The hospital room where my father lay deathly ill from emphysema and pneumonia was small and sterile. All of his friends in Alcoholics Anonymous were gathered in the cluttered waiting room telling stories and recounting fond memories of their time with Dr. John Mooney.
This was 1982 and my father had been an upstanding citizen of our small south Georgia community of Statesboro for 23 years. YHe was a well-known surgeon who plummeted through the gates of hell with a drug addiction, along with my mother, until a series of miracles and loving friends forced him to get help. n the recently published book, “When Two Loves Collide,” by William Borchert, the readers can follow the heartache, pain, despair, and loneliness, on a spiritual journey with an ending that has touched thousands of lives.
The crowd that was gathered at the end of the long corridor at Bulloch Memorial Hospital that day seemed jovial. There was laughter along with the tears. Friends sat with their arms around my mother with loving comfort. Others brought food and iced tea. At times, the nurse had to come and plead for silence as patients were complaining about the noise. Yes, it was a room filled with love and support. That’s how AA folks are.
I sat in a chair in the corner facing away from the group. Dressed in dirty blue jeans and an oversized T-shirt, I wanted no part of the camaraderie. At 20 years old, I was strung out on drugs and homeless. When my father became so ill that the doctor said he wouldn’t make it and that it was time to call the family, my mother, Dot, debated whether to try to find me. After getting sober themselves in 1959, they understood addiction. In fact, they dedicated their lives to helping others.
But they had done all within their power to get me sober, to no avail. They were pretty sure their only daughter, born after they found sobriety, would die a horrible alcoholic death.
A letter I received from them in 1980 read:
“Dearest Carol Lind,
Your father and I love you very much, but we have accepted the fact that death may be the answer to your alcoholism. Although that would be the worst thing imaginable, we will have to find a way to be ok. You are always in our prayers.
Mama and Daddy”
They had turned me over to God and gotten on with their lives. My brothers pleaded with my mom not to make an effort to find me on that cold January day when daddy was fighting for his life. But she did.
My home was a small open-air tent by the railroad tracks on the south side of town. In the mornings, I would awaken with leaves in my long, tangled hair. I would walk the tracks to my boyfriend’s parents’ house to find food after they left for work. That’s where my mom found me and asked me to come say “good-bye” to my dad.
So, as I sat in my corner of the ICU waiting area, I was alone. My father was the most important person in my life. He was witty, charming, and brilliant. But I couldn’t stay sober long enough to have a relationship with him. I wanted nothing more than to walk in his room, hold him, telling him how much I loved him.
Instead, I sat in my cold metal chair, shaking, and thinking about getting high. In fact, that was all I could think about. When the doctor finally let me go in to see him, I barely strolled through the doorway before my dad looked at me with disgust and sadness in his eyes and asked me to leave.
Thank God for second chances. Much to the doctor’s surprise, my dad recovered and was released from the hospital. Several months later I hit my bottom with drugs. I asked for help and began my own journey into recovery.
Because my father was losing his battle with emphysema, he was mostly home-bound. I was early in sobriety and needed to be helpful to others. I spent the next 17 months getting to know him.
In his pajamas and on his hoveround scooter, he taught me about the intricacies of baseball. He educated me on the many species of birds outside of his living room window. He showed me how to forgive others, no matter what they had done. He taught me about being of service to God and my fellows. I was able to make amends the best I could. I’m not sure we can ever repair the damage completely. An alcoholic or addict causes harm in ways too painful to express. But he forgave me. He did that not only for me, but for him. So he could have peace of mind.
Ours is a story of hope, forgiveness, and love. It is not a sad tale. When my father passed away on Nov. 10, 1983, he knew I was safe and happy. That’s all he ever wanted, I suppose. I thought he wanted me to have college degrees, fancy titles, and prestige, but what he wanted was to lie down at night and not worry about his daughter. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and a lifetime of memories we made during that year and a half after I got sober.
He always put things in simple terms that made so much sense. One of the things he said that I use every day in my work with others struggling from the devastating disease of addiction is, “It don’t matter how the jackass got in the ditch. Just get him out.”
I am forever grateful I got out of the ditch in time to have a relationship with the greatest man I ever knew.
Carol Lind Mooney is an attorney and certified addiction counselor with more than 30 years of experience helping alcoholics and addicts find a drug-free solution to their addiction problems. She is the owner of Lee Street Recovery Residence, Louie’s Halfway House, and Broad 90. She is also co-owner of Willingway, a nationally recognized treatment center located in Statesboro.