“Detachment is not detaching from the person or thing whom we care about or feel obsessed with.
Detachment is detaching from the agony of involvement.”
Boundaries…boundaries…boundaries. Where do I end and the other person begins? A strong sense of self enables us to set clear limits with others. I was terribly enmeshed in Angie’s life; I had never separated from her in a healthy way. Because we were so alike, I identified with her and felt overly responsible for her messes. Her problems became my problems and it never occurred to me to let her tackle her own issues, both for her betterment and my own.
But thankfully my work in recovery has helped me face myself in the mirror and make some important changes. I made the necessary separation, first of all, from Angie. I no longer feel the “agony of involvement,” as I’ve let go of Angie’s illness and the ensuing consequences of her drug use. I can’t save her from herself. I can only love her and be here for her should she choose to walk with me in recovery.
“While Angie was in Fredericksburg, I really stepped up my attempts to reach her. For one thing, I had an address to mail things to. For another, I thought she might be reachable while she was in Doc’s care. But I see in so many of my communications a dreadful tendency to condescend to her. I still clung to the illusion of control and I wanted her to do things my way.
‘Honor them, Angie, honor them.’ I know what I meant when I said those words to her, reminding her of the moral code I had raised her with. But how she would react to them was a different matter.
Many of my letters to Angie throughout her addiction were pages of barely veiled anger and disappointment. Since she was so sick I didn’t have the heart or the courage to be more honest with her. She saw through the mask anyway. My letters demonstrate how deeply entrenched I still was in needing to fix and control her. I needed to back off and let her find her own way. I kept hearing my mother’s old (imaginary) voice in me: “You can’t let go of her, Maggie. That’s not love. You can’t just stand by and let her self-destruct!”
It’s no surprise that she never answered these letters. Angie was well into her twenties by now and I should have known better anyway. I really needed to do more of what the Program was telling me to do. Even in my own journey of self-discovery, no one could have told me that I was OK. I had to believe it myself. I’ve had a lot of therapy over the years, but none of them worked as well as the Twelve Steps to bring about change in me. And I so wished that Angie could find something in life to give her faith in her own worth—go back to the first twenty-one years of her life—and remember all the things she excelled in and how much ambition she once had for herself. I too wished she could access the love of her whole family. It was such an impotent thing now, I realized, though I once naively thought that my love could pull her away from all this. But there was a masonry wall between Angie and recovery: rough, forbidding, high and difficult to scale. Addiction crippled her with destructive ‘solutions’ to the ache in her soul.” (From A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero)
From Courage to Change, May 27:
“There have been days when many of us felt that good times would never come again. After so many disappointments, it seemed too painful to continue to hope. We shut our hearts and minds to our dreams and stopped expecting to find happiness. We weren’t happy, but at least we wouldn’t be let down anymore.
Caring, hoping, wanting—these are risky. But as we recover from the effects of alcoholism, we may find that the risks are worth taking. In time, it may not be enough to simply avoid disappointment; we want more; we want rich, full, exciting lives with joy as well as sorrow. Just finding the willingness to believe that joy can exist in our lives today can be very challenging, but until we make room in our hearts for good times, we may not recognize them when they arrive.
Nobody is happy all the time, but all of us are capable of feeling good. We deserve to allow ourselves to experience every bit of joy life has to offer.”
“That summer (2009) I wanted her to come visit and see our farm in the Southwest. In she flew from sunny Palm Springs to sunny New Mexico, and it was a joy to have her with us for a few days. Angie is, among other things, a very talented artist, and I asked her to paint a little sign naming our farmhouse Casita del Mar, so named because of my huge shell collection. It still hangs on the post in my front courtyard, though in the years since her visit it has sustained a lot of weather damage.
We had fun, tooling around Santa Fe, and visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. I knew she would appreciate seeing this artist’s work. Angie had a gift for expression, both in the spoken word and in her renderings. As a child she wrote a lot of poetry. She also could capture on paper a face or expression with great accuracy. In art school I was good at drawing elevations and brick walls, but I couldn’t begin to draw someone’s face. Angie had a great gift.
We continued north up the slow mountain road to the Taos Pueblo, where we visited a potter we knew and bought some more of her pieces. The next day we took Angie up the tram on Sandia Crest, where you can see for miles in three directions. Looking out for hundreds of miles—and looking within. I knew I was doing a lot of that in my own recovery, but Angie never shared her recovery work with me. On our last day together we celebrated her birthday at dinner in Corrales. Of course, she had to get back to work. We hugged at the airport and said goodbye. Again, there were so many goodbyes—so much uncertainty. I will never allow complacency into my life again. I will never, ever, take a moment of happiness for granted.”
Silver linings are everywhere in our lives. I try to appreciate them when I see them. My family has lived through four generations of alcoholism, but it wasn’t until my daughter was stricken with drug addiction that I was motivated to go into serious recovery for myself. Losing Angie all these years to this cruel disease has been heartbreaking, and my serenity has come at a very high price. But though I’ll never get over these lost years with her, I like to think that she would be glad that I’ve survived and am learning to live well. This is how I honor her memory. She’s left a few flowers along the way, and I’m grateful.
“Ever since I was a very young child I’d been fragile, like thin ice on a lake—don’t walk on it; you might fall through and drown. My sense of being OK was always shaky when I was younger. Many of us who grow up with low self-worth become chameleons. Chameleons change their color out of fear to protect themselves from predators. We don’t have clear personal boundaries, often not recognizing where we end and others begin. We don’t really know who we are, so we attach ourselves to whomever we’re around, often seeking their approval by pretending to be like them. But like the chameleon who turns green in the jungle, we are afraid to distinguish ourselves. I remember telling Angie back in 2010, ‘I know who I am now.’ Well, that’s an ongoing process.
Now I accept who I am, warts and all. I know that absolute perfection doesn’t exist anyway. My years of growth in the Twelve-Step Programs have brought me out of isolation while I’ve celebrated my humanity. As I dare to take new risks I continue to learn new things about myself. I respect my imperfections because they keep me humble and swimming in the stream of life with other fellow travelers also struggling like me. I am never alone.”
One Day at a Time
When we take the first step in recovery and admit our powerlessness over addiction, we are facing the reality of this disease. We are not dropping the ball and throwing our addict to the wind. That’s how I felt in the beginning, as I continually obsessed over my child and tried to control the progress of her illness. I felt very guilty and overly responsible for what she was going through. I introduced her to rehab four times, always hoping that she would embrace the recovery tools she learned there.
Some addicts “get it” and go on to recover and work at it one day at a time. Angie did get it for various (blessed) periods over the past 15 years, but then she couldn’t hold onto it. I learned many things in the rooms, especially to accept that it’s not my fault and that I must let go of my responsibility and get out of her way. I pray for her to find the spiritual wellness that I have found, but there’s not much else I can do. And I can’t “force the solution” that I want. God has His own plan for her, and for me, and for all of us. I trust in my faith, and that relieves me of my obsession.
“Let go and let God,” twelve times a day
“Most people have rules that they try to live by: a certain moral code that they may have picked up from their parents or others as they grew up…and the best piece of wisdom, I think, is the Serenity Prayer:
‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’
There are so many things in my life over which I have no control: the weather, road rage, barking dogs. Really, the capriciousness of events that surround us is astounding and is perhaps the reason why many people, myself included, need a lot of daily structure to feel grounded and secure. A sound mind, good health and a sense of wellbeing only add to that state. But when illness strikes, all sense of security and control flies out the proverbial window.
My daughter falling ill with drug addiction threw my life into turmoil, and I spent years flailing around like a decapitated chicken trying to make sense of things and gain a sense of control. My life was becoming very messy because I kept trying to influence the course of an illness that had nothing to do with me. Turning my attention to other areas where I could have had an impact would have been more constructive. I know I must continue to accept the unpleasantness as hard as it is because if I don’t—if I fight tooth and nail to get my way—I’ll just make myself crazy. I’ve kept trying to help Angie because I care so much, but it’s a losing battle if the change is beyond my reach. Our addicts may indeed find recovery—and we all pray that they do—but if they do, it will be through their own efforts and commitment, not ours.
The big sticking point, however, for anyone who loves an addict is where and when and why and howinthenameofallthat’sholy can I ever let go? It’s a process we all go through in different ways and at a different pace. There is no right or wrong way. The Twelve Steps have provided me with a useful program for living and given me the guidance I’ve needed to navigate through the difficulties in my life.”