A mother wrote me recently: “Your memoir has released me from my shame. Reading your recovery story has shown me how, in spite of everything bad that’s happening now, I can get on with my life and learn to be whole and happy again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
My story takes you through my recovery from addiction and the effects of living with it. But it didn’t start out that way. I began it several years ago solely as a story about my daughter’s drug addiction. And as I got deeper into the writing of it I realized that there was much more of a story to tell, and that that story began with me in my childhood.
And so I began the excavation process, the unfolding of my life, and laid myself out before the reader in the Introduction. Angie didn’t become an addict in a vacuum. She is the latest in at least four generations of troubled souls. So I allow you, the reader, to get to know me long before my daughter was hijacked by this cruel disease. It adds another dimension to my very personal story, and allows you to consider that addiction is often a generational illness. And you will see why it is, indeed, “A Mother’s Story.”
Ironically it was my daughter Angie whose disease brought me to a place of wellness and peace in my life. All the ugliness of behavior and spirit that often goes with unbridled addiction is documented in the book, as addiction is a monster that takes few prisoners. Yet Angie was a beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her before addiction seduced her. Her tapestry described in the book reminds us that beauty is often born out of loss.
This is a story about my recovery in the face of all this heartbreak. How I’ve been able to accomplish this is a testimony to the power of spiritual transformation. And so, paralleling the roller coaster ride of her illness, I share with the reader throughout the book my evolving recovery and my journey toward serenity.
This journey has freed my children from the same oppression that held me hostage growing up. Many people who have suffered through the darkness of addiction are consumed by despair. But as I continue to grow and change, my loved ones are the beneficiaries. Perhaps some elements of my story will resonate with you as well.
From In All Our Affairs: Making Crises Work for You
“I had always wanted to be different, better than others. It comforted me to believe that I loved more, cared more and suffered more from the effects of someone else’s drinking.
I was different when I went to Al-Anon. I suffered from these feelings of alienation, yet while I wanted to belong, I wanted even more to remain apart—to hang on to my old life, my old thinking. I felt that as I accepted each truth, each part of the program, some portion of me was going to die. I was not capable of believing that there would be a new life, or that a mature woman might be born from the wreckage of a guilt-ridden, obsessive child.”
My resistance remained even as I took the Steps of recovery. While I made progress emotionally through friendship and the release of some of my anxiety, I was unable to surrender myself to the idea of a Higher Power. It was a few years before I made that final surrender. Then and only then did I have any idea what Al-Anon was all about. I now understand my uniqueness. There is no one else on earth exactly like me, but with God as my partner and as a member of such a fellowship, I am not alone.
“So this was what it was like: we’d been here before; we’d taken her to rehab, we’d visited her in rehab; we’d silently prayed on our side of the great divide that God would have mercy on our child and intervene—that He, or anyone, I didn’t care—would help her see the light and want to get well and return to her family. This rehab was different; it was farther away. Maybe it would be easier for her to get a better perspective on her life. Maybe, maybe, maybe—she had her own higher power, and I had mine. Oh, God, I pleaded under my breath, it had to work this time. “Let her go, Maggie,” I heard Him answer. I lingered, half hoping she’d backtrack and blow us another kiss. She didn’t. We turned around and walked to the exit.
From Daily Word, May 20:
I Celebrate The Free Spirit I Am
“Sometimes I may forget to give thanks for one of my greatest gifts—freedom. I am free to believe what I wish and worship where I want. I am free to travel and free to express myself. Most important, I am free to choose my thoughts and responses.
In the Silence, I let go of fear worry and pain. I release any limiting opinions or views of myself and claim my divine potential. My heart expands with gratitude as I connect with the part of me that know no limits—my spirit self.
I affirm: I am free to choose my thoughts and responses and align my dreams with the highest good. I rejoice in the presence of unbounded Spirit in me and claim my infinite potential.”
For much of my life I suffered from depression, and I didn’t know how to be free of it. I just resigned myself to feeling sad much of the time and filled in the hollowness with food and drugs. Working the Steps in the 12-Step fellowships I belong to has given me the tools to look at myself, work on things that were getting in my way, and point me in a positive direction. I can choose to do this work or I can choose to be the unhappy person I was for so long. I’m free to choose. And I choose joy.
“Nearly a year had passed since her disappearance from the psych ward in Baltimore. There was no word for a year—nothing. I assumed she was dead; I was sure of it. My daughter, once upon a time, was the most faithful and loyal child any parent could wish for. And even though this memoir has shown numerous instances of the drug-induced change in her personality, I still believed, needed to believe, that my daughter would never torture her family without any word for a year, not unless she couldn’t contact us. She would never be that cruel. Therefore, she must be dead. This is when I wrote her eulogy. I was just waiting for the end to come. The only thing missing was the body.
Ah yes, the body, that tool, that means, to fund her habit. How could I forget what had happened not that long ago? I was wrong. I was wrong and still unbelievably naïve about the power and the cruelty of drug addiction. There was a living, breathing body living just outside of Baltimore. Only now she called herself Anna.”
I’m a mother. When my kids were little, it was my job to keep them safe from harm. If they ran across the street with a car coming, I might have spanked them a little so they’d remember to look both ways the next time. Yes: pain; yes: consequences. Yes: both good teachers.
But when Angie was twenty-one and started making terrible choices, I still thought it was my job to protect her from harm, self-inflicted or otherwise. And I still treated her like a two-year-old.
When she first stole from me early on, I went into a long period of denial and guilt, minimizing my feelings and believing her incredible explanations. My inaction only emboldened her, and she went on to steal in other ways. Several times, she stole my identity, with no explanations. So even when it was clear to me that her behavior was sociopathic, I still behaved inappropriately: I did nothing. Even when the credit card company told me to do something—that it would be a lesson for her—I still did nothing.
Where was the smack on the rear she would have gotten from running across the street? Where were the consequences that would have reminded her to be careful? I presented Angie with no consequences in the beginning of her illness and so she learned nothing. Her progressive illness got much worse. My guilt was crippling me as an effective parent.
Not until I started working my own program of recovery in Al-Anon was I able to release myself from the hold that was strangling us both. I needed to get out of my daughter’s way. She wasn’t two anymore.
I’ve made a lot of progress since those early days. I’ve learned to let go and leave Angie to the life she has chosen. Four rehabs helped her turn her life around for a while, but she always slipped back into her addiction and the life that goes with it. But staying out of the way has given me the freedom to take back my life and learn to live joyfully by focusing on my blessings. It has also given Angie the freedom to take responsibility for her own life and hopefully her own recovery. If she reaches for it again, and I pray she will, how much more rewarding it will be for her to find her own way!
“When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle. We find again some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me and thee which go to make up the kingdom of heaven on earth.” G.F. Sear
Just for today…I am all I need to be.
My daughter, Angie, has been at many crossroads during the fourteen years of her drug addiction. A few times, she chose wisely and well. Other times, not so wisely. Most of the time, sadly, it was addiction that was making the decisions, and addiction, like cancer, wants to survive. My prayers continue every day that my daughter stays alive long enough to reach that pivotal milestone on the road to recovery.
“Alice: ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
The Cheshire Cat: ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.’
Alice: ‘I don’t much care where.’
The Cheshire Cat: ‘Then it doesn’t matter much which way you go.’
Alice: …’So long as I get somewhere.’
The Cheshire Cat: ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.’”
I’ve learned through years of trial and error to let Angie go and let her find her way. Letting go isn’t dropping the ball. It’s letting them play the game.
“After Angie’s arrest, I felt myself start to dissolve. I was a sugar cube with hot water poured over it, and I was melting. It was January 2008, and I started to feel my insides harden, or soften; I’m not sure which. I could barely swallow food, my taste buds had totally changed, everything in me changed, I couldn’t watch the shows I used to watch. I would lie in bed for hours at a time staring at the wall. I lost a ton of weight. At school, I watched in horror my hands uncontrollably shaking. I would space out in the middle of teaching a lesson. One of my students noticed and asked me if I was OK. What the hell was happening to me?”
I spent the long holiday weekend up in Massachusetts with my mother in her nursing home. “How is Angie?” she queried. Bless her heart, for the past three years we all lied to her, told her that her granddaughter was living in California. How could I break my mother’s heart and tell her the truth? What was the point now of disclosing to my mother truths that would only further break her heart and open a can of worms she wasn’t well enough to deal with? My mother was ninety-eight years old, and was soon to meet her Maker. Leave her to her illusions, we all agreed. During my time with her, I sat on her bed and did the strangest thing: I wrote the first twenty pages of my life story. I felt driven right then and there to write down things I had been putting off for years. It was an incredible adrenaline rush.
Then I flew back to my life and my job and admitted to myself that I was having a nervous breakdown.”