The Courage to Change

From the blue Nar-Anon pamphlet:

Changing Ourselves

“Addiction is like a chain reaction. It is a disease which affects the addict as well as the family members, friends and co-workers. We try to control, cover up, and take on the responsibilities of the addict. The sickness spreads to those of us who care the most. Eventually, we begin to feel used and unhappy. We worry, lose trust and become angry. The addict blames us and we feel guilty. If only something or someone would change!

When we discover Nar-Anon, we find others with the same feelings and problems. We learn we cannot control the addict or change him. We have become so addicted to the addict that it is difficult to shift the focus back to ourselves. We find that we must let go and turn to faith in a Higher Power. By working the steps, following the traditions and using the tools of the program, we begin, with the love and help of our Higher Power and others, to change ourselves.

As we reach out for help, we become ready to reach out a helping hand and heart to those in need of Nar-Anon. We understand. We do recover. Slowly, new persons emerge. Change is taking place.”

 

Though I have changed and grown through my work in the program, I still love my daughter and am available to help her if she reaches out to me for help. The difference is that I’m a healthier person now and am able to make the tough choices I couldn’t make years ago. I pray she finds the strength to come back to her family. We can’t get back the lost years, but I still have hope, like the warm New Mexican sun shining on me, and keeping my love strong.

“She’s Been What???”

Memoir Excerpt:

“I guess none of us knew at that point what we were dealing with, but we were soon to find out. In January my birthday came and went without a word from Angie, and I felt that same familiar cloud descending into my carefully protected space threatening my well-being…

Doc called that weekend of the 12th, telling me that Angie and Joe had taken off without a word. I’ll never forget how I felt when he told me this. That same familiar hollowness returned, as if I’d been gutted on the spot. And as to Doc, I was speechless with shame, after all he and his family had done for them. A couple of days later, Angie called from Richmond, asking me to pay for one night in a hotel before they went back to Doc’s to apologize.

They went back to Doc’s all right, but not to apologize.

Doc called to tell me that someone had broken into his house, stolen his credit cards, and taken his truck. Apparently they had been sleeping in the chicken coop, in January, waiting for the best time to make their move. ‘Sleeping in the chicken coop?’ I moaned to myself. Oh, God, what had she come to? He called the police, and they were picked up pretty quickly in Baltimore.

The policeman who arrested them told me that Angie tried to get away, screaming, “I’ll kill myself if you arrest me!” They were both taken to the jail in Baltimore. Joe was locked up on the spot for grand larceny/car theft; Angie was released to the psych ward in a nearby hospital. She had no priors and got off the hook. The very sympathetic policeman who arrested my daughter gave all this information to me over the phone. It was a Tuesday night, and I needed to get to my parents’ Al-Anon meeting. I was leading that night. I’ll never forget how I was feeling: hollow again, but wooden; it was almost surreal, sort of an out of body experience.

This wasn’t happening! My daughter was getting arrested? I kept saying to myself.

“Mrs. Romero? Mrs. Romero? Are you still there?” the policeman

asked.

Then he advised me, “Let it go, Mrs. Romero. There’s nothing you can do for her now. Let the legal system handle her.”

Sure, but they’d have to find her first.

I didn’t have time to go into rescue mode. After one day in her second psych ward, she called a friend who lived in Baltimore to come get her out. Poor, hapless friend, she had no idea that she was releasing Angie to the wind. This time my girl truly was gone with the wind: no word—no contact—nothing. “

 

Weathering The Storms

From Each Day is a New Beginning, May 16:

‘It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world’—Dorothy Dix

“The storms in our lives benefit us like the storms that hit our towns and homes and wash clean the air we breathe. Our storms bring to the surface the issues that plague us…Recovery is a whole series of storms, storms that help to sprout new growth and storms that flush clean our own clogged drains. The peace that comes after a storm is worth singing about.”

Growing up surrounded by addiction and falling prey to the disease myself, I was in the veritable forest, unable to see the trees. My deep and overriding love for my daughter forced me to open my eyes and see what was right in front of me. I took a large leap toward healing myself so that I could be well enough to enjoy all my blessings. As I conclude in the final chapter of my memoir, “What could be a better testament to Angie, to all her gifts and possibilities, than to go forward with my life savoring every moment?” Many friends in Al-Anon have expressed gratitude to their addict/alcoholic for getting them into the rooms of recovery— these same friends who, like me, deeply mourn the lost years with our loved one—but who, also like me, refuse to offer another victim up to the altar of addiction. We have made it through the storm, and have found that we have something to sing about.

Slow Suicide

Memoir Excerpt:

“Lately I’ve been reading a few books on suicide: Jill Bialosky’s query into her sister’s suicide; and Judy Collins’ heartfelt story about the addiction and suicide of her only child, Clark. Both of these authors consulted with the late Dr. Edwin S. Shneidman, a well-known suicidologist. His word, “psychache,” resonated with me. From watching Angie grow into the addict she has become as an adult, I can see how that term would apply to her. If ever there was an aching psyche, it was hers, so in pain and so unable to express that pain effectively to those she loved. I often feel that drug addiction and the pain that accompanies it is a form of suicide, slow and relentless, if left untreated.

My father made attempts here and there to give up gin and tobacco. When he had his gall bladder removed the nurses made him cough into a bag, and he was so disgusted with what came up that he stopped smoking for a while. But he never completely set aside his self-destructive behavior. It was like an old friend who reminded him of what he’d often felt as a child from an uncaring, abusive father: “You’re not good enough, not important enough.” As a young man working in the family business, he met and fell in love with my mother, who spent a good part of their marriage echoing his father’s disappointment in him. Where do the seeds of addiction take root? It’s the old chicken and the egg confusion. Was my father predestined to become an alcoholic? Or was he made one by the emotional abuse he endured? And if the latter is true, then how and when was I an emotional abuser of my own daughter?

But Twelve-Step recovery gently steers us away from questions like that; we can’t go back and do things over. And I’m only human. I sometimes ask myself what I did wrong or what I missed seeing. Then I remember that addiction is a disease: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” And like a gentle breeze blowing away the clutter of remorse, I let go of those thoughts and embrace my life again, free of responsibility.

In any case, whatever she chose to do now, I needed to leave her alone to do it. I knew better than to scream and wail in the night to God and all the graces that protected the innocent to save my daughter. Whatever the roots of addiction are, whatever holes were missing in her that this opportunistic disease filled in, I didn’t have the power to combat them. And I just had to let go of the struggle, or I would disappear down that rabbit hole with her.”

 

About Addiction

From the blue Nar-Anon pamphlet:

                                                                          About Addiction

“We have learned that addiction is an illness. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual disease that affects every area of life. It can be arrested but never cured. We have found that compulsive use of drugs does not indicate a lack of affection for the family. It is not a matter of love, but of illness. The addicts’ inability to control their use of drugs is a symptom of the disease of addiction. Even when they know what will happen when they take the first drink, pill or fix, they will do so. This is the “insanity” we speak of in regard to this disease. Only complete abstinence from the use of drugs, including alcohol, can arrest this disease. No one can prevent the addicts’ use of drugs. When we accept that addiction is a disease, and that we are powerless over it, we become ready to learn a better way to live.”

These words reinforce my belief that when my daughter is under the influence of drugs, she ceases to be the person I raised. It’s all a matter of degree, of course, and we don’t all experience the same extremities of behavior with our children. But in Angie’s case, there is little resemblance to the wonderful, talented young woman I knew. And though I have no power over the change in her, it does give me some peace to know that it wasn’t her choice to leave her family. Rather that—and so many other bad choices—is just one of the difficult roads onto which drug addiction leads many of our children. We can only hope and pray that they’ll find their way back home.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain

The road to my spiritual life began when I was a young child growing up in an alcoholic family. But I didn’t start to walk down this road until halfway through my life when my daughter fell ill with drug addiction.

I was very unhappy growing up. It’s a classic story of family dysfunction that many of us have experienced as children. But back then I didn’t have Alateen to go to. My father was never treated and died prematurely because of his illness. I, too, was untreated for the effects of alcoholism, and grew into an adult child.

Well, many of us know how rocky that road is: low self-esteem, intense self-judgment, inflated sense of responsibility, people pleasing and loss of integrity, and above all, the need to control. I carried all of these defects and more into my role as a mother to my sick daughter, and predictably the situation only got worse.

I was a very hard sell on the first three steps of Al-Anon, and my stubbornness cost me my health and my career. But once I did let go of my self-reliance, my whole life changed for the better. The Serenity Prayer has been my mantra every day. I’ve learned to let go of what I can’t change. I don’t have the power to free Angie of her disease, but I can work hard to be healed from my own. This is where I’ve focused my work in the program.

My daughter has gone up and down on this roller coaster for fourteen years, and right now she’s in a very bad place. But that has only tested me more. My faith grows stronger every day when I release my daughter with love to her higher power, and I am able to firmly trust in mine.

Friends of mine ask me, “How do you do that? You make it sound so simple!” I tell them, “First of all getting here hasn’t been simple. It’s the result of years of poisoning my most important relationships with the defects I talked about earlier. I knew I had to change in order to be happy. Secondly, I fill my heart with faith-based unconditional acceptance of whatever happens in my life. It’s my choice.

Somewhere in the readings, someone wrote ‘Pain is not in acceptance or surrender; it’s in resistance.’ It’s much more painless to just let go and have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. There’s a reason that HP is running the show the way he is. I just have to get out of the way; I’m not in charge. I also read somewhere the difference between submission and surrender: submission is: I’ll do this if I get XYZ; surrender, on the other hand, is unconditional acceptance of what I get. Well, the latter is easier because I’m not holding my breath waiting for the outcome. I just let go – and have faith. Again, it’s a very conscious choice.

We all have different stories. What has blessed me about a spiritual life is that I can always look within myself and find peace regardless of the storms raging around me. I’m learning how to dance in the rain.

 

The Voice of Recovery

Mother's Day 2009_0001Mother's Day 2009

In 2009, Angie went into recovery for quite a while, and it was a blessed period in our lives. This is the Mother’s Day card she sent me that year, and how it pulls on my heartstrings now! I will never give up hoping that she gets her life back someday, and I will always love my daughter very much.

She’s Alive!

Memoir Excerpt:

“But my respite was short lived. The phone rang two weeks before Christmas, and I knew she was still alive. At the sound of her voice, I was drawn back in to her world, her illness, and her drama. I didn’t even think to take a step back from it all, so strong was my codependency at that point.

“Hi Mom. Doc thought I should call you and let you know how I was. Do you

want to come down and see me? I’m on a farm in Fredericksburg.”

“Oh, Angie. I’m so grateful you’re alive and safe! We’ll come down first thing

on Saturday.”

Why didn’t I just hang up and say the hell with her? Because she was my daughter, somewhere closeted inside that addict’s body, and no matter how much I raged at her endless betrayals of self and those she had once upon a time loved, I couldn’t turn away from her. She was my child. She didn’t ask to be born, and I know she didn’t choose to be sick. I would go to her, on a tranquil farm two hours away, to try yet again to reach her, in some way, on some level, while she could still be reached. As long as she was still above ground, I told myself, she had another chance to start over. I was her mother. I would rescue her. This time, I would save her from herself.

This was my mindset when we went to see her: stubborn, stupid, willful lab rat that I was. After all that we had been through, together and apart, you would think I would have learned. I wanted to think we were both still teachable, still capable of redemption. And so I continued to seek it, my own, but I was looking in the wrong places. I thought I could only find it in her recovery.

I would find it, eventually, a little farther down the road. It was deep inside me, I discovered, all along.

What I didn’t see then, and only see now years later, was that all the energy I poured into my attempts to save her were terribly misdirected. It said a great deal about me, but it said nothing about her. If she were ever going to beat this thing, she would need to do the necessary work on her own. We could help her access the tools she needed, but she needed to pick them up with her own hands and use them.”

 

Building Blocks to Happiness

From Courage to Change, April 22

“At first the idea of searching for defects of character, wrongs, shortcomings and harm I have done can seem like just another excuse to be hard on myself. That’s why it’s so important to concentrate on the first three Steps long enough to develop a strong spiritual foundation.

In these early Steps, we admit the areas over which we are powerless—such as alcoholism and other people—and learn that a power greater than ourselves has no such limitations. We decide to place our will and our life in the hands of this Higher Power. We let go of burdens that were never ours to carry. And we begin to treat ourselves more kindly and more realistically.

When we move on to later Steps, we do so for our well-being. We begin a process that is immensely rewarding, and we go forward under the guidance of a Higher Power. This enables us to be much more gentle with our recovery.

The first three steps are the cornerstone on which my progress is built. No matter how long I have been in this program, I won’t hesitate to touch base with the foundation of my spiritual health.

‘I now have a goal I can see clearly and a program with which to work toward it. It is my guide to self-improvement, comfort, and a better way of life.’”