shell collection is extensive and surprisingly sturdy. I’ve dragged them around
with me from all my travels over the years. But I’ve run out of space to
display them. And I wonder why I’ve collected so many. What have they
represented to me? Maybe the assurance that something of me will be left
Such a fundamental part of the human condition, the very thing that makes us
human, and separates us from God. It’s ego that keeps us struggling in our
relationships, ego that keeps us from accepting things as they are and feeling
content with what we have. Ego and our willfulness beneath it that traps us in
our restless search to outdo ourselves and others.
it’s ego that makes us want to leave an imprint in the sand.
human beings wrestle with ego, but substance users have found a solution that
elevates them from their soul sickness: losing themselves in substances and
behaviors that provide oblivion for a time. “We want what we want when we want
it.” That tired old phrase smacking of egocentricity and immaturity.
Substance users in their disease are all about themselves. In Alcoholic’s Anonymous, one definition of an alcoholic is an “egomaniac with low self-esteem.”
be “relieved of the bondage of self,” as the Third Step Prayer states in the
Big Book, I’m learning how to nurture a relationship with God and remember my
place in relation to him.
importance is next to nothing in the scheme of things. This keeps me
right-sized and humble.
“As we let go of obsession, worry, and
focusing on everyone but ourselves, many of us were bewildered by the
increasing calmness of our minds. We knew how to live in a state of crisis, but
it often took a bit of adjustment to become comfortable with stillness. The
price of serenity was the quieting of the constant mental chatter that had
taken up so much time; suddenly we had lots of times on our hands and we
wondered how to fill it.”
I’ve learned how to “be still in the
stream.” Obsessing over Angie and living in all her drama was threatening my
health. I was suffering from severe PTSD and endured many other negative
consequences in my life as a result of my constant worry over something I
So, I took
the first three steps in my recovery program. It was hard to do that because I
felt that letting go was giving up on my daughter, not loving her anymore. But
that’s not how I feel now.
Once, not so
long ago, Angie was a loving daughter to me, a college graduate with her whole
life ahead of her. Then, like the great cosmic crapshoot that afflicts millions
of families, she fell out of her life and into substance use disorder. She’s
been lost to us all for a long time now.
my daughter Angie, not the addict that lives in her body, would want me to
reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.
From Hope for Today,
Al-Anon approved literature, January 7:
“One of the first Al-Anon sayings I remember hearing, known
as the three C’s, embodies the concept of powerlessness over alcoholism: ‘I
didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.’…
’I didn’t cause it’ relieves me of any lingering guilt I may
feel: ‘If only I had been a better (fill in the blank), (fill in the blank)
would not have become (fill in the blank).’…
’I can’t control it’ gives me permission to live my life and
take care of myself…
’I can’t cure it’ reminds me that I don’t have to repeat my
insane behavior over and over again, hoping for different results.
I don’t have to search for the magic cure that isn’t there.
Instead I can use my energy for my recovery.”
When we love someone caught in the trap of addiction, we
want to do everything possible to help. That’s only natural. In the beginning
of my daughter Angie’s illness, she enjoyed periods of sobriety, and I gave
myself a lot of the credit because I was so supportive. Then, over time, her
life went south and she went out again. And I was left to feel “What did I do
wrong? I’ve been so supportive!” Again, over time, I learned in MY recovery
group that Angie’s illness had nothing to do with me. And her facing down her
demons and reclaiming her life had even less to do with me.
That’s where the rubber hit the road for me. That’s where I had to do the difficult: lean into acceptance, let go of my own daughter and pray she finds her way back home. A friend used to chide me, “Don’t just sit there; DO something!”
But I’ve done all I can. And I realize that there’s a lot of
strength in surrender.
“Learn to love someone even when
they are unlovable.”
use disorder is commonly accepted now as a brain disease. This pronouncement by
the American Medical Association causes some confusion because the overuse of
substances can cause such unacceptable behavior. It’s difficult to recognize,
much less accept, that our loved ones aren’t always making conscious choices.
They are under the influence of a bewildering array of drugs which influence
them. My daughter, Angie, when she is on drugs, has not even resembled the
daughter I raised. She has been angry, combative, and much worse. Her moral
compass has flown out the window. I have often felt the need to distance myself
from her for my own protection. This is just terrible and so counterintuitive.
We want to protect our children from their disastrous choices. But I paid a
heavy price by putting myself in the line of her fire. I learned the hard way
that I don’t have the power to save Angie from the life she is living. But I do
have the power to save myself.
recovery is not for everyone; I get that. But it has worked for me. One of the
reasons it has worked for me is because an important part of the step work
involves self-reflection. It involves looking at myself in the mirror and
getting to know myself, warts and all. It involves self-forgiveness,
forgiveness of others and letting go of resentments. These are just words, but
in fact, they are difficult actions to take. Some resentments that we’ve been
nursing our whole lives are nearly impossible to let go of. But I have learned
that they will eat away at me, like acid, if I don’t. So it’s worth the effort
to let them go. As I have learned to shed much of the negativity in my life,
I’m learning to like myself better and be comfortable in my own skin. It’s a
slow process—I’ve been at it for eighteen years!—but it has worked to help me
love myself more and feel worthy of happiness.
So how has
that improved relationship with myself affected my relationship with my
daughter? To be honest, not much at all. She’s on her own path, one that I
cannot support or enable. But what it HAS done is allow me to endure the
distance created between us WITHOUT guilt or obsession. What it has done is
convince me that I did the best I could with what I had to raise her, and pat
myself on the back for that. The sad reality is that she got tagged with an
illness that is destroying millions out there. It’s a cruel illness because it
often kills our children (their minds, their spirit, their morality) before it
actually kills them. Knowing now what I know about substance use disorder, I
don’t beat myself up with remorse and an overinflated sense of responsibility.
I continue to tell Angie that I love her because I do. I will always love her
unconditionally, no matter what. The door is not closed; it remains open for
her to embrace recovery and come back to her family. That will never change. As
unlovable as she is when she’s using drugs, I will continue to love her while
there’s breath in my body.
meantime, my recovery is enabling me to bridge the gap between what I’ve lost
and what’s left. I have two other children, beautiful grandchildren, a loving
partner, siblings and many friends who remind me what a gift it is just to be
alive. Jenny Jerome Churchill said it
best: “Life is not always what one wants it to be. But to make the best of it
as it is, is the only way of being happy.”