Suffering Is Optional

From Hope for Today, January 30:

“The alcoholic was obsessed with alcohol, and I was obsessed with the alcoholic. I watched, monitored, controlled, and exercised my need to feel hurt. I felt self-pity, embarrassment, superiority, resentment, and anger. All of these took obsessive turns filling my mind and heart. I wondered why I indulged in these draining behaviors and emotions, which only resulted in further misery for me.

In Al-Anon I began to realize that wretchedness and gloom, though familiar and comfortable to an extent, were optional. Serenity is possible with changes in my attitude, expectations and responses. Today I want to exercise my option to be happy, to feel calm and good.”

I indulged in these draining behaviors because I was sick too, a fact that many of us find very hard to accept. Joining this recovery fellowship has been a real education for me, as I gradually learned that loving an addict and/or living with him/her has taken a powerful toll on me in ways that I often couldn’t see. What may have appeared to be healthy coping mechanisms when I was a child—trying to control the chaos around me, for example—has become a losing battle when I’ve tried to take control of the addict I love. “My life had become unmanageable…” Yes, when I needed pills to go to sleep. Yes, when I couldn’t afford many things for myself because I was giving money to my addict. Yes, when  I took responsibility for the tragedy of addiction, isolating myself behind a curtain of shame, like a bad person, certain that God was punishing me.

Now, I sleep at night. Now, I sometimes treat myself to things. Now, I don’t feel responsible or ashamed. Now, I know I’m a good person. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

And therein lies much of my happiness: acceptance of what is and faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. My Higher Power, far from punishing me, walks with me always. I just have to offer Him my hand.

Stormy Weather

The road to my spiritual life began when I was a young child growing up in an alcoholic family. But I didn’t start to walk this road until halfway through my life when my daughter fell ill with drug addiction.

I was very unhappy growing up. It’s a classic story of family dysfunction that many of us have experienced as children. But back then I didn’t have Alateen to go to. My father was never treated and died prematurely because of his illness.  I, too, was untreated for the effects of alcoholism, and grew into an adult child.

Many of us know how rocky that road is: low self-esteem, intense self-judgment, inflated sense of responsibility, people pleasing and loss of integrity, and above all, the need to control. I carried all of these defects and more into my role as a mother to my sick daughter, and predictably the situation only got worse.

I was a very hard sell on the first three steps of Al-Anon, and my stubbornness made me ill and cost me my teaching career. But once I did let go of my self-reliance, my whole life changed for the better.  The Serenity Prayer has been my mantra every day. I’ve learned to let go of what I can’t change. I don’t have the power to free my daughter Angie of her disease, but I can work hard to heal from my own.  This is where I’ve focused my work in the program.

My daughter has gone up and down on this roller coaster for fifteen years, and right now she’s in a very bad place. But that has only tested me more. My faith grows stronger every day when I release my daughter with love to her higher power, and I am able to firmly trust in mine.

Friends of mine ask me, “How do you do that? You make it sound so simple!”  I tell them, “First of all getting here hasn’t been simple. It’s the result of years of poisoning my most important relationships with the defects I mentioned earlier. I knew I had to change in order to be happy. Secondly, I fill my heart with faith-based unconditional acceptance of whatever happens in my life. It’s my choice.”

Somewhere in my readings, someone wrote “Pain is not in acceptance or surrender; it’s in resistance.” It’s much more painless to just let go and have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. There’s a reason why my higher power is running the show the way he is. I just have to get out of the way—because I’m not in charge. I also read somewhere the difference between submission and surrender: submission is: I’ll do this if I get XYZ; surrender, on the other hand, is unconditional acceptance.  Well, the latter is easier because I’m not holding my breath waiting for the outcome. I just let go – and have faith. Again, it’s a very conscious choice.

We all have different stories. What has blessed me about a spiritual life is that I can always look within myself and find peace regardless of the storms raging around me.

What Do You Mean, Accept?

From Hope for Today, February 3:

“How ready and willing am I to invite the transforming power of acceptance into my will and my life?

‘Al-Anon offers us a new beginning…We can learn to accept ourselves and become willing to change our attitudes for the better.’”

On the topic of addiction, there are a myriad of things to accept—or not accept. I recognize that this topic invites debate. But I believe that addiction is a brain disease, and accepting this as true has simplified my life a great deal.

It has enabled me, for one thing, to take the first step in my recovery program, admitting my powerlessness over addiction. I’m powerless over all illnesses. I can assist my loved one to get help, but I can’t wave a magic want and wish her illness to go away. Just like a diabetic, my daughter Angie needs to take her medicine if she wants to manage her illness and stay healthy.

So, this is my truth. Avoiding it and continuing to deny, judge, control, and enable only add to the sorrow and suffering I’m already going through. For me, acceptance and faith go hand in hand, and practicing them both on a daily basis lightens my load a great deal and improves the quality of my life.

Loosen Your Grip!

From From Survival To Recovery, page 268:

“Living fully requires enough trust to release our manipulative, tight-fisted control of life, for only then can we accept the guidance of a Power greater than ourselves. For adult children of alcoholics, our damaged, devastated trust has to be healed and nurtured bit by bit until we feel safe enough to truly let go and let God. Trust does not come from reading a book, however inspired, but from experiencing new relationships in which we are trusted and we can learn to trust those around us…If we willingly surrender ourselves to the spiritual discipline of the Twelve Steps, our lives will be transformed…Though we may never be perfect, continued spiritual progress will reveal to us our enormous potential…We will laugh more. Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves…”

“We will laugh more.”  How can I, beset by depression and instability for many of my early years, come to revisit my life now from another perspective? How have I learned how to laugh and see the comedy in things? What has enabled me at last to live well and be happy?

Being in the rooms.

But I hasten to add that we can learn the same tools elsewhere: the tools of letting go and accepting what we can’t change; the tool of gratitude (a big one—half the world is starving; I have enough food and a roof over my head); the tool of detachment and understanding our personal boundaries in relation to our addict.

I might have been luckier, like many of you out there, and learned these tools in a happy, functioning family when I was growing up. But I didn’t; I learned them later.

And it’s never too late to learn how to be happy.

The Healing Power Of Love

None of us is perfect. We all come into parenthood with different baggage. But we love our children. We do the best we can with what we have. But we love our children. And it’s the love we grow as parents—like an extra pair of arms to hug them—that will strengthen us to go on. Wherever they are—whether here or in Heaven—we are embracing our children.

Take a break, Moms. Celebrate yourselves today!


When I met my partner, Gene, twenty-four years ago, he was an experienced canoeist, and he loved paddling every summer. So I figured I’d better learn fast. One memorable incident was during a trip to Quetico Provincial Park across the Minnesota border in Canada. It was there that I added a chapter to my “Life Lessons” journal.

Gene and I always went canoeing with his friend, Stewart and his wife, Joan. I didn’t like Joan from the beginning. She talked non-stop, endlessly showing off how much she knew about everything. And worst of all, because I can’t even boil a carrot, she was a gourmet cook.

So the two weeks of wilderness paddling and camping were a challenge for me. At the end of one day, we scouted around for a stellar camping site and I showed Joan the one we had found.

“This island sucks,” she sniffed, “Stew and I’ll stay on that one over there,” she informed us, pointing to another one across an inlet.

“Okay,” I chirped. “See you tomorrow.”

I was awakened in the morning by the smell of smoke in the air.

“Gene, get up!” I screamed, looking across the water. “There’s a fire on Stew and Joan’s island!”

We piled into our canoe and raced across the inlet to find them frantically trying to remove the underbrush from the flames. Soon we heard the Canadian Forest Service arriving by helicopter to douse the area. It took twenty-six hours, but they finally extinguished the fire.

Joan had neglected to stamp out her cigarette while she was shitting in the woods, and, well, shit happens.

She was inconsolable. She loved nature and couldn’t bear to see the results of her carelessness.

The Canadians sent a crew of four, two Ojibwa Indians, the ax man and the pump man, an assistant chief and a chief, both White.  The cost of the manpower and equipment could have exceeded $12,000 if they hadn’t called off the aerial  bomber. It was a particularly dry season that summer in Canada, but they didn’t fine us. We were lucky.

Joan and I had pushed each others’ buttons plenty before that incident. But our esteem for one another began then. I suppose the dark side of our natures enjoys it when our adversaries falter. And I’m no different. But somehow that smug inner smile turned the mirror back onto me, and I didn’t like what I saw.

“Joan Joan, come on,” I insisted, offering her a hug and a shoulder to cry on. “It could easily have been me. I smoke too. Please, don’t be so hard on yourself. It was just a terrible accident.”

She and I hold each other in very high esteem now. This brief confrontation with my darker side opened my heart to appreciating Joan’s good qualities. Maybe it also reminded me how human we all are and how important it is to lift each other up as we pass through life.

Beats bitchin.’

Taking (My Own) Inventory

“Fourth Step Prayer:

Dear God,

It is I who has made my life a mess.

I have done it, but I cannot undo it.

My mistakes are mine and I will begin a

searching and fearless moral inventory.

I will write down my wrongs,

but I will also include that which is good.

I pray for the strength to complete the task.”

When I joined Al-Anon fifteen years ago, I was miserable and desperate to save my daughter from self-destructing. But I was also guilt-ridden and felt overly responsible for the mess her life was in.

Because I was inclined at that point to be overly hard on myself, I did not take this step properly. I focused exclusively on my defects and ignored my strengths. If I had had a program sponsor I would have received the proper guidance. But it took a very long time for this CSR (compulsively self-reliant) Al-Anon to admit she needed help in getting help. “My way or the highway…” Uh, huh, no wonder I was getting nowhere. Fortunately I did finally start to get it and come out of my isolation. It’s been a miraculous journey ever since.

What I love about this step is the inherent balance and demand for honesty. There are few shortcuts to telling the truth. We can hide and distort and rationalize all we want. But brown eyes are brown, no matter how much we want them to be blue.

Facing ourselves in the mirror on a regular basis takes discipline. But for me it’s been the best way to change and grow. As I continue to work on this step, I feel less vulnerable to life’s inevitable challenges. And I’m particularly less vulnerable to the manipulations of others, including my addict.

This is an honest program, and I’m grateful to have discovered the ability to look within. “Happiness (truly is) an inside job.”