Judgment Calls

Memoir Excerpt:

“It was all very well for me to be down in Virginia, waging my battles every day with Angie living in my house, desperately seeking some kind of relief from my suffering. But there were other people in my life, friends and family, who
wanted to know what was going on. I imagined my sister screaming at me over the
phone:

“Maggie, do something!” How can you let her kill
herself like this?”

I
responded in my mind, lacking the courage to say the words: “Lucy, until you’ve
walked a mile in my shoes, please shut up.”

I never
had such a conversation with my sister. I was only imagining the outside world
knocking on my door—and judging, always judging—just as I had felt judged and
condemned as a child.

On a
visit to his son in a treatment center, David Sheff listens to a program
counselor’s words: “If your child had cancer, the support from your friends and
family would flood in. Because of the stigma of addiction, people often keep it
quiet. Their friends and family may try to be supportive, but they may also communicate
a subtle or unsubtle judgment.”

A Mother’ s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Silver Linings

From Courage to Change, January 11:

‘For me, alcoholism has proven to be a bittersweet legacy—bitter because of the pain I suffered, and sweet, because if it weren’t for that pain, I wouldn’t have searched for and found a better way of living.’ “Al-Anon Faces Alcoholism”

I try every day to hold onto the serenity I’ve found. I want that for all of us struggling through the despair of addiction. Praying we can find some peace in the midst of this cruel disease, through any means possible. Blessings to us all!

A Doctor’s Perspective

“Maggie’s bittersweet story addresses her loving journey and ultimately her leaving everything in the hands of a higher power. Her love, not only for her child but also for those in the grips of addiction, shines radiantly through. Despite having treated numerous individuals with assorted addictions over many years, her story brought tears to my eyes.” Rob Lee, M.D.

A Mother’ s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Loving Is Enough

From Courage to Change, January 8:

“I once emphatically told my family that their bickering was making our newly-sober loved one nervous and this might cause her to start drinking again. I was shocked when I was told just as emphatically “Well, let her!” I realized that I was still trying to make everything smooth and easy for the alcoholic, because I hadn’t accepted that I was just as powerless over alcoholism in sobriety as I had been during the active years.

It was then that I truly discovered how beautifully ‘Letting go and letting God’ can truly work. When I fully understood how powerless I was over the situation, I was able to trust that the alcoholic has her own Higher Power and that, together, they can work out her future. I felt like a new person because I was free of the constant need to watch over her, free to live my own life.

I care about the alcoholic in my life more than I can say. I wish her health, happiness, and sobriety, but I cannot hand these things to her. Angie and her Higher Power are in charge of that. I can only love her, and when I stop to think about it, that is enough.”

More…Letting Go

Hello friends and family! I’m back East in northern Virginia right now packing up my belongings and preparing to sell the condo where I lived with Angie at the start of her illness. Some of you know that guilt was a constant thread in the story I wrote, and thanks to my recovery in the 12-Step fellowships I’ve been able to free myself of that destructive emotion and get on with my life. I’ve been sharing excerpts sequentially, but this one is from the very end of the book because I’m here now doing what I said I would do:

“While talking to my son recently, he inadvertently reminded me that I still have some unfinished business to take care of. He didn’t recognize how difficult that would be. So… I went back to my condo in Virginia, where it all began.

Carlos had been chiding me, ‘Mom, when are you gonna get tired of burning hundred dollar bills?’ I felt jolted by that question and have spent some time reflecting on it. I moved to New Mexico five years ago. Why have I been sitting on the fence all this time? It’s a luxury I don’t need. Why has it been hard to let go of my condo?

It is true that it’s an extravagance I don’t need. But letting go of it had been unthinkable—until now. Letting go—the learning of it, the doing of it—is a curious exercise. We cling for dear life to things we cherish, afraid that we’ll never have something so fine again. But I’ve learned these past few years that we can also cling to memories of pain and loss. For me, the condo had been the stage for my most recent connection with my daughter—a sad, bittersweet place of remembrance.

Within a year after I bought it, Angie was a methamphetamine addict spiraling out of control. For the next five years she would live with me, crash with me, and torment me on and off. She always slept on a sofa in the basement even though there was a bedroom and her own bath upstairs on my floor. But that was too close to me. She needed her separate space. And still she needed me—for her own reasons.

Digging deep, I see the real reason why I’ve been clinging to that property. Crossing the threshold on my visit last month, I started facing the ghosts that were holding me hostage. Why have I been holding onto to a place that has outlived its usefulness?

This is why: Angie was there with me. I loved Angie there, I lost Angie there, and I began my own reckoning with a lifetime of struggle that ended in the woods a few miles from there. Angie’s illness catapulted me into a cave of my own discoveries. And though I began this journey to save my child, it was myself I saved in the end.

The condo will soon be on the market. There is so much those four walls hold inside the beams and drywall. I went from room to room looking for memories, the sad evidence of Angie’s presence. There it is, the cigarette hole in my sheets, the burn marks on the porcelain sink where she carelessly left her butts. The black dye she spilled on my new wood floors that I tried to sand away. The bottle of muriatic acid in the laundry room I had no clue about at the time. Why didn’t I throw it away years ago? I remembered the night she had free-based and lost her eyelashes, noticed the knife mark on the door she had locked and couldn’t open. I walked around and felt the walls she had brushed against, sat in her favorite chair, ate from her Asian bowls, smelled her perfume on the jacket she’d left hanging in the closet. They were everywhere, the reminders of Angie’s presence, of the cruel illness that had claimed her, of her loss of self. Why haven’t I walked away from all that sooner? Many would have. What does that say about me?

But Angie, my daughter, was there too. I left them around, remnants of her lost innocence: the hand-painted ceramic heart for “The Greatest Mom in the World” on Mother’s Day in 1988; the picture of wild geese she bought me at the flea market in Greece; the dried coral roses she gave me for my birthday one year; the Scrabble game we played together on her weekend visits in 2010; pictures of her on holidays there with family while she was in recovery. How could I have known then how fleeting it would be?

I have felt that by truly letting go of the place that witnessed our time together I would be, yet again, abandoning Angie, something I didn’t have the heart to do. But I find myself now at a point where I can let go of the memories that chill and sadden me. And it’s not an abandonment of my daughter. Just as I have done with my mother, I can carry the best of Angie with me wherever I go. I can let go of the condo now, that proving ground for the redemption I’ve been seeking all my life. I no longer need to feel the lash on my back.”

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A Mother’ s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Letting Go

From Hope For Today, April 20:

“For me letting go is like a tree shedding its leaves in autumn. It must let go of them to produce even more beauty in the following spring and summer. Letting go of what I do not truly need—whether it be old thoughts, things, or behaviors—makes room for new growth in my life.
‘Turn that problem over…Then begin to do something about your own life.’”

Happy New Year, everyone! May we all find some wellness and peace in 2015.