“My daughter’s choices: none of my business. If she were an ax murderer, would it be none of my business? Let it go, Maggie; you are separate people, remember? I told myself. 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?”
Most of us have experienced the pain of substance abuse, either directly or indirectly. It’s everywhere in our society, and addiction in all its forms has the power to take away our happiness and wellbeing. My daughter Angie has scrambled in and out of the rabbit hole for over fifteen years, and much of the time I was in it with her. But I’ve learned to let go of a disease and its ensuing consequences that I have no control over. Yes, let go.
Once the tears have dried and we can open our eyes, maybe we can look around us and see what’s left from all the chaos and devastation: a job we like, flowers that are blooming, other family members, good health, enough money to be comfortable, friends who care and don’t judge us. The list goes on. These little girls are my great joy lately, and if I didn’t have them I hope I could find the courage to celebrate something else—anything else—in my life. Because time passes too quickly, and before we know it, ours is up. Life is too precious to waste.
“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 that I was powerless 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.”
“Forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it just makes me free.”
We’ve heard all the sayings along this line: ‘right vs. happy,’ etc. When I think of how many battles I’ve gotten into—fueled by my own ego and my need to win—I feel dismayed at the wastefulness of good energy. How we humans get in our own way! Well, because I’m human, I still fall into the trap. But the three A’s—awareness, acceptance, and action—help dig me out of that hole. When I slow down—and get off automatic pilot—I allow myself to behave differently. And I’m happier as a result.
From Hope for Today, May 19:
“If we live each day to the best of our ability, we will soon find that we don’t have time to worry about the future or regret the past. We will be too busy enjoying life.”
“It wasn’t until I was tested as her mother that I found my ability to harness any faith at all. My sadness as a child paled before my growing despair as an adult child. The journey I’m on now has given me fresh new insights as I’ve confronted myself and understood where I have come from. My journey has in turn helped me understand where I have taken my own family. What was given to me has been passed down to my children. Yet I understand now that I could not have turned out differently, nor could I have been a different parent. My behavior as an adult was scripted from my childhood. What I need now is faith in something outside of myself to help me carry the burden—and gratitude that I’m finally able to ask for help. My faith has everything to do with turning over my self-will and accepting the will of another. I have found peace and serenity in acceptance of life as it is happening every day. Letting go and handing over the reins has given me the freedom to live my own life now without feeling shackled to the past or frightened of the future.”
From Courage to Change, March 12:
“What does another person’s mood, tone of voice, or state of inebriation have to do with my course of action? Nothing— unless I decide otherwise….
Detachment with love means that I stop depending on what others do, say, or feel to determine my own well-being or to make my decisions. When faced with other people’s destructive attitudes or behavior, I can love their best and never fear their worst.
‘Detachment is not caring less, it’s caring more for my own sanity.’”
Well, it took me a long time to get to this place, where I felt I deserved to be sane and healthy. I needed to shed a lot of baggage—things like guilt, low self-worth, and the thrill of martyrdom—in order for Al-Anon to work its magic on me. Guilt, in particular, cripples us and puts at risk when we need to set limits. Not until I did this was I able to set healthy boundaries with the people in my life. Like all card-carrying codependents, I didn’t know where I ended and the other person began. I was enmeshed in everyone’s difficulties, Angie’s most of all, which effectively kept me from facing myself in the mirror and dealing with my own defects and resulting problems.
I’ve learned many healthy life skills in my program of recovery, and I would pass them on whenever I could. As Forest Gump’s mom would say: “Life is a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.” That’s true of course. But the secret of being happy is making the best of what you get, no matter what that may be.
“Angie stayed in this rehabilitation facility through Thanksgiving. She had a permanent catheter, called a picc line, in her arm that they pumped antibiotics into two times a day. She had been very, very sick, and this was standard procedure to flush her body clear of the infection in her groin. Xavier and I brought her a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and we gave thanks that she was still walking among us. Silently we prayed to the Lord God Almighty that this second near-death experience would be the end of all our trials and that she would be ready and able to embrace life now.
But I no longer gave God lists of what I wanted. That’s not how faith works. I was not in charge—He was. I had spent too many years hopping on and off this freight train to hell, and I wanted, I deserved, some peace in my life. Only by turning my willful, arrogant self over to Him would I be able to achieve the serenity, now and again, that they talk about in the Program.
And so, several years ago, I started keeping a daily gratitude journal. At its worst, it’s a distraction from the pain of losing someone you love. At its best, it’s a transformative tool. Every day when I wake up I write down something to be thankful for: from the gift of my grandchildren, to my favorite rosebush, now in full flower. And as the list grows, so, too, does my sense of abundance.
It’s all so true: my attitude about my life is everything. And I was seeing on this journey of mine that I had a clear and irrefutable choice about how to live what was left of my life. I didn’t want to be miserable anymore. It was my decision when I brought Angie home from that rehab facility to be happy. And I still feel that way. It all depends on how I choose to see things. And I choose to raise my spirits with a daily remembrance of all the good things in my life.”
From “The Forum,” August 2015, p. 15:
“Going to meetings helped me understand the first step, which I consider the cornerstone of the program. I cannot repay Al-Anon enough for what it has done for me. One thing I did from the very beginning was to serve the fellowship. Service strengthened my recovery and gave me a chance to pay forward what I’ve received.
My loved one has been in and out of sobriety for the more than 25 years since I joined the program, and whether my loved one was sober or not, I never gave up, slackened my attendance, or service to Al-Anon. Today I can accept that my life is important and that I have a choice to continue obsessing or get on with my life. I accept that alcoholism is a disease and Al-Anon helps me to face the disease and not let it get me down. I feel alive because of Al-Anon. Working the Twelve Steps led me to a spiritual life that gives me much peace and joy.”
Lifelines are all around to help us cope with life’s challenges. Exercise, good nutrition, gardening—the list is endless. Fortunately there are many outlets to choose from, and I’ve used all of the above. But the tools—life lessons—that I’ve learned in several 12-Step fellowships have changed me as well as the way that I relate to other people. I’ve heard it said that alcoholism is a disease of relationships, and whether that’s true or not I can certainly see the improvement in how I behave with others. That, in turn, has made me a happier person. So this has been my lifeline, because working the program has made such a big difference in my life.
A friend just sent me this link to a show about a new way to treat addicts in Seattle—a far more humane way to deal with the growing epidemic. Addiction has come out of the shadows, and the conversation is growing. Attitudes will change over time. And the shame and stigma will eventually be replaced by more widespread compassion and an increase in more effective treatment programs.