It’s great to be a giver, a person who thinks of others and can put others first. That’s a beautiful thing. But when my giving compromises my values, drains me, or defeats my purpose, then I need to question my motives.
My guilt crippled me very badly, and in “giving” to my daughter—over and over—I was making a deal with the devil. It backfired badly. And I learned a valuable lesson: work through my guilt first—or it will control me and put my relationship with her at risk.
“Praise and an attitude of gratitude are unbeatable stimulators…we increase whatever we extol.” ~Sylvia Stitt Edwards
“What outlook are we carrying forth into the day ahead? Are we feeling fearful about the circumstances confronting us? Do we dread a planned meeting? Are we worried about the welfare of a friend or lover? Whatever our present outlook, its power over the outcome of our day is profound. Our attitude in regard to any situation attracting our attention influences the outcome. Sometimes to our favor, often to our disfavor if our attitude is negative…The more we lamented what life “gave us,” the more reasons we were given to lament. We got just what we expected. We still get just what we expect. The difference is that the program has offered us the key to higher expectations.”
Or different ones.
I expected my daughter to respond favorably to all the support she was getting from several rehabs and the love of her family. She did for a while. And then she didn’t. Right now substance use disorder has separated her from her friends and loved ones. It’s been her choice to walk away.
I lamented losing her for a long time. And then I got tired of letting this very real tragedy take control of my life. One day I woke up and asked myself a question: do I want to go on being sad for the rest of my life? Or do I want to learn how to live well?
There are too many other people in my life who need me to be well. If I went down the tubes with my daughter, then substance use disorder would claim another victim. I’m too mad at this miserable disease to give it that satisfaction.
So I decided to try to learn how to really live well. Yes, I’ve lost my daughter. And I will always grieve the loss of her. But I have another daughter, and a son, and grandkids, and friends…I have good health…a wonderful guy…and the good sense to feel humbly grateful for all these blessings.
When I keep my attention on all that, my inner spirit glows with contentment.
“’I came for a quick fix and found a way of life.’ ~Bertie P., Florida
As I look back, when I walked through the doors of Al-Anon, I had planned to stay long enough to find out how to get the miracle of sobriety in my home. I’m still there!
I was broken spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I had given up on everything and everyone. A friend dragged me to Al-Anon, but I was sure it was hopeless.
After my first meeting, I was still very angry. How could all those people be happy and smiling? Their homes could not be as bad as mine. Fortunately, I wanted to laugh and smile too. A member, who later became my sponsor, took an interest in me as a newcomer, and I kept coming back.
The slogans and all the tools annoyed me, and I didn’t share. Did I ever have a closed mind! But…I kept going…
I started taking care of myself and gave the alcoholic a choice to get help or go his own way. Five years later, the real miracle was finding me…I learned how to change my life and really live.”
Wishing/hoping/praying that my daughter will tire of her life and seek recovery is holding myself hostage to something I have no control over. And I don’t want to be a hostage. I want to be free. My recovery program has given me the tools to live my life unencumbered by other people’s choices.
“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.”
“Living fully requires enough trust to release our manipulative, tight-fisted control of life, for only then can we accept the guidance of a Power greater than ourselves. For adult children of alcoholics, our damaged, devastated trust has to be healed and nurtured bit by bit until we feel safe enough to truly let go and let God. Trust does not come from reading a book, however inspired, but from experiencing new relationships in which we are trusted and we can learn to trust those around us…If we willingly surrender ourselves to the spiritual discipline of the Twelve Steps, our lives will be transformed…Though we may never be perfect, continued spiritual progress will reveal to us our enormous potential…We will laugh more. Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves…”
“We will laugh more.” How can I, beset by depression and instability for many of my years, come to revisit my life now from another perspective? How have I learned how to laugh and see the comedy in things? What has enabled me at last to live well and be happy?
Being in the rooms.
But I hasten to add that we can learn the same tools elsewhere: the tools of letting go and accepting what we can’t change; the tool of gratitude; the tool of detachment and understanding our personal boundaries in relation to our substance user. There are many places where we can pick up these life skills: from our family, friends, church, from our own life experiences…
I might have been luckier, like many of you, and learned these tools in a happy, functioning family when I was growing up. But I learned them later.
And it’s never too late to learn how to be happy.
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 meetings!
“Addiction is like a chain reaction. It is a disease which affects the addict as well as the family members, friends and co-workers. We try to control, cover up, and take on the responsibilities of the addict. The sickness spreads to those of us who care the most. Eventually, we begin to feel used and unhappy. We worry, lose trust and become angry. The addict blames us and we feel guilty. If only something or someone would change!
When we discover Nar-Anon, we find others with the same feelings and problems. We learn we cannot control the addict or change him. We have become so addicted to the addict that it is difficult to shift the focus back to ourselves. We find that we must let go and turn to faith in a Higher Power. By working the steps, following the traditions and using the tools of the program, we begin, with the love and help of our Higher Power and others, to change ourselves.
As we reach out for help, we become ready to reach out a helping hand and heart to those in need of Nar-Anon. We understand. We do recover. Slowly, new persons emerge. Change is taking place.”
Though I have changed and grown through my work in the program, I. of course, still love my daughter and am available to help her if she reaches out to me for help. Detachment is not desertion. The difference is that I’m a healthier person now and am able to make the tough choices I couldn’t make years ago. I pray she finds the strength to come back to her family. We can’t get back the lost years, but I still have hope, like the warm sun shining on my face, and keeping my love strong.
Love and hope in the time of coronavirus. If “addiction is a chain reaction,” moving through our society like a massive nimbus cloud of loneliness and despair, then kindness and good will can also be a chain reaction, propelling people to examine their lives and make necessary changes. There was never an easier time to do this, coming out of the pandemic, when two years of enforced reflection carry the potential for change in all of us. In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” has two characters: one for danger and the other for opportunity.
This is humanity’s opportunity to move forward stronger and more effectively than ever before.
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” ~Charles A. Beard
A while back a friend in Naranon shared this link with our group. I watched it and was so heartened to see how attitudes are changing across the country. This PBS special focused on a program in Seattle, WA. It is a practical and above all humane way to deal with substance users. The more we talk about alternative ways to treat substance use disorder, the more likely there will be people to bring pressure to bear on government officials and on insurance companies. And the more likely our loved ones will feel embraced with compassion and understanding instead of fear and judgment.
“Al-Anon won’t give you the keys to let you into heaven, but it will give you the keys to let yourself out of Hell. One of those keys, they say, is ‘detachment.’”
I couldn’t detach for a long time. How could I? I felt it was like dropping the ball, not caring about my daughter enough to try and help her. I thought I was helping my daughter—by providing a safe landing pad to crash on. When she broke the law, I was afraid to send her to jail and prayed she would straighten out on her own. When she needed money for rent, I gave it to her, afraid she’d be on the street. I made a few other mistakes, and all they did was help her avoid the very consequences that might have been her best teachers.
Eventually, I started learning about detaching with love. Setting and honoring my own boundaries. And letting go of my guilt and inflated sense of responsibility. I had a lot of work to do on my own recovery, to reach a place where I could separate enough from my daughter to let her face her own demons, and hopefully make better choices for herself.
That’s where I am now—with hope in my heart—that my daughter will want to live a better life, just as I am now. These are my living amends to her. I love her without reservation and I continue to tell her so. Wherever she is and whatever she’s doing, it’s important that she know she is loved.
My memoirs about me and my daughter are graphically honest portrayals of substance use disorder at its worst. And Angie (Annie) is still alive, so I was a little fearful of exposure. But not anymore.
A few readers have asked me “What would you do if your daughter saw these books someday? Wouldn’t you be horrified?” My answer is this: “No, not at all. The books are not a condemnation of Angie (Annie) They are celebrations of life and love.”
In the Introduction of A Mother’s Story, I showcase Angie/Annie as she was before substance use disorder corrupted her. She was a beautiful child, young woman, a talented gymnast, writer, artist, and college graduate. And most of all she was a loving and thoughtful daughter to her father and me.
The rest of the book is a portrait of the horrors of the life that often accompanies substance use disorder and what it can do to a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Once the disease took over, this person was no longer the daughter I raised. And I make that clear in the final chapters, how parents can learn to separate their children from the substance users they become in order to keep loving them and deal effectively with this cruel disease.
Stepping Stones is also a book about substance use disorder. But, though Annie plays a role in the story, the narrative focuses on me and my struggles with the disease in order to get sober and live well. This self-focus is the natural progression of my recovery work in several 12-step programs. And I cannot overemphasize the soundness of my getting well first. Only now—while I’m dealing from a position of strength—can I help my daughter in the best possible way.
I recommend keeping a diary or some form of written record to document our journeys. Writing has been the key to unlocking secrets that were getting in my way. Putting down our experiences on paper can help us process our feelings, discover healthier perspectives, and start to heal. My third memoir will come out next year and complete this trilogy of recovery memoirs. It’s a book about love and hope. Stay tuned!
“’It’s odd that you can get so anesthetized by your own pain or your own problem that you don’t quite fully share the hell of someone close to you.’ ~Lady Bird Johnson
Preoccupation with self can be the bane of our existence. It prevents all but the narrowest perspective on any problem. It cuts off any guidance…that may be offered through a friend…When we open our minds to fresh input from others, insights emerge. We need the messages others are trying to give us.”
An end to my isolation. Opening my mind and heart to what others offer me.
For many years, I closed myself off from these offerings. I was busy with my life, self-sufficient…but unhappy. I was pretty bewildered about that—yet resigned to it.
Then—for the worst possible reason—I joined a recovery program that provided tools to help me climb out of my self-imposed misery. There are many new attitudes that I have adopted over time. But the most critical, I think, has been taking the risk to open myself to others and learn about myself using others’ perspectives to add balance to my own.
I’m not afraid of mirrors anymore.
I’ve had to let go of years of denial and preconceived notions about myself. I’ve had to learn how to be honest. And in doing that, I have discovered my own humanity. I am not unique, but part of a fellowship of equals who share a common bond.
No longer alone or lonely, I’m learning how to accept life on life’s terms…and be happy.