“How can I best help the alcoholic? By not interfering when he gets into difficulties. I must detach myself from his shortcomings, neither making up for them nor criticizing them. Let me learn to play my own role, and leave his to him. If he fails in it, the failure is not mine, no matter what others may think or say about it.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.29)
For mothers of addicts, detachment is one of the hardest tools to use. We are inevitably joined through years of raising, nurturing and loving our children as best we could. And when things go so horribly wrong as they do with drug addiction, it’s only natural to question ourselves and how we raised them. Self-blame is common, as we take on too much responsibility for our child’s illness. I myself overcompensated where I shouldn’t have. I felt guilty and that guilt crippled my judgment. I became an enabler, and that prevented Angie from learning from the consequences of her (drug-induced) behavior.
Thankfully, I’ve had years of recovery work to learn how to detach from the pain of watching my daughter self-destruct. I did send her to several rehabs and hoped that a sound upbringing and family love would turn her life around. But ultimately the choice to recover (or not) is hers alone.
I wish I had the power to change her. I wish things were different. But I have two other children who were raised the same way, and they are blessings in my life. I’ve stopped blaming myself, and I’ve learned to accept a situation I don’t have the power to change.
I detach. I move away from obsessing about the pain of losing her. And I focus on the many good things that remain. When I try to keep my attitude positive, my life works better for me.
“A parent never gets over losing a child, Carlos. I’ve learned how to be happy and make the most of my life. My recovery Program is strong. But I’ll never stop missing Angie and all her possibilities. Never.
When addiction claims our loved ones, we often feel resentful. It feels to us like we had been tagged, even though we had run as hard as we could. It’s taken me a few years to get to a place where I don’t feel angry or gypped anymore. My lot is no better or worse than any other mother’s whose child was struck down by illness. Whether or not she outlives me—as is the law of nature—remains to be seen.
In the meantime, I must remember to watch the mountain turn into a big red watermelon, and enjoy the colors of New Mexico.”
Today is my daughter’s 39th birthday. She made this tapestry for me after her first rehab. She was always interested in Oriental art and designs. I think the simplicity fascinated her.
For a long time I couldn’t look at it. In my early recovery, I was still wedded to the “If onlys.” But over time, I’ve learned to let go of “might have beens” and appreciate what is.
I hang the tapestry proudly on my wall now. It’s one of many of my happy memories of her. I had twenty-one years with her as my daughter before addiction hijacked and transformed her.
I’m grateful for the good years I had with my daughter.
I love her.
“Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are the three primary principles in laying down a solid foundation for recovery. Honest with oneself. Being open to a Power greater than ourselves and willing to take certain steps.”
For a long time I avoided looking in the mirror. I used to walk down a busy street and turn my head away from any mirrors or reflections of myself. Why did I do that? I’m not so hard on the eyes! But it’s not about my physical appearance. I think it goes much deeper than that.
There was much about myself that I didn’t like, but rather than face it squarely I hid it in denial. I didn’t really know myself at all, and I wondered sometimes why I had the problems I had. Especially why other people reacted to me the way they did.
I realized I needed to make some changes in myself, and one of the first steps for me was taking an honest inventory of my defects of character, especially my resentments. They were weighing me down and acting as roadblocks in a number of my primary relationships.
I guess things had to break down pretty badly in my life for me to open my mind to change. And willingness followed easily because I wanted to be happy. Without healthy relationships with my loved ones, I wasn’t.
I will always be grateful to have found my recovery fellowship. It’s there that I learned the tools to live well and strive to be happy. One day at a time, I work hard to be honest with myself and others, remain open to the need to change something about myself, and be willing to do the necessary work.
The rewards just keep pouring in!
STEPS: Solutions. To. Every. Problem.
“If we have Al-anon, there is no need to stand in our own light and try to solve our problems in darkness. The ways and means that Al-anon offers have lighted the way for so many thousands of despairing people that no one can question their power. “When I am faced with a problem that seems impossible to solve, when I feel trapped in a situation and can see no way out, let me ask myself whether I am standing in my own light. I must find the vantage point where I can most clearly see my difficulty as it is; then answers will come.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.297)
The 12-Steps are my guidelines for living. There is so much I’ve learned: about powerlessness, about faith, about honesty and the importance of making amends, about owning up to my mistakes on a daily basis and trying to make things right, and finally, I tell others how I’ve learned to be happy and appreciate my life, despite my losses.
I might have picked up these tools for living elsewhere. I happen to have found them in recovery fellowships.
I got my life and my sense of humor back. No small accomplishment. And I’m grateful.
“When the guilt of the alcoholic explodes, I must realize that it is always aimed at those nearest, and often dearest. I want to remind myself that such outbursts only reveal the drinker’s own unhappiness. I will not make the situation worse by taking seriously what the alcoholic says at such times.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.55)
I can think of two run-ins I had with loved ones recently because they were in a bad mood and I was handy. Instead of internalizing it as though it were my fault—and overreacting badly—I might have brushed it off and tried to brighten their mood a little.
Next time I’ll try to.