The Boomerang Of Enabling

A few years ago in one of my support groups in New Mexico, a friend shared how she had to lock everything up in her house. She’d lock the jewelry here, the silver there. She had a different key for every place, and one time she was so flummoxed by her son that she lost all the keys! We laughed together at that one, grateful that we still could laugh.

This is what it comes to for many of us parents. We erect walls to protect ourselves, keeping the addicts out. And then, of course, we feel guilty about doing that.

My daughter Angie used to steal valuables from my home in order to sell them for drug money. It was safer, she thought, to steal from me than from a store. She already knew what an enabler I was; but she was still a thief. And even though her addiction pushed her onto the wrong path, she still should have paid the consequences if she was going to learn and mature. But I let her get away with it.  I deeply regret that.

They will work us, manipulate us, and use every tool in their arsenal to get what they want if they’re still using. Parents are so vulnerable, and they’re walking a fine line between helping their child recover, and enabling them to continue using. We learn eventually to sit frozen in inaction, to do nothing.  We learn to let our addicts be accountable for their own actions, and hopefully learn from the consequences: eviction, jail, or death.

But it’s that last consequence that holds us hostage, keeps us doing for our addict all that he should be doing for himself. We say to ourselves, ‘As long as he’s alive, he can recover.’  True, but when will we ever get rid of our God-like parental power, thinking that his recovery is all up to us?

Lighten Up! Do We Still Know How To Laugh?


From Courage to Change, March 13:

“I’m apt to think of Step Seven—‘Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings’–as a step I take tearfully and on my knees. I’ve had that experience, but I want to entertain the possibility that Step Seven might be taken with joy—and even humor.

Sometimes the sign that I have actually gotten humble enough to ask my Higher Power to remove a shortcoming is that I can laugh about it. Suddenly a past action or decision of mine seems ludicrous and I can stop taking myself so seriously…

So the next time I want to tear my hair out because I haven’t gotten rid of some nagging shortcoming, I’ll try to lighten up and see how silly my intensity can be…

Desperation and pain can certainly lead me to humility, but in Al-Anon I’m cultivating a new and eager willingness to follow my Higher Power’s guidance. Because I am willing, I’m freer to learn from all of life’s lessons, not just the ones that hurt.”

How did I ever get here? When I began my recovery journey I was in so much pain I couldn’t see through the river of salty tears I was drowning in. I was consumed with sadness, alternately watching Angie slowly self-destruct and determining to save her from herself. We all know that unhappy place, and we pray to be released from our sorrow.

I’m one of the lucky ones; I stuck around long enough to learn how to laugh again. “whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not…”

I’m not angry at God anymore and I accept His will for her. I believe He is a force for good—it wasn’t His plan to visit the misery that we read about on people all over the world. His purpose in our lives is to teach us how to rise above it. With acceptance, faith, gratitude and humor.

I laugh a lot these days, at myself most of all. The problems I carry don’t seem very important in the grand scheme of things. Humility has given me a healthier perspective, and I’m thrilled to be able to see the comedy in life. It’s a great leveler.

“He who laughs, lasts.” Mary Pettibone Poole

Taking Care Of Ourselves

Wisdom From The Rooms:

“In Al-Anon we learn how to exchange a wishbone for a backbone.”

Setting and enforcing boundaries with our loved ones is difficult, and can seem harsh at times. But many of us see all too clearly the effects of drug use on our loved ones: the loss of their moral compass which can lead to lying, stealing, verbal abuse and worse, all as a result of flooding their brains with dangerous chemicals. It can become a matter of our survival to stay strong and take care of ourselves, even when that means making excruciating choices. At the end of the day, we owe it to everyone else in our lives to survive and try to live well. Then, God willing, if the addict needs us to walk through recovery with him/her, we’ll be strong enough to do so.

Chasing The Butterfly

From Each Day A New Beginning, July 19:

‘At fifteen, life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.’—Maya Angelou

“We had to surrender to a power greater than ourselves to get where we are today. And each day, we have to turn to that power for strength and guidance. For us, resistance means struggle—struggle with others as well as an internal struggle.

Serenity isn’t compatible with struggle. We cannot control forces outside of ourselves. We cannot control the actions of our family or our co-workers. We can control our responses to them. And when we choose to surrender our attempts to control, we will find peace and serenity.

That which we abhor, that which we fear, that which we wish to conquer seems suddenly to be gone when we decide to resist no more—to tackle it no more.

The realities of life come to us in mysterious ways. We fight so hard, only to learn that what we need will never be ours until the struggle is forsaken. Surrender brings enlightenment.”

Thank you, Amazon customer, for this wonderful review of my book, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pseudonym):

“One of the most honest and insightful accounts to date of a mother’s struggle to win the battle over her daughter’s addiction. Told in unsparing detail, it takes us step by step through the dark tunnel of despair with all the triumphs and mistakes on the road to recovery. It is an inward journey that reveals three important concepts: understanding the powerlessness of addiction, the willingness to let go and the courage to change. This is not just a recovery book but a riveting story from beginning to end that flies in the face of despair and embraces the strangest paradox of all – absolute surrender in order to win.”   ~Claire Demers

The Poison Of Resentment

I think we often forget how much carrying resentments burdens us. As they say,”It’s like swallowing poison and waiting for the OTHER person to die.”

It’s only natural to feel angry sometimes, to develop a resentment. But if we have no control over it, it’s best to let it go. There are many healthy ways to do this: go for a run, write in a journal, confront the person in question and try to talk it out peacefully, turn the resentment over to God; the list goes on. Before I got into recovery I lost sleep a lot, overate a lot, shopped a lot, and buried my feelings a lot. But these are not healthy ways to respond to resentments. And they didn’t go away anyway.

Another jingle I hear in the rooms is this: “expectations are premeditated resentments.” So once I’ve developed a resentment, I take a step back and look at the expectation that probably got me there. And I try to confine my expectations to myself—to people, places and things that I have some control over. Staying in control is important to us, so I try to keep my expectations within reasonable bounds. Staying focused on me is a step in the right direction, and ensures that I’ll have a happier day.

Weathering The Storms

From Each Day is A New Beginning, May 16:

‘It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world’—Dorothy Dix

“The storms in our lives benefit us like the storms that hit our towns and homes and wash clean the air we breathe. Our storms bring to the surface the issues that plague us…Recovery is a whole series of storms, storms that help to sprout new growth and storms that flush clean our own clogged drains. The peace that comes after a storm is worth singing about.”

Growing up surrounded by addiction and falling prey to the disease myself, I was in the veritable forest, unable to see the trees. My deep and overriding love for my daughter forced me to open my eyes and see what was right in front of me. I took a large leap toward healing myself so that I could be well enough to enjoy all my blessings. As I conclude in the final chapter of my memoir, “What could be a better testament to Angie, to all her gifts and possibilities, than to go forward with my life savoring every moment?”

Many friends in Al-Anon have expressed gratitude to their addict/alcoholic for getting them into the rooms of recovery— these same friends who, like me, deeply mourn the lost years with our loved one—but who, also like me, refuse to offer another victim up to the altar of addiction. We have made it through the storm, and have found that we have something to sing about.

There Is No Glory In Martyrdom

Early in Angie’s illness, I flailed around in denial, sometimes strong, as when I handed her logical consequences for being abusive. I felt like a moth turned into a butterfly then. But I later added, ‘Oh how this butterfly would flutter and die in the years that followed, as I backtracked over and over again, trading in my courage for equal does of martyrdom.’” ~except from A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Maggie C. Romero

It’s been quite a roller coaster ride these past fifteen years. At first I wouldn’t believe it was really happening. “This sort of thing happens to other people’s children,” I wrote in my memoir. What arrogance! I simply couldn’t accept it.

But when she was living with me and stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down, it was hard to ignore. So for a while I got tough, even told her to live elsewhere more than once. But addicts are, if nothing else, resourceful.

I often write that deep pockets are dangerous, enabling us to be generous and feel good about it. I was able to put Angie through rehab four times, but one time would have been enough to teach her the tools of recovery. For recovery to be successful, whether it’s once or ten times, the addict has to be ready.  I was just buying time, trying to keep her off the streets long enough to get sick and tired of being sick and tired.

In the program there’s a wry saying: “Sit there. Don’t do anything.” And so I was the one who was getting sick and tired. I stopped doing anything, mostly because it didn’t really matter what I did. Angie was a runaway train, and I couldn’t stop her in the grips of addiction.

I stopped trying to control a situation that was clearly out of my control. I stopped obsessing and enabling. I started focusing on other people in my life who deserved my attention. I learned to practice gratitude for all I have. And though my changed attitude hasn’t brought my daughter back, it has shown me how to live better.

“We don’t always get what we want in life. But to make the best of what we have is the only way to be happy.” ~Jenny Jerome Churchill

Let Go…And Strive To Be Happy Yourself

Third Step Prayer:

God, I offer myself to thee

to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.

Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness

to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love and Thy way of life.

May I do Thy will always!”

My willfulness has always been my Waterloo. But I never saw it as a bad thing. I saw it as strength, determination, and power—the opposite of weakness.

But I’ve had to modify my will and determination to save Angie. After years of using my strong will and stubbornness to fight a battle that wasn’t mine to fight,  I’ve learned to let go. From well-meaning friends over the years, I’ve heard these comments:

“But how can you drop the ball like that? How can you give up on your own child? She’ll think you don’t love her anymore! How can you be so cruel?”

Those people need to walk a mile or two in my shoes.

The cruelty belongs to the Monster (if it had an appearance), the brain disease, that is claiming millions of our children. After years of educating myself about the nature of addiction, I have settled on my own path to recover from the effects of this illness.

I have  no more power to cure Angie of her addiction than I would have if she had schizophrenia. Drug addiction and co-existing mental illness is very common, and there are many treatments out there. My daughter suffered from depression for years before she turned to hard drugs, and she tried therapy and antidepressants when she was just a teenager. Then when full-blown drug addiction took over, she was in and out of recovery, including four rehabs, for fifteen years. But she’s still out there, in active addiction.

My story with my daughter isn’t unique. Many of us share the same tragedy. But if I’ve learned one thing from all these years of chaos and pain, it’s that life is too precious to waste. I want to make the most of mine with the years I have left. I’m grateful now to make good use of my stubbornness and determination: to live well and strive to be happy.