marilea.rabasa@gmail.com

A Good Daughter

From Courage to Change, September 4: “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 couldn’t control. 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. But 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. I believe this with all my...

The Three C’s

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,...

Loving Them/Loving Ourselves

“Learn to love someone even when they are unlovable.” Substance 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. Twelve-step 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....

Gifts Of The Season

Twenty years ago, my talented Vietnamese student cut out most of the letters for this poem I wrote and he fashioned it into the shape of a tree:              The Christmas tree is a sight to see,              All decorated up ornamentally.              The bulbs all colored, the lights all bright,              I love to watch it late at night.              The gathering of gifts and family I see              As a child of five in my memory.              And now the gifts have come back to me,              Hanging here on this Christmas tree. There aren’t enough branches on the tree for all the gifts in my life. How about you? I haven’t forgotten about the daughter I miss. But I’m happier when I count my blessings. Happy Holidays to all my dear...

The Benefits Of Self-Reflection

When I go to bed at night I ask myself, “Did I do the best I could today?” Sometimes my answer is “yes” and sometimes it’s “no.” I read somewhere that a life without regret is a life without reflection. So if I’m able to think about my actions—sometimes with regret and sometimes with pride—then I feel that my awareness in itself can be a source of strength. It points the way for me to change when it’s necessary. And it boosts my self-confidence when I can recognize—and give myself credit for— a day well...

Attitude Is Everything

The miracles of recovery just keep flooding into my life, like a welcome storm after a long dry spell. The world around me, and the people in it, remain the same in many ways. The world still turns. But I’m not the same. My perceptions are different, and I see people and events through a different lens. I used to feel intimidated and defensive around my husband’s family. But we recently had a wonderful visit together. I enjoyed their company thoroughly. It is with great relief that I realize the problem was never with them; it was with me. And to be able to own that now, and move on comfortably, is but one of the gifts of my growth in recovery. I’ve heard it said that ours is a disease of relationships, and I agree. How substance use disorder of all forms tears through relationships—mother and child, husband and wife, father and son—and gets in the way of healthy communication. The twelve steps of recovery, when practiced diligently, offer so much hope for change. And that change is reflected in how we relate to those around us. Not every day and not completely. But it’s progress I’m making, not perfection I’m seeking. The willingness to grow along spiritual lines is enough for me. And it brings me closer to the peace and serenity I strive...

Loosen Your Grip!

White knuckling it through life is exhausting. Different methods to relax work for different people. Yoga, prayer, knitting, running, reading, listening to music—the list is endless. The best thing for me to relax is the Serenity Prayer. It has become my mantra: “God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.” I embrace this prayer in big and little ways every day. Its wisdom keeps me right-sized and humble, while at the same time encouraging me to make changes in my life that are within my reach. We are all challenged, of course, by the last line. That’s why I keep going back to recovery...

Guilt And Redemption

“This journey of mine, this parenting journey, would involve going two steps forward sometimes and then three steps backward. It was not vertical progress I was making, but it was progress. And strangely, the more I kept the focus on myself and striving to be happy, the easier it was to let go of my child. I knew I had paid my dues, and I feared no one’s judgment, least of all God’s. I’ve railed at God many, many times during these dozen years of joy and pain, this God they speak of at Twelve-Step meetings. How many times had I sinned in my life? Many, more than I want to remember. And so the child in me had been sure, earlier on, that I was being punished for all of them. It was my karmic payback. “What goes around comes around,” etc. Indeed, for all of my life, before my breakdown, I had no faith in anything or anyone other than myself. I grew up very lonely and isolated, and if there was a god, he wasn’t paying any attention to me. So I learned to be very independent and self-reliant.  But when I finally found myself on my knees, I felt broken and whole at the same time: broken because my MO for dealing with my problems hadn’t been working; and whole because I finally let myself believe in something outside of myself to strengthen me, to fill in the gaps that were missing in me, and to help me cope. I was starting to develop and cling to a faith that assured me that I was...

Leave The Past There

From Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature, p. 216: “Look back without staring.” It’s important to understand where we’ve come from, what was done to us and what we did to others. There might be many lessons for us in the past. But the time to apply them is now. If I can learn from my mistakes and try not to repeat them, then they have value. Making amends is a good thing; but they’re words. Of far greater value, to me, is the practice of living amends. We can’t do anything to change the past, but we can try to do things differently now. Of particular importance is my ability to let go of resentments when they crop up. Sometimes I find myself holding onto my anger, even clinging to it. But such behavior is a big threat to my serenity. An oft-heard saying in the rooms of recovery: “Having resentments is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Holding onto resentments hurts me the most. Bearing grudges toward people or over events from the past is a heavy undertaking. It’s that knapsack full of stones (boulders for some) that is burdensome to carry. When I set it down and free myself of its weight, there’s a lightness in my steps, and my days flow more easily. This is another example of how I’m striving to live well. For all  of us familiar with the living death of drug addiction, the value of life comes into sharper focus. How I live mine, today, will bring me the peace and serenity I...

Sometimes, Loving Is Enough

From Hope for Today, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature,August 14: “Holding on to anger, resentment, and a “poor me” attitude is not an option for me today…Remembering that alcoholism is a disease helps me see the person struggling beneath the burden of illness.” It’s so simple to give in to anger. Losing a loved one to addiction is pure hell. I’ve cried out against everyone: God, all those who stigmatize and judge addiction, all those who shun my daughter as though it’s contagious, and myself, too, for my misguided attempts to help her by enabling her behavior. Many years in the rooms of recovery have opened my eyes and my heart to the “new realities” of addictive disease. When I was growing up, I thought drug addicts wore tattoos and rode motorcycles. And of course they had to grow up in poverty. When my daughter became an addict, I was sure she would snap out of it. But I was wrong. This disease doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anybody. The American Medical Association has helped by declaring addiction a brain disease. Now that I know my daughter has an illness, there is no room for blame or judgment. There is no room in my heart or mind for anger. I can only feel great compassion for her. And I will always love her. It’s as simple as...