I’ve faced a tremendous amount of regret and remorse living as a black out drinker for decades.
There’s nothing worse than the feeling of waking up to realize you’ve hurt the ones you love in a way you can’t make up for, all because you were intoxicated. Then comes shame, having no idea how you’ve behaved until you hear the story from someone else. It leaves you in a state of shame. Did I really do that? How embarrassing, I never would have done that sober… you know the drill. I inherited my disease from my father. Fortunately, I’ve had enough sober time to process regret, shame, and remorse and I have my father to thank for that.
After losing my Dad, I’ve been processing grief for almost a year and a half. It’s hard. Probably one of the hardest journeys I’ve had. About the time I think I’m at peace, something triggers the regret again. When someone dies you can’t help but think of all the regrets you had with that relationship. At that point, it’s too late for apologies, amends, or grace.
My husband and Children will never meet my father. We were estranged most of my adulthood. He set the legacy of abandonment, unreliability, and chaos in our relationship when I was a child, and it never really changed as I grew up. I guess I thought I was doing what was best for my family, protecting them from the mess, but looking back I realize I was just living in fear. This man struggled with depression and alcoholism/addiction and I was afraid of introducing the unreliability to my family. I regret this choice.
God’s timing is supposed to be perfect but if I’m afforded the opportunity to confront God about anything, it would be this. The timing of his death has me struggling to overcome regret. I had just finished a spiritual retreat, and found what I thought was complete forgiveness for this man. I wanted to go see him, to release him, to tell him. I had a longing to go, and I didn’t go. A month later he died. It was as if God was preparing my heart.
My father’s death is a mystery. His wife waited four months to notify the family. By the time I learned of it, there was nothing left but ashes. No funeral, no memorial, no gravesite to visit, and no answers to the cause of death. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to this woman so I did my own investigating. I ordered the death certificate and medical examiners statement. It seemed an “unspecified natural event” had occurred after he returned a beer can to the top of the stairs of the basement and he fell down and died. Alcoholism, depression and cigarettes are what were listed as contributors to his death.
I spent months pissed off at him, what a crappy legacy to leave behind. As cold as it sounds, I recall thinking “he couldn’t even die right… dammit.” The regret didn’t set in until I started a new job, working at a mental health clinic and a residential facility in town. I was now responsible for helping people get the treatment they needed for their mental health and substance abuse issues. While I’m grateful for the opportunity to use my education, experience, and passion to help others, it’s really bittersweet. It’s bittersweet when the middle-aged man comes in for treatment and I’m there to intervene, to get him the help he needs to make himself well enough to be part of his family again. If only I had this experience before my father died. I find myself now incredibly compassionate to the mess he was. I finally understand, and it’s too late. He’s the one I was unable to help, the one that got away. He chose to live in regret, remorse and shame.
There are days I have to fight that small voice that tells me I’m a jerk, a hypocrite, and I’m a crappy daughter. This is what happens when regret, remorse, and shame are allowed to fester within us. The answer is found in perhaps one of the simplest prayers ever told…but a powerful one.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”
Yep, there is absolutely nothing I can do to change the fact that he is dead forever and that I didn’t give him another chance. I cannot change Gods timing. I cannot change the choices he made in life. I cannot change what was.
“The courage to change the things I can”
I can change my regret, and it’s only through acceptance. I made a choice, whether wrong or right, I had good intentions for my family. I can choose to change my perception from Gods timing sucks, to Gods timing rocks. Gods timing of loss and regret has attached my heart to every person who walks through the door seeking help. I can help others find the courage to change themselves, because of who my father was and the choices he made in life.
“And the wisdom to know the difference”
This takes practice. It takes practice and experience to determine what I can and can’t change. With sobriety comes wisdom through processing. I can’t change choices that have been made, but I can change the regret with those choices made, through acceptance of what is.
“Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time accepting hardships as the pathway to peace”
I have to take each day of grief as it comes, some are easy some are difficult. Some days are complete joy and peace with the circumstances and some are not. Accepting that this hardship of death is the only way of peace with our relationship, that’s a bit ambitious, but it’s worth it. It provides peace over regret.
“Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his will” This sinful world includes all the people in it, as they are, not as I would have them. They each have a purpose and destiny, and it’s not about me, not even my father’s purpose was for me. He can make even the most messy death right, if I allow him to take the wheel and release my hands from it.
“That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with him forever in the next.” Reasonably happy. There’s a distinction in the level of happy in this life and the next. It’s a fact that life brings with it pain, it is not promised to be an easy journey, to anyone. Wallowing in regret only makes it worse. Acceptance of what is, that will keep me pressing on for that ultimate supreme happiness in the next life.
We were not designed to live in regret. We are not designed to live in remorse. We are not designed to live in shame. Those of us who struggle with alcoholism or addiction, we are experts at creating all these things in ourselves and in those we love; but we are the lucky ones. We are the ones who are fortunate enough to not only memorize a simple prayer, but to live it, to experience it.
The best part is that we get to share that experience with each other, one day at a time, until we reach acceptance, and eventual supreme happiness. This is just my story of regret and acceptance; I hope you find serenity in yours.