“I’m so grateful I found a way out of sadness, a way to take care of myself each day, and a relationship with the God of my understanding, who will never abandon me. The pain I’ve felt in the past is equal to the measure of joy I feel now.”
That’s quite a mouthful. Whoever wrote those words in “The Forum” is saying that somewhere between despair and happiness she or he did some work, and found some answers. For me, anyway, I entered into a state of grace. I quite deliberately let go of my precious wounds, which served no further purpose in my life. I’ve put my sadness in a back drawer—and replaced it with positive thoughts that keep me motivated to reclaim my life, my remaining loved ones, and keep my heart ticking.
Grief is not a badge I wear anymore. Joyfulness is.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, Conference Approved Literature, 9/27:
“’As we think, so we are.’ We are gifted with the personal power to make thoughtful choices and thus decide who we are. Our actions and choices combine to create our character, and our character influences the circumstances of our lives…Our minds work powerfully for our good. And just as powerfully to our detriment, when fears intrude on all our thoughts.”
Giving in to fear is an abandonment of my faith. And without faith I wouldn’t have a program.
Fear is the basis for many of my problems which can lead to crazy behaviors: panic, and all the irrational choices I make because of it; self-pity, which has led into my own challenges with substance use; guilt and shame, which have led me to lie and dissemble.
I was given the gift of desperation when I entered the rooms, desperate to be happier than I felt at the time. I have accepted now, despite much resistance, that I can’t control the choices of my forty-one-year-old daughter. But I can control my own.
As I continue in my recovery, I am keenly aware of what powerful character builders the twelve steps are. I can work on myself, and be the best me I can be. I can try to improve myself. And whether or not it has an effect on my estranged daughter, it is noticeably affecting the family and friends I interact with today. For that I am very grateful.
My partner, Gene, and I were in a beautiful part of eastern Washington for his nephew’s wedding at the end of last summer. Much of his family gathered from all over the country to celebrate the couple’s happiness and toast to their future.
For what is life for us now? With many years behind us, joyful at times and other times sorrowful, and uncertain of how many more years are ahead of us, what is there now but an appreciation of each day as it unfolds? If I concentrate on today, let go of regrets from the past, and ignore worries about the future, I have the best chance of enjoying the time I’m being given.
My life in recovery encourages me to be grateful for simple things. Sunrises and sunsets, always looking for silver linings.
Though nothing can restore the years we’ve lost with Annie, I feel more and more able to embrace the life around me and revel in the gifts I’ve been given. On my gratitude list this morning: “I thought the rose bush was dead, but a little more water and it’s come back.” Simple things—
How is it possible for me to be grateful, even, to Annie, whose illness brought me into the rooms of 12-Step recovery? How is this possible?
My unsent letter to my child:
Ironic, isn’t it, that you have become my teacher and not the other way around—teacher of life, teacher of love, and beacon of surrender.
I’m so grateful that you were born, even though at times I’ve felt otherwise. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he? Though you haven’t been in my life long, and not always happily, it’s been your very existence that has propelled me into a serenely spiritual life, even happiness. I never would have done the work necessary to reach this place without your inspiration.
You are my child, my teacher. As I’ve stumbled on this rocky path, my thoughts of you have guided me; they guide me still.
All that I’ve become are gifts from you, my daughter: life lessons, trial by fire. How do I honor you?
“Enough is enough when the hurt inflicted is greater than the lesson learned.”
I felt that, because I was Annie’s mother, I just had to put up with things. But underneath that martyred attitude was a shaky self-esteem that whispered to me, “This is what you deserve. It’s your fault.”
When I recognized the truth of that, I became willing to take up the yoke and start working on myself. After many years of working the steps and arriving at a place of self-love, I no longer hear those voices. I’ve gotten my life back, and concentrate on what I can control in my life.
I give thanks, multitudes of thanks, for what I’ve been given. This year on Mother’s Day, I’m able to celebrate myself. And I’m grateful to Annie for getting me into recovery.
“Love is a gift we’ve been given by our Creator. The fact of our existence guarantees that we deserve it. As our recognition of this grows, so does our self-love and our ability to love others…High self-esteem and stable self-worth were not our legacies before finding this program…Had we understood that we were loved, in all the years of our youth, perhaps we’d not have struggled so in the pain of alienation.”
This vignette, entitled “Grace,” from my award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation, affirms my realization that I am a child of God, worthy of love:
“While working… back in 1972, I spent a lot of time at a particular thrift shop… Making only about six thousand dollars a year, I was grateful to have acquired a taste for secondhand merchandise.
For twenty dollars, I bought a large print of Maxfield Parrish’s most famous painting, Daybreak, mounted in a handsome frame. Something stirred in me as I spotted the alluring blues in an obscure corner of the shop where someone had placed the painting. It has held a prominent place over every bed I’ve slept in since that year.
I am the woman lying on the floor of the temple, one arm casually framing her face, shielding it from the sun. Columns support the temple, and there are leaves, water, rocks, and mountains in the background, painted in tranquil shades of blue.
Bending over me is a young undressed girl. I am in conversation with her. My face feels warm and I’m smiling. The setting in this picture is one of absolute calm, beauty, and serenity.
That has been my ever-present wish: to be as watched over and cared for, as it appears that woman was.
All my life, though I wasn’t always awake and aware of it, I have been.” @2020Marilea C.Rabasa
God, in all His magnificence, has always loved me.
This is a newsletter blurb that I picked up where I used to work:
“Regardless of cause, history or contributing factors, feeling guilty about your past role in the development of your child’s problem behavior will risk sabotaging your parenting roles. For a more focused relationship with your child: 1) Recognize guilt as negative, self-talk that is normal, but that can be managed or stopped, 2) Acknowledge that a desire for relief from guilt places you at risk for changing the rules, boundaries, and standards that you want followed. 3) Try to act more consistently and proactively, feel better about tough choices, so that you can be less encumbered by what happened in the past.”
What is negative self-talk? It’s when your son gets arrested for burglary and you say you just didn’t raise him right. You blame yourself, so you bail him out.
My guilt around Annie was very great, and in seeking to relieve myself of it I have too often spoiled her, not followed through on adherence to consequences, and cushioned the falls that might have taught her valuable life lessons.
I’m learning to consider tough choices now instead of easy ones. And I’m letting go of my guilt around my past behavior. But it’s a well-worn groove in my character, and I’ll need to work very hard to let go of it completely.
Steps Eight and Nine—the apology steps—provide an opportunity to learn the difference between what is and is not our responsibility and to take a more realistic look at the effects of our actions. In my case, my sense of responsibility was inflated. So when I crossed the line and tried to fix her, to relieve my anxiety, I messed up. In my desperation to be feel better, I became the consummate enabler. I felt I had to punish myself because my daughter’s substance use disorder must have been my fault. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I’ve learned to let go. It’s a journey to freedom that parents will make in their own way and at their own pace.
My sponsor often scolded me when I put myself down, even slightly. Until I got into recovery, low self-regard followed me most of my life. I had some bad habits that needed correcting. If I had a hard time accepting myself, how could I expect anyone else to?
Thank goodness I found the rooms of recovery before I grew too old to reap the rewards! The twelve steps, when practiced with the help of my sponsor, have brought miracles of transformation into my life. I’m so grateful that I’ve remained teachable and not too set in my ways.
I, along with millions of others in our fellowship, have found the courage to change. We only get one chance to go around the block, and it’s never too late to try to do better. My life and relationships have grown richer and more rewarding as a result.
There was a time in my life when genuine joy was a foreign concept to me. Now, upon waking, each day is a new beginning, a chance to check my attitudes, my words, and my behavior.
The three A’s: awareness, acceptance, and action. Each night before my head hits the pillow, if I’m following my program, then I know I’ve done the best that I could do. I especially need to watch what I say because words can’t be taken back and they often do much harm. So, I try to be mindful that my words reflect the best in me.
Other people can be mirrors for us, and if I pay attention, I learn through my every interaction with others what is working and what is not. My program offers an endless array of guidelines to help me make the most of my life.
My joyfulness, on any given day, springs from that.
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 down this recovery road until halfway through my life when my daughter fell ill with substance use disorder.
I was 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. 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 struggling 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 cost me my health and my 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 of her disease, but I can work hard to be healed 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 twenty 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 talked about 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 the 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 that HP is running the show the way he is. I just have to get out of the way. 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 of whatever I get. 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. I’m learning how to dance in the rain.
Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps back, one step forward.
“Progress, not perfection.”
It’s the striving—the journey—that matters. And though we get tired from all the struggle, it’s that very work that builds up our resistance to life’s challenges. Substance use disorder, whether it’s in us or a loved one, is a huge test of our mettle. And like many difficult things, we don’t always get it the first time.
I didn’t. With my daughter, I kept thinking that I needed to be in control because she wasn’t making good decisions. But what I’ve learned on my recovery journey is that I don’t have control over another adult’s life, and least of all while they are under the influence of drugs. As painful as that reality is, I do accept it now.
Do I waver? Am I human? Am I tempted to keep trying something else? Of course!
That’s why I keep coming back—to listen and learn.