The Hardest Thing

From Courage to Change, one of my favorite daily readers:

“It’s not easy to watch someone I love continue to drink, but I can do nothing to stop them. If I see how unmanageable my life has become, I can admit that I am powerless over the disease. Then I can really begin to make my life better.”

And from my memoir: “This is the hardest thing about letting go of those we love strangling in the clutches of addiction: watching them do the dance by themselves—and staying on the sidelines. If I live to be as old as my mother when she died, I’ll never experience anything harder.”

Reckoning

Memoir Excerpt:

“I felt as though parts of my life were raining down on me in these woods. This reckoning was long overdue. I was once again the little girl who longed to be close to her big sister and missed her big brother, the little girl who needed attention from her father, and the young woman who needed to be free of her domineering mother. Losing Angie again felt like a death to me even though it wasn’t. There was no real closure, like the day I put Oscar down, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony pounding in my head. I was back in the woods of my childhood where I could scream my frustration and no one would hear me This was not my whole life—just the parts I needed to purge, the parts that held me back, and the ones that told me I deserved to lose my child.

‘You had this coming to you!’ the voice of Guilt shouted.

NO I DIDN’T!’ I screamed back, ‘No, I don’t.’

I felt that day in December, with my temples pounding and hearing nothing but the train racing in my head, that I was powerful. I was reclaiming what was left of my life. I’d been in recovery for years and was happier because of it—no question. But often when Angie relapsed I’d felt myself start to crumble like a week-old cookie. I’d want to scramble to help her fight off the Monster. I’d start to cling, listen for her footsteps, and anticipate her movements, her moods, utterly lose myself in my codependency, allow myself to be controlled by the uncontrollable, and panic at the ensuing chaos.

‘Can I drive you to a meeting? There’s one in the same church as mine. Same time,’ I implored, as if going to a meeting would bring some order to the chaos.

‘Mom, stop. You know I hate meetings.’

When she said that I used to feel enraged, and impotent in my rage, with nowhere to go with it. Addiction had a life of its own. I had spent so much energy fighting a useless battle and worse, not allowing my daughter the dignity of fighting it herself.

But not this time—not this day—nearly a decade into her illness. For the moment, anyway, I was done. This struggle with Angie had worn me out, over and over again, and I wanted to put an end to it. All the hurt and pain from my childhood, all the agony of watching my daughter commit slow suicide, were racing through my head at breakneck speed.

I made my way to a clearing in the woods. I was, for a while anyway, transported back to Massachusetts. But I didn’t go back there that day to revisit the judgments of my childhood. I went back to the same place where I had grown up to try to end the battle inside me—and the battle to save Angie—for so long seemingly one in the same—and now, forever separate.”

Remembering Angie

Annie's tapestry

Today is my daughter’s 36th birthday. When she came out of her first rehab, back in 2002, she made me this lovely tapestry. I think it was her way of saying “I’m sorry, Mom, not for being sick, but for what my addiction drove me to do to you.” I cherish this gift and view it as a symbol of the goodness that all our suffering addicts carry within them. As long as Angie is alive, I have hope that she will find her way back to her family.

Chasing The Butterfly

From Each Day A New Beginning, July 19:

‘At fifteen, life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.’—Maya Angelou

“We had to surrender to a power greater than ourselves to get where we are today. And each day, we have to turn to that power for strength and guidance. For us, resistance means struggle—struggle with others as well as an internal struggle.

Serenity isn’t compatible with struggle. We cannot control forces outside of ourselves. We cannot control the actions of our family or our co-workers. We can control our responses to them. And when we choose to surrender our attempts to control, we will find peace and serenity.

That which we abhor, that which we fear, that which we wish to conquer seems suddenly to be gone when we decide to resist no more—to tackle it no more.

The realities of life come to us in mysterious ways. We fight so hard, only to learn that what we need will never be ours until the struggle is forsaken. Surrender brings enlightenment.”

“Let Go, Or Be Dragged”

Memoir Excerpt:

“Eventually I got to a place where I admitted—no, I accepted—my powerlessness over her disease, though it was counterintuitive for me to do so. By accepting her disease it still sometimes felt like I was giving up, like I didn’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I had to walk over a lot of hot coals before I would know how much I loved Angie. In time I became detached enough to look at her, feel nothing but compassion and love for her, and discuss things intellectually. It was no longer my personal mission to try to change my daughter into the person I wanted her to be. I was not Angie, and she was not me. We were separate people, and I no longer felt that her illness and/or what she chose to do about it reflected on me. This was tremendously freeing for me.

Or, as one parent writes in Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope: ‘Let go, or be dragged.’”

 

Acceptance or Resignation?

What’s the difference between acceptance and resignation? A lot, I’ve discovered.

One of the beauties of Twelve-Step recovery is that it’s useful and life-changing “in all our affairs.”  Over the years, I had become resigned to the way things were in my family of origin, like a victim, as if I lacked the power to change anything. But I do have the power—I’ve always had it. I just needed to develop the wisdom to recognize the difference between what I could and could not change.

So I reached out to an estranged family member—and I was rewarded. My lesson? I mustn’t let myself get too lazy or passive. Life is short. If I can make my life better in any way, I should try. Let go of the outcome—but try.

Through my recovery program, I’m flexing long-forgotten muscles with giddy delight. I do recognize what I cannot change, and there’s much in my life that I must accept. But I’m also finding the courage to change what I can, and when I take back the power I’ve always had to affect change, my life just keep getting better and better!

Lifting The Fog

Memoir Excerpt:

“Angie came out to stay with me at the condo just about every weekend, and on one of these visits I had to take her to the emergency room. She had a bad case of cellulitis in her hand and needed a heavy dose of oral antibiotics to clear it up. As we were leaving the doctor said that if the oral meds didn’t work she would need to be hospitalized for IV treatments. I was a little puzzled by this; it looked like a simple infection to me. Why, possibly, would she need such extreme intervention?  Angie explained it away as a symptom of her hepatitis.

I should have seen what was right in front of me; I should have questioned her bland explanation. A year later when I got more educated about drug addicts and what they do when they run out of veins would I realize what had really been going on. These last few years I’ve gotten more involved in support groups around addiction, and I’ve seen a few movies about what addicts do, where they inject. Strange places I hadn’t thought of: their ankles, their necks, and their hands. At the time, I didn’t realize what she had started doing—again. At the time, I was too focused on my daughter promising to rebuild her life—again. At the time, I didn’t dare face the fact that bringing her back to D.C. might have been a very bad idea… But I wasn’t responsible for what was happening. Yes, we brought her home, and the wheels of fate kept turning. Our daughter was an addict, and whether she was living in D.C. or Uganda, Angie had a disease that she alone must wrestle with. At this point we could only stand by and watch. Angie knew what she needed to do if she wanted to fight her illness and get well.”

 

Midstream

peaceamidthestorm

“The whole course of things goes to teach us faith. We need only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word…Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into you as life, place yourself in the full center of that flood, then you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Matriarch

My mother and I had a very difficult relationship for most of my life. But as I started to grow in my recovery, it was easy for me to forgive her. And as I’ve learned to forgive those who have wounded me in my life, it’s been easier to forgive myself for my own shortcomings. The healing power of forgiveness is great.

Memoir Excerpt:

“That day as I walked out of my mother’s room, I turned to look at her one more time. When she was young, she was a striking beauty, with brunette hair. As she aged her hair lost its color prematurely. I’ll never forget the dreadful blue rinse she used to put on her hair to cover the gray. Then there was the reddish dye. Finally, I’m not sure exactly when, she stopped messing with the color and one day, like a full moon against a dark sky, her hair was as white as freshly fallen snow. It was gorgeous.

Her eyes had closed and she looked so peaceful. This time, I knew, was the last time I would see her in this body. I just knew. But I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t run back to her and hug her one more time, the way we do when we want to push back death. Any anxiety, had I done that, would have transferred right to her, undoing all the journeying Hospice was at that moment attempting. But I had no anxiety. I walked away. I knew she was embarking on her own journey now, and there was only room for one passenger.”