The 12-Step Controversy

I picked up my tools for recovery in various 12-Step fellowships, which are admittedly very controversial. I was reading in “Psychology Today” an article addressing this controversy. Here’s the link:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201211/why-the-hostility-toward-the-12-steps

I honestly think that I could have picked up some of these life lessons anywhere. Al-Anon doesn’t have a lock on teaching gratitude and acceptance. The 12-Step fellowships just happen to be where I gained some tools to change my attitude and try to live better, which is why I’m happy to be a member. But this is an interesting article, and explains why many people still shy away from 12-Step programs.

“Whatever works for you”— that’s my motto

“The Wolf You Feed”

Memoir Excerpt:

“I am sometimes at odds with my recovery groups about the nature of addiction: is it a disease or a choice? I don’t want to force my views on them. There’s a wonderful Cherokee tale told by a grandfather to his grandchildren:

‘There’s a battle inside all of us between two wolves. One wolf is jealousy, greed, dishonesty, hatred, anger and bitterness. The other wolf is love, generosity, truthfulness, selflessness, and gratitude.’

‘Who wins the battle, grandfather?’

‘The wolf you feed.’

Insist that our loved ones are choosing to be addicts, that they want to stick a needle in their arm and live in a gutter, and we feel justified in our anger and our bitterness. Keep feeding those feelings, and they will consume you. I choose to believe that my daughter is wired differently and is prone to addictive disease. That’s no surprise, since four generations in my family have all had addictive disease in varying degrees. For whatever reason we still are unsure of, whatever life stresses beckoned her into that dark place, she became a victim of addiction.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has said: “I’ve studied alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and more recently obesity. There’s a pattern in compulsion. I’ve never come across a single person that was addicted that wanted to be addicted. Something has happened in their brains that has led to that process.’”

“Surrender To Win”

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 9:

 ‘The Chinese say that water is the most powerful element, because it is perfectly nonresistant. It can wear away a rock and sweep all before it.’ —Florence Skovel Shinn

“Nonresistance, ironically, may be a posture we struggle with. Nonresistance means surrendering the ego absolutely. For many of us, the ego, particularly disguised as false pride, spurred us on to struggle after struggle. ‘Can’t they see I’m right,’ we moaned, and our resistance only created more of itself. Conversely, flowing with life, ‘bubbling’ with the ripples, giving up our ego, releases us from an energy that heals the situation—that smoothes the negative vibrations in our path. Peace comes to us. We will find serenity each time we willingly humble ourselves.”

‘Resistance is more familiar. Nonresistance means growth and peace. I’ll try for serenity today.’

I wrote in my memoir toward the end: “This is 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.” That’s what the above reading is all about, I think. Letting go of my desperate need to save Angie from her addiction, and coming to accept that I simply don’t have that power. “I can only love her. And loving is enough. Loving is always enough. That has been my lesson.”

Where Do Rainbows End?

Memoir Excerpt:

“A parent never gets over losing a child, Carlos. I’ve learned how to be happy and make the most of my life. My recovery Program is strong. But I’ll never stop missing Angie and all her possibilities. Never.

When addiction claims our loved ones, we often feel resentful. It feels to us like we had been tagged, even though we had run as hard as we could. It’s taken me a few years to get to a place where I don’t feel angry or gypped anymore. My lot is no better or worse than any other mother’s whose child was struck down by illness. Whether or not she outlives me—as is the law of nature—remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I must remember to watch the mountain turn into a big red watermelon, and enjoy the colors of New Mexico.”

Living In The Moment

From Each Day A New Beginning, 11/17:

“Happiness is a gift that accompanies every instance of our lives if we approach each situation with gratitude, knowing that what’s offered to us is special to our particular needs. The experiences we meet day to day are honing our spirit, tempering our hard edges. For these we should offer gratitude.

Our wellbeing is the gift. Deciding what will make us happy, in fact, what we must have to be happy, prevents us from grasping the unexpected pleasure of the “chance” events of the moment. When we intently look for what we think we need, we may well be blind to more beneficial opportunities God has chosen for us.

Our self-centeredness hinders every breath we take. It prejudices every encounter. It stifles our creative potential. And most of all, it blocks any chance for a spontaneous reaction to the moment. Spontaneity is the breeding ground for creative living. And happiness is the byproduct.”

Penteli Mountain

monsoon redMy son and I loved to fly kites when he was growing up in Virginia. The right kind of wind could propel his paper bird high and far, with us right on its tail giving it enough slack to keep it soaring in the air currents.

He’s a grown man now, but I remember a day twenty-five years ago when we were living in Athens, Greece. We were driving home from his friend Chris’ house. Chris lived on Penteli Mountain, one of my favorite haunts outside of Athens.   From the crest of this hill on a clear day in winter you could see the whole bowl of Athens, with the smog hovering overhead, and even beyond. This was where the Brits came to celebrate Boxer Day every December 26. They hiked up more for the whiskey than the view, but that’s another story.

As we turned the corner, we saw the tail of a kite peeking out from under a pile of rubbish. We knew it was a kite tail because it had flags zigzagging down the string. Also, everyone came to fly kites on Penteli Mountain in December when the weather changed. This kite had lost its wind and lay abandoned in the field, its owners having no more use for it.

And so, our curiosity taking over, we stopped the car, got out, and went to investigate. Right away our curiosity turned into compassion and we wanted to breathe new life into this broken and tattered old kite. I never thought that something inanimate could come to life. But at this time in my life there was a dying in me that I knew I had to defeat or it would defeat me. My son was part of this tragedy, and somehow we knew that the road to healing could start with repairing this kite and watching it fly again. A dust-covered old TV pinning it down to the ground was holding the kite hostage. Its colorful tail saved it from certain death.

So we took the kite home and repaired it with glue and tape. We waited for a good day with just enough wind to try and fly it. The day finally came, a clear sunny day with a nice breeze. Together we took the kite back to the mountain and flew it. We watched it continue to rise and float in the air until all the string was used up. We ran with it as it leaped in the wind. It was flying like it was brand new – a miracle!

We didn’t let that kite go. We brought it down and carefully put it in the car. We knew we would probably never fly it again, but we couldn’t let go of something that had taught us such an eloquent lesson: I was sure from that day on that there are second chances in life for those who have the heart to reach for them.

 

 

How Do I Honor You, Angie?

Memoir Excerpt:

“Now we need to go on with our lives as best we can in spite of the cloud hanging over us. If my beautiful girl can’t find the courage to say yes to a healthy life, then I will. I’ll do it for her. What could be a better testament to Angie, to all her gifts and possibilities, than to go forward with my life savoring every moment? Wherever she is right now, I know that the best part of her loves me and would want me to be well. I really believe that, in spite of everything her drug-induced mind has spit forth. I have more confidence now. I know without a doubt that I’ve been a good (enough) mother to Angie. I love her. And loving is enough. Loving is always enough. This has been my lesson.

Though nothing can restore the years we’ve lost with Angie, I feel more and more able to embrace the life around me and revel in the gifts I’ve been given. On my gratitude list this morning, I added something else: ‘I thought the rose bush was dead, but a little more water and it’s come back.’ Simple things—

How is it possible for me to be grateful, even, to Angie, whose illness brought me into the rooms of Twelve-Step recovery? How is this possible?

My unsent letter to my child:

‘Dear Angie,

Ironic, isn’t it, that you have become my teacher and not the other way around—teacher of life, teacher of love, and beacon of surrender.

I’m so grateful that you were born, even though at times I’ve felt otherwise. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he? Though you haven’t been in my life long, and not always happily, it’s been your very existence that has propelled me into a serenely spiritual life, even happiness. I never would have done the work necessary to reach this place without your inspiration.

You are my child, my teacher. As I’ve stumbled on this rocky path, my thoughts of you have guided me; they guide me still.

All that I’ve become are gifts from you, my daughter: life lessons, trial by fire. How do I thank you?

By living well—By loving well—Mom’”

The Courage To Change

From Each Day a New Beginning, 10/12:

“…there are two entirely opposite attitudes in facing the problems of one’s life. One, to try and change the external world; the other, to try and change oneself. —Joanna Field

God grant us the courage to change what we can—ourselves. How difficult it is to let go of our struggles to control and change someone else. How frequently we assume that everything would be fine if only someone else would change. All that needs to change is an attitude, our own.

Taking responsibility for improving one’s own life is an important step toward emotional health. Blaming another for our circumstances keeps us stuck and offers no hope for improved conditions. Personal power is as available as our decision to use it. And it is bolstered by all the strength we’ll ever need. The decision to take our lives in hand will exhilarate us. The decision each day to be thoughtful, prayerful, and wholly responsible for all that we do will nourish our developing selves. Each responsible choice moves us toward our wholeness, strengthening our sense of self, our wellbeing.

I will change only who I can today: myself.”

I read a good definition of addiction the other day. It said something like this: when we focus on another substance, or the love of someone else, or another activity as the source of our happiness and well being, then it takes on the attractive power of addiction. This includes our belief that if someone else would change, we’d be happy. I’ve stopped measuring my happiness on things and people outside of myself. If I keep the focus on myself, and keep my side of the street clean, all will be well in my world. I pray for the happiness of Angie and all my loved ones, and then I let it go and get back to the business of living. I believe that things are unfolding as they are meant to.

Happiness Is An Inside Job

Memoir Excerpt:

“How I’ve been able to even think about my own recovery, much less reach for it, on the bones of my daughter is a testimony to the power of transformation through spiritual recovery. And only as my recovery deepens have I been able to withstand this struggle with any serenity or grace.”

“Our mettle has been tested, all of us as parents. We’ve paid our dues, and in my case, sometimes in service to my daughter’s addiction. Now can we go beyond mere acceptance of our lot and transform our lives into one that we deserve? Sometimes, being human, I feel, ‘how can I?’ But I’ve reached a point in my own journey where I want not only to survive the effects of this disease, but also to live well. I don’t want Addiction to win twice. This is the promise of Al-Anon. This is my hope for my future.”

‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.’ I cannot change the fact that Angie is an addict, and I cannot “wish” her into recovery. I can only love her. And—this catch-22 has taken me most of my life to learn—I can only love her or anyone else in my life with any integrity, if I love and value and respect and cherish myself first.”