“My Gutsy Story” by Kathleen Pooler


Choices and Chances

            Sitting by the bay window on that sunny September day in 1989 soon after we moved from Missouri to Cobleskill, New York, I stared out into the afternoon.  I was suspended in a state of pain and worry as I dutifully watched and waited for my fourteen-year old son, Brian, hoping that my anxiety was unjustified. Being a single parent of two teenagers heightened my sense of loneliness and helplessness. I recalled the times I spent waiting for Jim at the dining room window when I was pregnant with Brian. The painful memory repeated itself in brazen detail. I wanted to turn the channel and make it go away. The flashback held me hostage as I sat motionless and scared waiting for the movie I didn’t want to watch.

Jolted from my trance by the rattling at the back door, I walked into the kitchen to find Brian opening the door with more caution than seemed necessary.

“Hey, Mom, what’s up?” he said, staring at me through glassy eyes as he swayed on unsteady feet. It was painfully reminiscent of his father’s look thirteen years before which had precipitated my flight from the marriage. Brian was eighteen months old and his older sister, Leigh Ann, was three when I began my life as a single parent.

He stumbled, reeled and fell on the floor at my feet as I looked on in horror and disbelief. His dark eyes, flashing and blazing from some unknown odorless substance, were fixed somewhere beyond me while I was locked in the reality of the moment. A searing pain in its rawest form pierced me, sending my heavy heart crashing down onto my churning stomach.  The panic tried to escape as I struggled to find my next breath.

“No, Brian, please no, not this,” I cried, deep, wracking sobs that left me weak and shattered.

My handsome and sensitive young son, developing and growing into manhood, was slipping away.

Those eyes. That moment. Those eyes that drew me in and captured my heart all those years ago.

I flashed back to a happier day when he was four years old. Intense and thoughtful, he was always concerned about the little things in his world, like his little neighborhood playmates. One summer day after giving him a Popsicle, I snapped a picture of him at the end of the driveway sharing it with  his three year old playmate, Becky. Two tykes taking turns licking the dripping orange frozen treat became a precious moment in time etched in my mind and heart.

But the scene before me in 1989 would signal the beginning of many episodic nights of terror as I waited and wondered where Brian was; wondered if he was dead or alive for nearly twenty years to come. I hung tightly to the reins of that young stallion on the first ride of spring. I was spiraling out of control as well, hanging on in nerve-wracking, futile attempts to maintain my own control. The lessons came slowly as I opened up in Alanon meetings.  Loving veterans of alcohol battles listened and consoled as I spewed out floods of tears and pleas of desperation. They helped me to learn to navigate the mine fields of an alcoholic loved one’s life.

One snowy March night in 2002 at 2:00 AM a loud tapping at our front door awakened my new husband, Wayne and me from our sleep. We knew from recent phone calls that Brian had relapsed. Looking at each other through foggy eyes, we tried to focus while slowly arising to answer the door as a sense of dread hung over us. Through the glass panel at the side of the door, I saw Brian’s tall, dark outline against the soft, fluffy flakes of snow that were coating the trees behind him.

Slowly opening the door, I looked into his dark eyes. They always told me the story. I watched him trying to act normal, shifting his position in awkward attempts to act sober. His breath was stale, but he was neatly groomed in jeans, a sweater and a navy pea coat. He smelled of Aramis cologne.

“Hey, Mom.” He said, greeting me casually as if he had just run into me in the grocery store. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas.

“Brian,” I asked, shaking my head and closing the door as he stepped inside, “what are you doing here?”

“I just drive to Cobleskill. I stopped to see Coach Collins earlier at the school then just hung out with Justin.” He paused briefly,

“ Mom, I need a place to stay tonight.”

“You drove three hours from Connecticut to Cobleskill at this hour?”

“What’s wrong with that?” he answered with an escalating edgy tone.

“You’re not staying, Brian,” Wayne said, as he stood behind me in the hallway.

Brian bristled in response, looking down at the floor with his hands in his jean pockets. Then he fixed his angry glare on me.

Sitting on the couch, I wrapped my arms together and leaned forward on my lap. I knew Wayne was right but how could I turn my only son back out into that snowy night without a place to stay?

Rocking back and forth in silence, I watched Brian stalling for time in the doorway.

After a few moments that felt endless, I walked over to him. Taking a deep breath, I put my arms around his waist and out came the words I knew I had to say:

“If anyone knows how to get help, B, you do. I love you very much. Now go do what you know you need to do.”

As I watched him walk out into that snowy night to his car, I wondered if I would ever see him alive again.

It was my darkest moment; my only choice and his only chance.

It got worse before it got better but I often think of that night as the time I truly let go. Ten years later, Brian is sober. I believe with all my heart that this decision saved his life.


Kathleen Pooler’s Bio:

            Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a recently retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. She lives with her husband, Wayne on the 130-acre farm at the foothills of the Adirondacks in Eastern New York State where his grandfather used to have a dairy farm. Wayne grows organic vegetables on four of those acres and sells them at the local farmer’s market. Their seven grandsons (3-9) are a constant source of joy to them.

            She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: http://krpooler.com and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler and on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ at Kathleen Pooler.


Sonia Says:  Kathleen, what an emotional story of the love a mother has for her son, no matter what.  There are many parents who can relate to problem teenagers, even though the severity of the situation varies considerably. You made us realize that “tough love” is often the only approach, and how difficult it is for parents to carry through with this process. Your story reminded me of A Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. I’m sure you read his memoir. I cannot wait to read your memoir when it is published.


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Comments (60)

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  1. Sonia Marsh says:

    Kathleen, I was truly moved by your story and the courage you had to “not” let your son come back, despite the snow and cold outside. That pivotal moment made an impact on your son’s life and eventually put him on the right track. Every family deals with problems in different ways. Our family decided to uproot to Belize.

    • Dear Sonia,
      What a pleasure it is to be here!

      Of all the challenges I have had to deal with in my life (and we all have them), including cancer,turning him away on that snowy night and maintaining that “loving detachment” on an ongoing basis has been my greatest challenge. Because of my faith in God and Alanon, I knew it was the only way. I can definitely relate to “uprooting to Belize.”

      Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to share my story. I have spread the word your Gutsy Living contest all over the web. 🙂
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..“My Gutsy Living ” Story: Choices and ChancesMy Profile

  2. […] over at Sonia Marsh’s Gutsy Living blog today with “My Gutsy Living ” story~ Choice and […]

  3. Lady Fi says:

    Oh gosh – what an extremely hard and very brave decision you made!
    Lady Fi recently posted..The blossoms of lifeMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for your comments Lady Fi. It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make and yet I just knew it was the right one. I don’t remember feeling brave at the time, scared and yet resolved. It actually took years of Alanon, my faith in God and a supportive husband to make the decision that I believe ultimately saved my son’s life. Tough love is truly tough to pull off!
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..“My Gutsy Living ” Story: Choices and ChancesMy Profile

  4. Wow! Not only a brave moment in time, but I am sure that over the ensuing years, you had to confirm that decision over and over. And what a brave and personal thing for you to share this with us here. A truly gutsy story! ~Karen

    • Yes, Karen, you are so right. The decision was confirmed over over again.That night was a turning point and the beginning of many other episodes that tested my resolve. I felt stronger each time I “lovingly detached” There were extended periods of sobriety after that but I feel like I met my sober, adult son for the first time six years later, in 2008. I hope my sharing helps others who are in the throes of watching a loved one struggle with their addiction. God, Alanon and my family and friends were my lifeline. Thanks so much for your comments.
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..“My Gutsy Living ” Story: Choices and ChancesMy Profile

  5. Bob Lowry says:

    The first few sentences told me you are a writer. The whole story told me you are courageous. You did save your son that night.
    Bob Lowry recently posted..Retirement Cohousing: Could It be For You?My Profile

  6. Bob,

    I am so touched by your words. Thank you very much. I do believe I saved my son that night but I didn’t do it alone. As I keep repeating, my faith in God, Alanon and family and friends gave me the strength to lovingly let go. And that took years, lots of practice and many failed attempts. But today I am basking in the joy of having my wonderful sober son “back” in my life- one day at a time.

    I appreciate your validating comments!
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..“My Gutsy Living ” Story: Choices and ChancesMy Profile

  7. Karl Sprague says:

    Kathy, I’m sitting in Einstein’s Bagels, and finally able to breathe, after several minutes. What a personal, powerful story! The humanness and tenderness you bring to your writing makes this story hit a raw nerve. We cycle through the range of emotions and want to slip an arm around you as you rock back and forth on the couch. Thank you for drawing us into your world and sharing your personal pain. Congratulations on having the courage to take that uncomfortable step, and demonstrating an act of parental love that changed your son’s life. Great stuff, Kathy.

  8. Debbie says:

    Kathy, what a powerful story you’ve shared here! I didn’t know all that before, and my heart goes out to you. Yes, indeed, yours is a story that will touch many hearts and lives — get that thing written and published, my friend!
    Debbie recently posted..Thinking about Mother’s DayMy Profile

  9. Kathy, not only is your story gutsy, it is one filled with a mother’s love. A mother wants to see her children survive all those pitfalls of adolescence and young adulthood. Just as a mama duck carefully crosses the road with her ducklings, dodging traffic from all sides, we human mamas must lead our children through the maze of peer pressure, social media, temptations of the world, and more. We can only hope, like mama duck, that our ducklings follow us carefully and that they do so with quickness. Sometimes it takes some longer than others but that night you and your husband listened to your hearts and followed God’s leading. I’m sure you’ve given thanks many times over. Thanks for the courage to share your compassion and love for Brian.
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted..Heart Full of Thanks — Counting One Thousand Gifts (#462-473)My Profile

    • It’s so nice to see you here,Sherrey! We Moms all speak the same language(no matter what our species), don’t we? You really struck a chord for me with “I’m sure you’ve given thanks many times over,” How true.Thank you so much for stopping by. I appreciate your lovely comments very much.
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..“My Gutsy Living ” Story: Choices and ChancesMy Profile

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Hi Sherry,

      I had to comment, even though this is Kathleen’s story, as you summed up the reason I felt like a mama duck when my husband and I uprooted our three sons to Belize, so we could get them away from peer pressures and materialism, and live a simple life in Belize.

  10. clarbojahn says:

    I hear you, Kathleen. I have a similar story with my step son who had to lose everything even the will to live before seeking help. He lost his job, His apartment and his health before he found himself. He has been re-employed about two years now. He still lives in a half way house because he lost his credit and he can’t rent without it. It took us crying at many Alanon meetings to see him through. Tough love is HARD.

    I don’t know if he has forgiven us yet. It was the only way.
    clarbojahn recently posted..Perfect Picture Book Friday/ What’s Under the Bed?My Profile

  11. Oh the pain! I remember it well; i went thru hell with my son, not as much drugs as his anger. He’s 43 as of this week and a wonderful man married to a wonderful woman. I heard you in your piece. A good one!
    Esther Bradley-DeTally recently posted..battered women in prisonMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Esther. Having a troubled child can truly be terrorizing at times as we worry for their safety and lives. It is always so uplifting to hear how they survive and thrive as thankfully your son has. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your story. We are not alone and it helps to share our hope with one another.
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Who is the Target Audience for My Memoir?My Profile

      • B Maria says:

        Yes it is a brave decision; one that makes one stronger. We can relate literally to the bravery in your story of your son; and we can also relate abstractly to “loving detachments” in other relationships (that are sometimes toxic). It truly is a Christian solution. Thank you Kathy and we hope you will be sharing more of your inspiring stories. ~BMaria

  12. tinafreysd says:

    We can only hope, like mama duck, that our ducklings follow us carefully and that they do so with quickness. Sometimes it takes some longer than others but that night you and your husband listened to your hearts and followed God’s leading. I’m sure you’ve given thanks many times over.
    tinafreysd recently posted..Get Rid of Acne Scars NaturallyMy Profile

  13. Jenny says:

    Hi Kathleen and Sonia.. I was just really inspired with this story and I think a lot of people would agree with me.. Thank you for the lovely gutsy story for us..
    Jenny recently posted..Sharepoint HostingMy Profile

  14. […] This Week: I’m also over at Sonia Marsh’s blog  with “My Gutsy Story.” […]

  15. Siv Maria says:

    One of the most difficult choices a mother makes is that of letting go, especially when you feel like you are turning your back. I applaud your courage and am so happy that your son made it through those dark time. Your push most likely started him on the right path.

    • You really nailed it Siv. The letting go is excruciating and yet that is what allows for the opportunity for growth. Brian has eventually found his own way. We never stop loving the person but I had to set the boundaries of his behavior for me. In my case,it worked and I am very grateful. I appreciate your kind comments.
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Who is the Target Audience for My Memoir?My Profile

  16. Kathy, this story is very moving, and surreal, there was a time when I strolled into my mom’s living room at odd hours of the night too, I know these feelings true, and have a sense of wheat Brian goes through, because I have been there, after the military, I myself spent my time wandering around endlessly chasing a bottle that for the most part was never empty. It took finding my wife, and having Maddie to realize I had to let all of that go. I had to do it in a non-conventional way, because I knew I didn’t need help to stop, I just needed to come to my senses. Thankfully I only have one here and there, and only on occasion, but when I do, I fade back to my darkest of times, and I am grateful that I don’t have to be running a muck across the country. My problem with alcohol was I had two allergic reactions, I was like a Cheetah I’d break out in spots, and Break out in handcuffs. Thanks for sharing a heartfelt story, your words are powerful, and what I love about the story the most is that you didn’t say alcohol, or drunk etc. directly in the beginning you powerfully explained it, I knew from the words. “No Brian, not this…..” exactly where the story was going, and what it was about. awesome job, you nailed it. I can see now that you have set the tone for your memoir in this story, and it will be a memoir that is unforgettable. -Ritchie
    Ritchie White recently posted..Writers of the West: Remembering Louis L’AmourMy Profile

    • Ritchie, Your comments mean a lot of me and encourage me to keep writing. You bring up a very good point about having to come to your own realization about self-destructive patterns in your life. No one can do it for you. Some people come to that realization sooner than others,but no one else has control over when that will happen. That’s where a parent or loved one has to let go, “lovingly detach” because we never stop loving the person, just not tolerating the behavior. It takes courage for the person to make changes and courage for the parent to stand by and let their child make these changes. I’m glad the story made sense to you and appreciate your comments very much. Thanks for stopping by.
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Who is the Target Audience for My Memoir?My Profile

  17. Erika Keirulf says:

    Thank you Kathleen for sharing us a wonderful story of true motherhood. Had I been in your place, caught in that night, I wouldn’t know what to do. And I admire Wayne also for caring too much to dismiss Brian knowing that would be good for him. It’s hard to become a parent when you do not know how to show your kids the love that they deserve.

    With all due respect,
    Erika Keirulf recently posted..check this outMy Profile

  18. Dear Erika,
    Your words ring so true. Sometimes letting go is the highest act of parental love so their children can find their own way of becoming the best person they can be. Your comments are much appreciated.
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Who is the Target Audience for My Memoir?My Profile

  19. Doreen Cox says:

    Ah Kathleen. I often still wonder why it is that wisdom comes out of the most emotionally, terrifying circumstances..ones that we cannot control. Reading, hearing about other people’s experiences brings me back to the same place: The Serenity Prayer sustains me. Thank you for sharing your Gutsy story. I so look forward to reading your memoir.

    • Doreen,
      It is so nice to connect with you in so many places! Thank you so much for your kind comments. It is amazing how we can connect through our stories. The Serenity Prayer has guided and sustained me through many trials over the years. Congratulations on the release of your memoir. I look forward to reading it. And thanks for inspiring me to finish mine!Your comments remind me of a quote..”sometimes our greatest blessings come from our greatest obstacles” (author unknown)One just needs the faith and hope to trust in the wisdom of the quote.
      Blessings on your journey~
      Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Who is the Target Audience for My Memoir?My Profile

  20. Claire says:

    I often still wonder why it is that wisdom comes out of the most emotionally, terrifying circumstances..ones that we cannot control. Thanks that you’ve shared.
    Claire recently posted..Buy Panic AwayMy Profile

  21. Bob Stark says:

    Kathy, a good writer communicates infromation clearly. A very good writer’s words generate images. An excellent writer makes the reader see and feel things. It is a rare author who can make me feel that I am part of the moment, seeing and feeling what’s happening. I felt I was standing right there next to you and Wayne; then I moved inside of you losing hope, feeling pain and disappointment, then marshaling strength for immediate action. I began imagining the other times, places, and scenes that must have shaken and taxed your confidence because a parent never knows for sure the right thing to do, let alone the desired BEST thing. Yeah, you were gutsy…and you have shared that with a skill that is rare. Thanks.

  22. Carol D. says:

    Most people can relate to your experience. Your story is so beautifully written. Not only did you save your son, but you did it with such kind words: what a lovely mom you are! I think those kind and truthful words were what made the whole difference, which is what we Christians learn to use little by little throughout our whole life. Thanks so much for sharing and helping us. All the best.

  23. Christina says:

    Who is that Bob Stark? I could not have said it better myself!
    Kathy, how many miles you have come. I believe I read the first draft of the kitchen scene several years ago over lunch. It was good then. It is dynamite now. I am very proud of you.
    You are everywhere now. Unshakeable faith. Very hard word. And a whole bunch of talent. You are amazing.

  24. Sonia Marsh says:


    I would like to thank you for being such a “connector” who spends her time responding to all the kind comments you’ve received. I apologize for not being here as much as I would have liked to. I’m visiting my dad in Paris and he thinks I spend too much time on the computer. More when I come back. Thanks Kathy.

    • Sonia,
      It has been such an honor and a pleasure to be here this week and have such a great conversation. I appreciate this opportunity as well as the time so many people took to leave a comment. Absolutely no need to apologize. I feel your positive vibes from Paris. Enjoy your visit with your Dad. BTW, my family feels the same way about me. Unplugging once in a while is good. Your presence is still alive and well!

  25. Sonia Marsh says:

    Thanks Kathleen for understanding and for responding to all the incoming comments. I’m sneaking in some computer time before my “European” family wakes up. I shall be visiting a woman I met through blogging, Muriel Demarcus, on Wednesday in London. She also contributed her, “My Gutsy Story.” Can’t wait.

  26. Debbie T says:

    Kathy, this is a tremendously powerful story that gives me hope. Your courage in that most difficult moment is amazing. The piece is so well written I feel emotionally exhausted by your ordeal. I am happy for the day by day sobriety of Brian now. I hope many, many discouraged people get to read this and be renewed by it.

  27. barbara says:

    I used to laugh when I heard the stories of my grandfather always starting his discipline with “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” As a parent I learned how true that can be.

    We had to deal some tough love to our son and it was heartbreaking while at the same time you knew it was the only solution. It took him over 10 years to face his demon and turn his life around. I am so grateful we had the courage to follow through. I’m sure you are too.

    Great of you to share this.
    barbara recently posted..Playing House at The BeachMy Profile

  28. I’m a little late coming here, but wanted to add that I know the power of tough love from my own experience. It’s often the only thing that can save a child, and it is so difficult to do because it seems to go against every instinct you have as a loving parent.

    You write beautifully, Kathleen, and I am glad to see you have a good life now. I know there must have been moments when you wondered if you’d ever be happy again.
    Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane recently posted..Expat Trouble: Two Dutchmen and a Mali SheepMy Profile

  29. Dear Miss Footloose (aka Karen!)

    I appreciate your comments,especially how tough love “goes against every instinct you have as a loving parent”. One really needs to pull out all resources to be able to follow through. And yes, there were many moments when I wondered if I’d ever happy again. For me it boils down to faith,hope and love. I remain very grateful! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. BTW, I enjoyed visiting your adventuresome website 🙂
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Talk to Me: Encouraging Your Loved One to Tell Their Story ~A Memorial Day Guest Post by Karen Fisher-AlanizMy Profile

  30. MuMuGB says:

    What a post! being a parent is tough and I admire your courage to say “Stop!” and. as you say, “let go”. I honestly don’t know whether I would have had such courage. I hope that I won’t have to find out!
    MuMuGB recently posted..The Art Of QueuingMy Profile

  31. Hi MuMuGB,

    I think we do what we have to do as parents and sometimes do surprise ourselves. I hope you don’t have to find out either and I certainly wouldn’t want to have to do it again.
    Appreciate your comments. Thanks for stopping by!
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Talk to Me: Encouraging Your Loved One to Tell Their Story ~A Memorial Day Guest Post by Karen Fisher-AlanizMy Profile

  32. Kathy, I love the choice of so many different words you have poured in, and that makes this story powerful along with its contents.What is it that a mother will not do for her child? In this case both you and Wayne, as a team, together took a stand and did what you needed to be done to bring Brian back to normalcy. This story can be a page of a ‘family bible’ to read for parents. As a mother, your guts are amazingly strong and successful.

    I hope to continue reading your amazing stories.

  33. Thanks for your kind words,Smita. I think our instinct as mothers is to do whatever it takes to help our children. Sometimes that means letting go, no matter how hard it may be. I appreciate your comments and am looking forward to reading your stories as well. Thanks for stopping by!
    Kathleen Pooler recently posted..Talk to Me: Encouraging Your Loved One to Tell Their Story ~A Memorial Day Guest Post by Karen Fisher-AlanizMy Profile

  34. […] blog is open through June 13th.  Hope you’ll stop by and consider voting for my story “Choices and Chances.” Here’s the link: […]

  35. […] blog is open through June 13th.  Hope you’ll stop by and consider voting for my story “Choices and Chances.” Here’s the link: […]

  36. B Maria says:

    Dear Kathy,

    Thank you for the inspiring story. It must have been a difficult decision you made although it was the right one. This story relates on so many levels. Not only the literal sense which tells the story but also teaches people the strength to be rid of unhealthy attachments and to as you put it “lovingly detach” from negative and sometimes even toxic relations. Like always you offer a Christiand solution which is the signature of your writings. For that we must applaud you.

    Your stories always have a message, and you express it through your life. You have a very rich life and are very generous to share with us.

    Thank you