Addicted To Our Addict

Hands up! Who’s guilty? ME!

Other people’s drama is a great distraction, sometimes, from our own problems. But when it came to Angie’s continuous drama and crises, it almost became an addiction for me, and I couldn’t walk away.

Not until I was so exhausted by it—and convinced that my involvement was helping no one—was I able to say “Enough” and walk away from the storm.

At a meeting a few years ago, a member said that when his daughter was actively using and threatening his well being in any number of ways,  he envisioned himself on a life raft floating at a safe distance from her. Seeing her paddling toward them in a canoe, his wife yelled, “Paddle faster. She’s packing a chainsaw!”

Not everyone has so much drama and/or danger from the addict in their life. But some of us do; some of us need to protect ourselves from the stranger we don’t recognize anymore. And for those of us who need to detach (with love) and walk away, it is an important act of  self-affirmation and love. When we take care of ourselves, we remain strong for the others in our life—and even for our addict—if the day we pray for comes and he/she finds recovery—and comes out of the storm.

My Glass Is Half Full

From Hope For Today, January 23:

“One of the gifts I have received from Al-Anon is learning how to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Before the program I didn’t really understand the true nature of gratitude. I thought it was the happiness I felt when life happened according to my needs and wants. I thought it was the high I felt when my desire for instant gratification was fulfilled.

Today…I know better. Gratitude is an integral part of my serenity. In fact, it is usually the means of restoring my serenity whenever I notice I’m straying from it.

Gratitude opens the doors of my heart to the healing touch of my Higher Power. It isn’t always easy to feel grateful when the strident voice of my disease demands unhealthy behavior. However, when I work my program harder, it is possible.

‘Just for today I will smile…I will be grateful for what I have instead of concentrating on what I don’t have.’”

Accepting life on life’s terms is hard. My daughter has been a drug addict for fifteen years, and I grieve the loss of her in my life every day. The five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—I know them all, and not always in that order.

My path to recovery involved a lot of denial in the beginning and, as it said in the reading, “the voice of my disease demanded unhealthy behavior.”

So I’m grateful now for the serenity and peace that I have in my life. Acceptance is the gift I give myself every day when I let go and give Angie to God. When I remember that my glass is half full, it dulls the ache from losing my precious daughter.

She’s still alive, but I haven’t seen her in almost five years. When they say that there’s always hope, I agree: as long as she’s alive there’s hope for her to recover. But more importantly, there’s hope for me to move on with my life and focus on my blessings. I deserve to be happy, and that’s the only thing that I can control.

Writing A Healing Memoir

A Memoir of Recovery

My memoir about my daughter is a graphically honest portrayal of addiction at its worst. And Angie is still alive, so I was a little fearful of publicity and pictures. But not anymore. Many readers have asked me “What would you do if Angie saw this book someday? Wouldn’t you be horrified?” My answer is this: “No, not at all. The book is not a condemnation of Angie. It is a celebration of life and love.”

In the Introduction, I showcase Angie as she was before addiction corrupted her. She was a beautiful child, young woman, a talented gymnast, writer, artist, and college graduate. And most of all she was a loving and thoughtful daughter to her father and me.

The rest of the book is a portrait of the horrors of addiction and what it does to a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Once addiction took over, this person was no longer my daughter Angie. And I make that clear in the final chapters, how parents must learn to separate their children from the addicts they become in order to keep loving them and deal effectively with this cruel disease.

Love And Loss

Angie made this gift for me when she got out of her first rehab in 2002. I treasure it—ever a reminder that beauty is often born out of loss.

My daughter was a gifted visual artist as well. I keep her renderings all around me because I like to remember what promise she had. This reinforces my certainty that addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing. If she had not succumbed to the living death of heroin addiction, I feel sure that she would living her life along with her siblings, probably doing more creative things.  

Addiction is a tragedy for all families. But we can try to celebrate what was good about our addict’s lives before they got sick. I’m grateful for the years I’ve had with Angie.                        

Freedom From the Bondage Of Self

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 6:

“Wanting to control other people, to make them live as we’d have them live, makes the attainment of serenity impossible. And serenity is the goal we are seeking in this serenity program. In this life.

We are each powerless over others, which relieves us of a great burden. Controlling our own behavior is a big enough job…”

When I took the Third Step, and turned my concerns about Angie over to the God of my understanding, I felt a freedom that I’d never felt before. I stopped trying to control everything so much, stopped trying to play God when that’s not my job. With this freedom comes the faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to, without any help from me. Acceptance of life on life’s terms gives me peace—and the energy to open my eyes and keep moving.

Seeing Through The Tears

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 Scovel 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 from us 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.’”

“Try for;” that’s the key. Who can practice nonresistance all the time? My ego and willfulness have tripped me up most of my life! Like many mothers here, I was a warrior determined to save my child. It’s counterintuitive NOT to be.

But once I accepted that addiction is a brain disease, I stopped fighting so hard to save Angie. I simply don’t have that power. She’s very sick; call it “psycheache,” call it what you want to call it. But she’s thirty-seven years old, and she knows what she needs to do if she wants to live well. It’s her choice. And I have choices too.

Painful words coming from a mother who hasn’t seen her girl in almost five years. But it’s how I choose to live now. This is my second chance to enjoy all the beauty around me. And I want to savor it. 

I will always love Angie, and I pray for her recovery. But, for today, I’m focusing on my own. I believe my daughter would want that.


Attitude Is Everything

From Each Day A New Beginning, November 24:

“If onlys” are lonely—Morgan Jennings

The circumstances of our lives seldom live up to our expectations or desires. However, in each circumstance we are offered an opportunity for growth or change, a chance for greater understanding of life’s heights and pitfalls. Each time we choose to lament what isn’t, we close the door on the invitation to a better existence.”

We all wish things were different in our lives. There’s always something. Who has everything they want? So often, the grass looks greener on our neighbor’s lawn. But if what we want—what we are lacking—is not within our reach, I’ve learned to let it go.

It takes a lot of energy to keep trying to change the way things are. I spent years trying to save my daughter from a disease that was killing her mind and body. But I have neither the responsibility nor the ability to free her of her addiction. She alone has that power.

So I don’t say “If only” anymore. Instead, I open my eyes and my heart to what’s right in front of me: the breathtaking sunrises over Sandia Mountain; my healed tooth infection; “Bela, you’re the best grandma ever!”; celebrating my birthday by skiing and not falling flat on my face! The list is endless. As I say on the dedication page in my next memoir: “If you look for joy, you will find it.”

One Path To Recovery

“We rise by lifting others.” Robert Ingersoll

I grew up in an alcoholic family. There was a lot of dysfunction around me and, to make a long story short, I was severely depressed. That led to a number of other problems, of course, and so my mother got me into volunteer work when I was thirteen, hoping it would relieve my anxiety and sadness. It wasn’t the immediate panacea that we’d hoped it would be, but it was a step in the right direction. And it brought me out of my isolation.

Life unfolded for me in a dizzyingly assortment of ways: there were three children including my addict Angie and all the heartache that goes with her illness; a lot of travel in the Foreign Service; and a fulfilling teaching career. I’ve had a great life and I am very grateful. But through it all, thanks to my mother, I’ve been a volunteer in various different organizations. The work has kept my perspective healthy and made me feel better about myself, something I sorely needed. And it’s taken me most of my life and much 12-Step recovery work to truly celebrate myself fully. Helping others always helps me more.

Happy New Year!

Baby Steps Lead To Bigger Ones

“First Step Prayer:

Dear Lord,

I admit that I am powerless over my addict.

I admit that my life is unmanageable

When I try to control him/her.

Help me this day to understand the true meaning of powerlessness.

Remove from me all denial of my loved one’s addiction.”

The first step is probably the most important one in assuring our recovery from the effects of another’s addiction.  And it’s because I refused to take it that it took me so long to start to recover. I simply wouldn’t accept my powerlessness over my daughter’s disease. I felt as though I would be dropping the ball and appearing not to care about her. I felt that I had to do everything in my power to save her.

So, deep pockets enabled me to put Angie through four rehabs. Deep pockets also had me paying her rent, paying off her loans, paying back the creditors she got into trouble with. All my “help” simply gave her more money for drugs. In short, deep pockets are dangerous. She might have learned something from the consequences of her actions if I hadn’t kept getting in the way.

So yes, my life had become unmanageable. I love Angie very much. So I kept making things easy for her. But we can enable our children to death. Now I’ve let go of all my attempts to control her and her disease.

And I feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.