Taking Ownership Of My Own Recovery

Memoir Excerpt:

“Many people are not strong enough to battle the terrible force of addiction on their own. Application of the Twelve Steps had proven successful over and over again since they were put together by a couple of alcoholics and their friends back in the late 1930’s. Addicts need help; some say they need spiritual help. Our society is full of naysayers—skeptics who eschew these programs that are found in every major city across the country, and in big cities, in many of the churches, meeting three or four times a day. There’s a reason for the popularity of Twelve-Step programs: they work for many people. So I promised myself I would try harder now. Angie was worth it. Angie was worth it?

There is no one place on this journey to pinpoint where I discovered that I was worth it. I knew what a flawed human being I was. I was aware of my mistakes along the way—big ones and little ones.

But as I was starting to embrace the principles found in these Twelve Steps I was reacquainting myself over and over again with my own humanity and feeling my self-worth solidify with roots into the earth. None of this growth in me would have occurred if Angie’s illness hadn’t pushed me onto this path. And I would always—still—reckon with the survivor guilt that has challenged my right to be happy while my daughter still struggles with addiction.

There are many who view Twelve-Step groups as cultish and unattractive. There’s such a powerful stigma in our society against addiction in all its forms that, I suppose, families of addicts suffer from guilt by association. Early on in my recovery my sister, Lucy, once said that it must be nice to have “those people” to talk to. But as she’s watched me grow and change these past few years I think she’s developed a healthy respect for the Program.

To this day, though, Lucy has never discussed with me the dark side of our father, the alcoholic. Maybe she never saw his dark side, as I did. To her, he was the best father in the world, and I have no need to invade that sacred place where she holds him in her heart. In fact, I agree with her. He was a very loving man who passed on many gifts to his children and grandchildren. Yes, he was sick, and he died too young because of it. But just as I have forgiven my mother for any ways she may have hurt me so have I lovingly accepted my father’s illness. And in learning to forgive my parents and others who have wounded me in my life, it has become easier for me to forgive myself for my own shortcomings.

I, being an addict, a daughter of one and a parent of one, have found myself quite at home among these seekers of peace and serenity. I’ve been in the right place for twelve years now, and I cannot begin to tell you the gratitude I feel for the wisdom in this simple program that has helped me to look forward to the sun coming up every day—and to embrace my life in its entirety.”

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“Changed Attitudes Can Aid Recovery”

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From SESH, June 27: T-H-I-N-K

“Today I express my fears and know that my Higher Power will control the outcome. I am where I need to be. When I feel anxiety, I can focus on the slogan T-H-I-N-K, which reminds me how to react differently.

T – Thoughtful

H – Honest

I – Intelligent

N – Necessary

K – Kind”

Our shortest slogan, T-H-I-N-K, can be very helpful. However, as with most tools, I need to use it with care and reason. As I’ve heard it said around these rooms, ‘my best thinking is what got me here.’ For me, thinking too much or in a negative way is almost as dangerous as thinking not at all. Obsessive thinking can be my symptom of this family disease as much as obsessive drug use is the addict’s.

I will try to free myself of pointless rumination and stay focused on the freedom of my recovery.

 

Angie’s Gift To Me

Angie's Tapestry

Memoir Excerpt:

“When Angie came out of that first rehab, she made me the most beautiful gift.

‘Mom, I’m not quite finished with it. I just have a few more flowers to cut. You’ll need to find a 17-by-22-inch frame to mount it on. Sorry it’s such an odd size. Guess I wasn’t thinking. I copied it from one of my Chinese art books. I hope you like it!’

Right now it’s hanging in my room for me to see. Over the years I’ve taken it on and off the wall, hidden it in a closet, too painful for me to look at. Maybe it’s a sign of my recovery. Now I can leave it on the wall, look at it, and appreciate all the work she put into it. This was her way, I believe, of telling me she loved me and she was sorry, not for getting sick, but for what that sickness drove her to do to me. She never, ever, was able to express her feelings easily with words. So she showed me, in countless ways, as she did once in December 1993.

“Where the hell is that $300 I put away for safekeeping? If you kids want any Christmas presents, you’d better help me find it now,” I shouted, panicking at the thought of losing my hard-earned cash. I was so scattered sometimes. I was perfectly capable of misplacing it.

“Found it, Mom! Don’t you remember when you hid it in this book? Well, here it is. Aren’t you glad I’m as honest as I am?”

“Yes, Angie, my darlin girl, I am. And thank you!”

Years are passing by, and sometimes it’s hard to remember her as she was. But when I look at the tapestry she made, I remember:

Angie had a fascination for all things Asian—Chinese, Japanese, it didn’t matter. She loved the grace and flow of much of the artwork. She copied a simple series of flowers. But she did it not with paint or pencil or pen; she cut out every pistil, not completely detailed, a few sepals in place, the rest scattered, all the ovaries in different colors for contrast, every leaf, in varying sizes and colors, every stem, and glued it all together on a piece of gold cloth. It looked just like the picture in her book.

I treasure this gift she made. The tapestry is twelve years old, and sometimes a petal comes unglued and I have to put it back on. I should put it under glass to preserve it. I wish we could put our children under glass—to keep them safe.

I would soon discover, though, that no matter what I did for Angie it would never be enough to protect her from the illness that was consuming her.”

The Healing Memoir

It was a pleasure to listen to John Evans on Friday’s NAMW Teleseminar. My recovery memoir exemplified a number of the kinds of writing he talked about in the interview with Linda Joy Myers: writing for healing and transformation; affirmative writing; legacy writing; and transactional writing.

A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore began as an attempt to heal from the pain of my daughter’s drug addiction. But as I dug deeper into those dark places he referred to, I uncovered many more truths about myself that I was ready to expose and come to terms with. This isn’t automatic for many memoir writers; indeed, this is often that terrifying place where the writing process stops and they back away, hoping to revisit another time.  Readiness comes at a different time and place for all of us, but I’m glad I was prepared to do the work that led to self-discovery and change. The cathartic process of typing ten hours a day for two years until my hands ached with arthritis proved to be a worthwhile effort. The grief around my daughter and my family of origin ceased to be a crippling force in my life, and I’ve truly been able to move on. Anger and depression left me, forgiveness (of self and others) came easily, and most importantly, acceptance of things as they are—without resistance— became my mantra.

Shedding the negativity that had imprisoned me for so many years leads me to another kind of writing that John Evans talked about: affirmative writing. In a way, my whole memoir, from beginning to end, stands under the light-filled umbrella of my recovery. I injected the positive change in me into every chapter as I looked back on my life—not with anger, sadness, and guilt—but with a fresh perspective. Gratitude, understanding, love and acceptance of what is are so much easier to carry. And they’re the big takeaway from my story. It started out in a very dark place, but as the memoir expanded, thankfully, “the light got in.”

John also talked about legacy writing. How do we want people to think about us, and how do we want to be remembered? This brings me to the last type of writing he discussed: transactional writing. This is “getting down to business,” where we address issues on the page with someone else. But the other people we’re talking to need to be listening!

In my case, my siblings have not read the memoir because they fear the opening of old wounds. This is a reflection of where they are in their own healing process. Also, and John mentioned this in his own experience, siblings often have very different memories growing up in the same home. My brother, sister and I are all five years apart, and this was the case with us. Clearly, we’re not all on the same page, and there’s much more healing to be done in my family. But at the same time, some key people in my life haven’t heard my message. When I asked John about this, he assured me that the business was between my text and me—therein lies the benefit. That may be true. Many strangers have read my story and now they know me intimately and even understand me somewhat. But it’s my family that I wanted to know and understand me differently. Perhaps that’s work destined for another place down the road.

So for me alone writing my memoir was a tremendously healing endeavor, and I have indeed found myself transformed by undertaking such an arduous task. This work, to use John’s words, “has helped me move beyond what I thought I couldn’t get over.” I would wish that same clarity and transcendence for all of us!

 

 

Self-Love

Unlocking the key to this is the key to 12-Step recovery, because with it we become empowered to intelligently deal with the addiction of a loved one. In a letter to another parent I said, “ I love my daughter with all my heart and soul. But it’s been learning how to love and value myself that has elevated me from the reality I live with—“elevate,” as in rise above, detach from, avoid becoming enmeshed in and manipulated by the addict. Oh, it’s a sad, sorry catechism we mothers of addicts must learn in order to survive the addiction of a child.

But if we can create even a little bit of distance and objectivity from the problem that is consuming us, we might be gifted with some freedom: to look around us and appreciate (and allow ourselves to be distracted by)) other blessings in our lives, whether it’s a good job, good health, other healthy children, grandchildren, or a sunny day. Life goes on, relentlessly, with or without us. I choose to live well in the time I have left. My recovery has taught me that I deserve to.winds

Whereto, Persephone?

Memoir Excerpt:

“Something snapped in me back in the woods of Virginia. Not because I saw with such clarity what Angie was falling back into. In fact, my wailing in the woods had very little to do with my daughter. Losing her to the madness of addiction was just the final loss in a string of losses I had never properly grieved or shouted out or laid to rest. Loss of self more than anything—that was my greatest loss. I’d been carrying the empty weight of that around since I was a child and I wanted to be free of it.

The way I’d been managing the challenge of Angie’s illness, certainly in the beginning, reflected an unhealthy lack of self-regard much of the time. It wasn’t my load to carry anymore and doing so only slowed my progress in my own recovery. Slowly through a decade of Twelve-Step work I’d become a better person, though being only human, I’ve had plenty of slips. But somehow Angie’s latest relapse pushed me to the front of another perfect storm: of old useless attitudes confronting renewal, growth—and love. Love in all its forms: from detachment with love to a joyful embrace of myself. I was finally letting go of my painful past and moving forward lighter and freer.

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?”

 

Deal From Strength


“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue, an everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.” —Carole King

We all live our lives, savoring our victories and weathering the storms we encounter. Some years are better or worse than others. I’ve been sorely challenged most of my life with family illness and dysfunction, and if it weren’t for the wisdom in this quote I’d be thinking I’m the victim of poor fortune and full of self-pity.

But that’s not the case. I’ve learned the value of keeping a grateful heart and daily jotting down all of my blessings in a journal.

The challenge of addiction is still with me, but I’m not consumed by it, defined by it, or obsessed with it. My focus is elsewhere: on the positive aspects of my life, my joys, and my strengths. It is from this that I am learning to deal my hand. And when I remember to be positive, it’s a winning hand.

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“Blame Is For God And Small Children”

Memoir Excerpt:

“Lately I’ve been reading a few books on suicide: Jill Bialosky’s query into her sister’s suicide (84); and Judy Collins’ heartfelt story about the addiction and suicide of her only child, Clark (111). 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.

God meme

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.”

Carpe Diem

trust the outcome

 

Spending too much time regretting our past mistakes and/or fearing what may happen in the future keep us from looking at what’s right in front of us: the here and now. But the present moment is all that’s real and something we can hold onto. So I will try to be present and attentive to what’s going on right now. That’s how I can relish what’s good in my life and enjoy the ride.

From Hope For Today: September 5:

“…In Step Four I realized I was stuck in the past. My daily thoughts were usually about plans for the next day, week, or even month. I always anticipated tomorrow to the point where it became my today. I’d get so caught up in what I was going to do that I often wasn’t aware of what I was doing now.

After realizing this character defect and asking my Higher Power to remove it, each day I have is usually better than the one before. I give thanks for the little joys in each day. I still make plans, but I don’t let my thoughts erase the present. Anticipation is sweet, but not at the coast of today.

When I look back on this in the context of alcoholism, I understand why I behaved as I did. With all the awful happenings at home, there were many today’s I didn’t want to experience. As a child, I had limited options, so the best way to escape was to flee into the possibility of a better tomorrow. I have different choices now. I know enjoying my day and doing the right thing for myself and my Higher Power is the best plan for an even better tomorrow.

Thought For The Day: Just for today I choose to enjoy all this day has to offer. If I don’t like the offering, I’ll ask my Higher Power to help me adjust my attitude.”

 

“We Are All Broken, That’s How The Light Gets In.”

monsoon red

 

Memoir Excerpt:

“This journey of mine, this parenting journey, would involve going two steps forward sometimes and then three steps backward. It was not vertical progress I was making, but it was progress. And strangely, the more I kept the focus on myself and striving to be happy, the easier it was to let go of my child. I knew I had paid my dues, and I feared no one’s judgment, least of all God’s.

I’ve railed at God many, many times during these dozen years of joy and pain, this God they speak of at Twelve-Step meetings. How many times had I sinned in my life? Many, more than I want to remember. And so the child in me had been sure, earlier on, that I was being punished for all of them. It was my karmic payback. “What goes around comes around,” etc. Indeed, for all of my life, before my breakdown, I had no faith in any thing or any one other than myself. I grew up very lonely and isolated, and if there was a god, he wasn’t paying any attention to me. So I learned to be very independent and self-reliant.

But when I finally found myself on my knees, I felt broken and whole at the same time: broken because my MO for dealing with my problems hadn’t been working; and whole because I finally let myself believe in something outside of myself to strengthen me, to fill in the gaps that were missing in me, and to help me cope. I was starting to develop and cling to a faith that assured me that I was not being punished and that I would be OK in the end, no matter what happened to my daughter. And I realized that fighting Angie’s battles for her was not only a waste of time; it was also useless and of questionable value.

My energies, spent though they were, would be better directed toward reclaiming my own life, which had been sorely compromised in the fight to save my daughter. And in reclaiming my own life, I was bidding for my redemption, long overdue, but just within my reach. This was my journey now, I knew it; I sadly accepted it. I wanted us to be connected but we weren’t. I wanted her struggle to be our struggle, but it wasn’t. I wanted to save her life but I couldn’t. I could only save my own. And I’d keep working at it—or this relentless disease would claim two more victims instead of one.”