“Blissful dishonesty—that’s what I indulged in for five days in San Francisco. We were walking in parallel universes. Well, we had been for years, but it’s a strange feeling when you’re together up close. I chose to overlook the obvious. One word from me, one reprimand, one emotional “Give up drugs, Angie, or you will die!” would have sent her back across the cable car tracks and I wouldn’t see her again. This was the truce we had made together at the beginning of my visit. It ensured that she would see me at all. And I wanted to see her. At this point in our long goodbye, I never knew if I would see her again. It was such a desolate, helpless feeling. Let go, Maggie, I thought to myself, she has her own Higher Power and you, dear girl, had better cling to yours. You’re gonna need Him more than ever now.
This was where I was in my recovery as I left San Francisco, at that hard won place I’d fought through years of resistance to find: the end of the battle—acceptance. I had tried to help her over the years and admittedly made so many mistakes: I begged, I pleaded, I covered up, I manipulated, I enabled, I moved boundaries so often I couldn’t even find them anymore. I confronted her behavior; then I did the opposite, lapsing into momentary denial.”
Wisdom From The Rooms:
“In Al-Anon we learn how to exchange a wishbone for a backbone (with love).”
Setting and enforcing boundaries with our loved ones is difficult, and can seem harsh at times. But many of us see all too clearly the effects of drug use on our loved ones: the loss of their moral compass which can lead to lying, stealing, verbal abuse and worse, all as a result of flooding their brains with dangerous chemicals. It can become a matter of our survival to stay strong and take care of ourselves, even when that means making excruciating choices. At the end of the day, we owe it to everyone else in our lives to survive and try to live well. Then, God willing, if the addict needs us to walk through recovery with him/her, we’ll be strong enough to do so.
“My Twelve-Step recovery, so far, has brought me a great deal of gratitude and serenity, mostly when I remember that voice from God telling me to let go of control and resistance. Yet there’s another part of me that hurts terribly when I witness the destruction of my daughter at the hands of Addiction. How can I be well while Angie is so sick? I’ve spent all these years searching for an answer.
Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye, in an interview discussing her own grief about losing her mother, says this: “I’m changed by it, the way a tree is changed by having to grow around an obstacle.
It’s the subliminal mother force in me. Grief and loss—they change us. I keep getting beamed onto Planet X, then back again, my molecules getting rearranged every time. Just as Angie has changed, so have I. I’ve loved my daughter as best I could for half of my life. How can losing her to this living death not change me?”
I love this cartoon from the New Yorker. But it’s not why I published my memoir. I suppose some authors put their stories out there for less than altruistic purposes. My motive was to heal from the disease that has crippled my family and me for generations. Many people still think of addiction as a choice or moral failing. So where I fully expect compassion from most people, I still feel judgment from some of those who have never walked in my shoes. And those are the people who will look at this cartoon and might say, “Hell, yes, she’s plotting to wipe out those people who nearly ruined her life!”
No, I’m not. “Those” people are my people, and we’ve all been swirling around in the maelstrom of addiction for a long time. Addiction is emerging from the shadows and people are talking openly about it. The shame and stigma are starting to evaporate, and people are viewing addicts in a new light, deserving of as much compassion as any other sick person.
And those witches stirring their cauldron, planning to poison the evildoers who wronged them? They’ll be out of a job.
“We walked up to this Italian place just beyond the intersection on Market. They served fabulous take-out in big bins, like a salad bar but hot food. Angie and I got what we wanted and sat down. We talked a little about her massage therapist, the apartment she had found and was planning to move into, the pending suit against Wayne Chin. These were safe topics—topics of her choosing. Conversation was awkward. There was no real engagement, no honest connection between my daughter and me. Blissful dishonesty; play it safe. Don’t push her away. I can’t begin to describe the loneliness I felt carrying on this meaningless conversation—and being with this stranger I barely knew anymore. All I could think of was how much I missed her bangs.
I chose to spend these five days in San Francisco in blissful dishonesty, knowing full well that Angie was using drugs right under my nose, but saying nothing about it. Maybe that’s a sign of my ongoing recovery, my letting go. Is it possible that I could have halted in its tracks more than a decade of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin abuse with a reprimand?
‘You little, fill in the blank. What are you doing now? How could you ruin my visit this way?’
No, I don’t believe so. I’ve known it for years, knew it then and put it into play this last time I saw her on her turf: whether or not my daughter chose recovery and gave up drugs was not up to me; it was up to her. She herself had to embrace recovery from addiction—using whatever method worked for her. I know many addicts who have recovered, and I’ve prayed that she would join them.”
“We are all broken—that’s how the light gets in.” Ernest Hemingway
As I’ve watched Angie slipping away all these years, I’ve learned to view my life through a different lens. The tools of recovery have taught me how to be grateful for what I have, how to let go of people and situations that I can’t change, and to have faith in something greater, wiser, and more powerful than I am. Losing my child to addiction did break me a few years ago, and in my brokenness I turned toward the light that had never left. I’m so grateful that I still had the eyes to see it.
“I was starting to feel desperate and wanting to bring my other daughter into the loop again. The holidays were looming and they’ve always been an emotional time for me. I’m flooded with memories, both happy and sad. But more than anything, I remember the anxiety, the frantic covering up, the alcohol-enabled keeping up the appearance of being happy that I felt in my childhood.
As I felt Angie slipping away again, I wrote to Caroline and said I’d hoped she was OK and not getting sucked into Angie’s drama too much. But I needn’t have worried. She and her brother have been able to detach pretty well all these years. Or have they? They haven’t talked to me about what they were feeling, and I haven’t asked. But sometimes I think the bomb that exploded back in 2001 is still exploding, here and there. We’re all still licking our wounds, carrying on.”
From Courage to Change, August 30:
“Normally my sponsor would recommend a gratitude list when I felt low, but one day, when I complained about a family situation, he suggested that I list all the things I was unhappy about. Several days later my depression had passed, and when I told my sponsor about the terrific day I was having, he suggested a gratitude list. He thought it might help me to refer to it the next time I felt blue. That made sense to me, so I complied.
When I went to put this new list in the drawer where I keep my papers, I noticed the earlier list and read it once more. To my surprise, my list of grievances was almost identical to my gratitude list—the same people, same house, same life. Nothing about my circumstances had changed except the way I felt about them. For the first time I truly understood how much my attitude dictates the way I experience the world.
Today I recognize how powerful my mind can be. I can’t always feel good, and I have no interest in whitewashing my difficulties by pasting a smile on my face. But I recognize that I am constantly making choices about how how I perceive my world. With the help of Al-Anon and my friends in the fellowship, I can make these choices more consciously and more actively than ever before.”
‘Change your thoughts and you change your world.’ Norman Vincent Peale
I can make an effort to be grateful instead of sad. It’s a conscious choice—because I want to be happy.
In a letter to my daughter:
“‘I imagine in your mind you feel justified in treating me so badly. But I’m here to tell you: no, you’re not, not now, not ever again. If you can’t muster the consideration and respect that I deserve, then we need more space. And that’s my recovery at work.’
She was in San Francisco now and crashed on her sister’s sofa. Caroline, still recovering from her initial bout with Crohn’s disease back in October, was very welcoming and didn’t put too much pressure on her to find her own place. But Angie needed to find some space of her own and was fortunate within a couple of weeks to find a group home right around the corner from her sister, on Harrison Street. She bought a bike and enjoyed tooling around the Mission.
Then, while I was still reeling from December, she ended up in another hospital at the end of January, on IV antibiotics for the second time…
Angie ran away from Virginia only to find out that she couldn’t leave the addict behind. I’ll never know exactly how she ended up in the hospital for the second time, and it doesn’t matter. Angie was a grown woman learning to live in a new city. Her sister was close but unlikely to be drawn into her drama. Caroline knew a few addicts and knew plenty about addiction. But she was carefully and lovingly detached. Angie was really on her own again with no parents around. She was at yet another crossroads where she was faced with the same choices that had confronted her many times before. Would addiction continue to squeeze the life and humanity out of my daughter as it had in the past? Or would she be able to fight her demons on her own? “