In August of 2010, I put my then 21-year-old son into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center for the first time. Our family immediately began a six-week series of education and therapy sessions as a part of his treatment package. Through family counseling, it came to light that my husband was probably a functioning alcoholic as well. All of this unfolded just days after my cannonball moment.
Looking back, I can tell you that the discovery that my son had a drug and alcohol problem changed the course of my life. But if I try to slow things down and discover the moment that really changed things for me, it would be just before our suspicions were confirmed. That moment would be when I was able to move beyond the fear I felt and invite God into our situation.
My cannonball moment was a wake-up call. I literally woke up to the reality of my life instead of some fantasy that I’d created in my mind. I knew that something was off in our family. I’d made a lot of excuses for the behaviors of both my husband and my son. I distracted myself when the idea occurred that addiction checked off all the boxes explaining the issues. I worked hard to deny the problem, because it was much too hard to accept.
Then one day, feeling out of options, I decided to sit with those uncomfortable feelings. Somewhere deep within me, I knew that I would have to face them if we had any hope of getting better.
I was sitting with my son in the quiet of his room as he slept, right after a surgery to remove his adenoids and tonsils. I felt an overwhelming wave of grief wash over me. In the last few years, we’d grown father and farther apart. My desire for relationship with him was so strong that I could not push it down any longer. As my heart ached, I experienced an encompassing feeling that I was in the presence of God, and at that moment, I felt willing to do what he asked. I whispered the bravest prayer that I could muster, “Please show me the problem.”
In 12-step rooms everywhere, people talk about cannonball moments often—only they refer to these moments as “spiritual awakenings.” As with St. Ignatius, these moments occur when we stop living in fantasy and wake up to the reality of our lives as they actually are. I had to exhaust all of the possible means of handling our situation on my own before I would reach out for help and accept my situation as it was. Alcoholics call this “hitting bottom” or “finding a jumping-off place.”
Because God loves us, he never forces us to do anything. God waits, and when we are ready, he is there with us as we face the problems that have piled up. But, just as with the knots in the image of Mary, Untier of Knots, we don’t have to tackle them all at once. We just need to look for the next thing that needs our attention. We will be able to do the next right thing, with God’s help. And before we know it, progress can be seen.
When I look back on those moments today, 11 years later, I can’t imagine being so clueless to the reality of my life. Self-will had run amok, as the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book says. Since I accepted God’s invitation into relationship, I now have a healthy sense of self and healthy relationships with my family and friends. And I feel free.
Adversities show up in life. They might be the cannonballs of an accident or a disease. I think they’re merely a call for our attention so that we don’t miss an opportunity to be who God calls us to be.
Image: “Mary, Untier of Knots” in Expiatory Chapel (Parsolingan, Gerona, Tarlac), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.