along the line of development we discover what we really are, and then we make
our real decision for which we are responsible. Make that decision primarily
for yourself because you can never really live anyone else’s life, not even
your own child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life and what you
become yourself.’ ~Eleanor Roosevelt”
recovery work, I’m learning to take better care of myself. I’m making wiser
choices, living better, and embracing my life. Firm boundaries, healthy
perspectives, daily gratitude are just a few of the tools that help me live
well. In this way I’m trying to be a good example to those who come after me.
leave footprints somewhere. We have stories to tell. We all leave a legacy.
“’I look in the mirror through the eyes of the child that was me.’ ~Judy Collins
a wonderful memoir called Sanity and
Grace, about losing her son to suicide and almost losing herself to
alcoholism. She is an adult child because she grew up with the disease.
is similar to my story. And as the mother of an addict, my own history played
too heavy a role in how I reacted to my daughter Angie’s illness. I was certain
that she got her addiction from me and I felt overly responsible. That put me
at risk and caused me to move boundaries over and over. I lost my way as her
I learned in my recovery that her addiction isn’t my fault. “I didn’t cause it,
I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” If we say that often enough and start
to believe it—like a mantra— we can let go of any guilt that may be weighing us
down. We already have enough heartache to deal with.
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice — though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. “Mend my life!” each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voice behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do — determined to save the only life that you could save.
underestimate the power of self-awareness to put past experience into a new
perspective…Until we take the time to look at ourselves honestly. we may never
be free of the bondage in which alcoholism holds us captive.”
As the mother of
an addict, I was focused completely on my daughter Angie and her problems. In
the beginning of her addiction, I failed to see that how I handled the chaos in
my home might have more to do with me than with her. I didn’t realize what a
powder keg my past was bringing to an already explosive situation.
My own history
of substance abuse played a big role in my reactions. Whoever said “Blame is
for God and small children” forgot about me. I thought Angie’s illness was my
fault. I burdened myself with guilt and an inflated sense of responsibility,
and that burden crippled me when dealing with the consequences of her bad
choices. I often lost my own moral compass, the one I raised her to follow.
That guilt put at risk all the healthy boundaries I had set in place with all
of my children. I became lost.
Much of my
behavior was a misguided attempt to protect my daughter. I became
overprotective, and shielded her from the logical consequences of many choices
that might have taught her some valuable life lessons.
I did step up
and put her through four rehabs. I was happy to do that and so hopeful. But
after she got out and relapsed every time, I fell back into old patterns. I
didn’t see how I might be part of the problem.
My enabling just
kept her stuck, and I became stuck too in a vicious cycle that wasn’t helping
either one of us. I needed to distance myself just enough to learn how to
detach from my daughter. To do it lovingly and without any judgment.
It’s a fine line
we mothers walk between protecting our children and letting them go to learn
how to live well. Since so many addicts stop growing emotionally when they
start using, it’s easy to step in and do too much for them. There’s nothing
easy about what we face with our children.
But the more I
learn about myself, the more armed I am to avoid the pitfalls along the way. As
I find the need to change much of my behavior, so do those around me. My
recovery has affected all those I come into contact with. And it has “freed me
of the bondage that had held me captive” all of my life, so that I can let go
of the past, and more effectively deal with the challenges that face me now.
“Surrounded by other recovering people, we are learning how to heal our broken hearts and create healthy, productive, joyful lives…(our program) has led many of us to serenity, fellowship, and relief from loneliness and pain.”
Because of the stigma and shame surrounding all forms of addiction, many of us have kept our loved one’s problem (or our own) shrouded in secrecy. I did most of my life, and only in recent years have I dared to share my family disease with the rest of the world. I realized that until I faced the dreaded subject and learned more about it, it would continue to rule me and my family.
“It” is addiction and all of its effects and consequences. They are far reaching, especially for the family of an addict. And they can become terribly complicated as we become enmeshed in the lives of those we love. Being in the rooms of recovery has helped me untangle the mess.
That’s why a number of programs have been so valuable to many of us who suffer. We break out of our isolation and share our stories with others like us. We gain valuable perspective by listening to others. Our self-esteem soars as we see others listening to us and validating our experiences. We are offered compassion and understanding inside the rooms when it may be hard to find either of those things on the outside.
And we begin our journey toward getting our lives back when once they seemed to be lost.
When Angie was in her last rehab in 2009, I flew across the country for Parent’s’ Weekend. After excitedly showing me around the grounds, she bumped into a couple of new friends.
“Hey Angela, show us more of those moves.” Angie still enjoyed showing people what she had been able to do as a gymnast in Greece.
“Sure,” she said, proud of her agility. She showed us, among other things, a backward twist that must have been difficult then. She wasn’t ten anymore.
When she leaned backwards toward the floor, her hair fell back and I saw the scar. She must have had an accident when she sustained a deep gash around her hairline in the middle of her forehead.
When Angie was a child, she looked like a beautiful mandarin doll. She always had a thick pile of bangs to frame her oval face. But her hair didn’t fall that way anymore because of the scar and she could no longer wear bangs.
The last time I saw my daughter was in 2012. She was still using, and since then has cut herself off from her family. But I wanted to see her and stayed in a San Francisco motel very near the hostel in the Tenderloin where she was living. She was to spend a night with me and had a key to the room. It was five in the morning when I heard her unlocking the door, and I jumped up to open it.
“Hi honey. I need to get back to sleep.”
I have a picture of her sitting on my bed the next morning, her hair pulled to the side and held with a clip.
She looked so strange—like someone else—without those lustrous bangs. But of course she was…