her husband, daughter, and best dog, Buddy.
Your Spiritual Armory
“At the heart of every addiction is a wound that needs to be healed.” With her newest book, Anne Costa stockpiles God’s weapons of hope and healing through the gift of prayer. She brings a lifetime of personal experience in dealing with addictions to this guidebook for self-reflection and intercession.
Relationships with loved ones caught in addiction are some of the most complex. But praying for those relationships doesn’t have to be. Praying for Those with Addictions: A Mission of Love, Mercy, and Hope is designed as a simple resource for spiritual support. Divided into three parts, the first contains a year’s worth of weekly material for lectio divina. The second section includes longer prayers and novenas, while the third makes available twelve-step recovery program information and other resources for the addicted, their family members, and friends.
Praying for Those with Addictions is available from The Word Among Us online at www.wau.org and from amazon.com.