“’…we could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.’ ~Helen Keller
We chase after joy, like a child after a firefly…”
Yes I did, all my life, and then I changed. I stopped chasing the butterfly, not because it was a waste of time, but because my time could be better spent on other things.
In a quote from Cathy Hull Taughinbaugh’s new book, The Compassion Antidote:
“While you may feel your happiness or well-being depend on what your child does or doesn’t do, the more you can focus on yourself and your happiness the better…And the more you work on yourself, the better off your child will be—now and in the future…You will then become a role model for your child. She will see you not just as her parent, but as a strong person who can weather the storms that life throws at her.”
Our children are watching. The suffering in my family has gone on for over twenty years. But if I can turn my sadness and grief into lessons in resilience and hope for the rest of my family, then it was time well-spent.
“The serenity I am offered in Al-Anon is not an escape from life. Rather it is the power to find peacefulness within life.
Al-Anon does not promise me freedom from pain, sorrow, or difficult situations. It does, however, give me the opportunity to learn from others how to develop the necessary skills for maintaining peace of mind, even when life seems most unbearable…
Serenity is not about the end of pain. It’s about my ability to flourish peacefully no matter what life brings my way.”
In the movie, “The Shack,” Mac has a dream and in it he meets God. Mac had recently lost his young daughter, and in his anger and bitterness he lashed out at God. Who else to blame? God (a woman in the movie) came right back at Mac with Her own defense: She didn’t orchestrate all the misery on earth: Aleppo, slaughter in Ukraine, children starving in Nigeria. “Don’t blame me for all that,” She said.” My purpose is to help you rise above it.”
Al-Anon has the same purpose in my life. God doesn’t have the power to return my daughter to me. But if I continue my daily practice of gratitude, accept what I don’t have the ability to change, and have faith that God’s plan is unfolding for a greater good than I may ever see, I can live peacefully and even joyfully, savoring all the goodness that is in my life. It’s my choice.
I was reading about one of my favorites, Naomi Judd, and how she sadly died by suicide recently. This is what her daughter, Ashley, said about her death:
“When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important to be clear and to make the distinction between our loved one and the disease,” she continued. “It’s very real … it lies, it’s savage.”
I believe that. We all know how substance use disorder can change our kids: change their minds, change their lifestyle, change the values we taught them. In my daughter’s case, as long as drugs were flooding her system, she ceased to be the Annie I raised.
So yes, I make the distinction Ashley has called for. And I pray that someday the general public will have as much compassion for our lost children. I remember my daughter before this disease took her away from me. And I take comfort in those memories—because I can separate her from her disease.
In this month that celebrates mothers, I’d like to celebrate a memory of my daughter, Annie (Angie in this book). She was just 22 when she made this tapestry for me after her first rehab. She was always interested in Oriental art and designs. I think the simplicity fascinated her.
For a long time I couldn’t look at it. In my early recovery, I was still wedded to the “If onlys.” But over time, I’ve learned to let go of “might have beens” and accept what is.
I hang the tapestry proudly on my wall now. It’s one of many of my happy memories of her. I had twenty-one years with her as my daughter before substance use disorder hijacked and transformed her.
I’m grateful for the good years I had with my daughter.
I love her.
“When Angie came out of that first rehab, she made me the most beautiful gift.
‘Mom, I’m not quite finished with it. I just have a few more flowers to cut. You’ll need to find a 17-by-22-inch frame to mount it on. Sorry it’s such an odd size. Guess I wasn’t thinking. I copied it from one of my Chinese art books. I hope you like it!’
Right now it’s hanging in my room for me to see. Over the years I’ve taken it on and off the wall, hidden it in a closet, too painful for me to look at. Maybe it’s a sign of my recovery. Now I can leave it on the wall, look at it, and appreciate all the work she put into it. This was her way, I believe, of telling me she loved me and she was sorry, not for getting sick, but for what that sickness drove her to do to me. She never, ever, was able to express her feelings easily with words. So she showed me, in countless ways, as she did once in December 1993.
“Where the hell is that $300 I put away for safekeeping? If you kids want any Christmas presents, you’d better help me find it now,” I shouted, panicking at the thought of losing my hard-earned cash. I was so scattered sometimes. I was perfectly capable of misplacing it.
“Found it, Mom! Don’t you remember when you hid it in this book? Well, here it is. Aren’t you glad I’m as honest as I am?”
“Yes, Angie, my darlin’ girl, I am. And thank you!”
Years are passing by, and sometimes it’s hard to remember her as she was. But when I look at the tapestry she made, I remember:
Angie had a fascination for all things Asian—Chinese, Japanese, it didn’t matter. She loved the grace and flow of much of the artwork. She copied a simple series of flowers. But she did it not with paint or pencil or pen; she cut out every pistil, not completely detailed, a few sepals in place, the rest scattered, all the ovaries in different colors for contrast, every leaf, in varying sizes and colors, every stem, and glued it all together on a piece of gold cloth. It looked just like the picture in her book.
I treasure this gift she made. The tapestry is twelve years old, and sometimes a petal comes unglued and I have to put it back on. I should put it under glass to preserve it. I wish we could put our children under glass—to keep them safe.
I would soon discover, though, that no matter what I did for Angie it would never be enough to protect her from the illness that was consuming her.”
From A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pen name) (Amazon)
“The Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps have been the most helpful in my recovery: ‘We believe alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery.’ That is to say, it is our attitudes, not our situation, that cause our unhappiness. When I first came to Al-Anon, and heard these words being read, it was like listening to a foreign language that I did not speak. It was beyond my comprehension that I could find peace and happiness through a change in my own attitude. As I heard these words being read week after week and meeting upon meeting, I resisted the suggestion that I could find peace and contentment if I would become willing to change the attitudes that kept me a prisoner of pain and suffering. First of all, I didn’t know that I had any particular attitude. My thinking made perfect sense to me. There was nothing wrong with my attitude. I didn’t even understand what my attitude was. Slowly, as I listened in meetings and began working the Steps with my Sponsor, my attitude did begin to change. I was not consciously aware of the change, but I did recognize that my life was less stressful and I was finding periods of happiness and serenity. One night, a few years into the program, it hit me. I was leading a meeting and as I read the Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps, these words ‘…changed attitudes can aid recovery’ struck me. I wanted to laugh out loud and say, ‘Duh…do you think?’ It was so completely clear to me. I got it. I really got it! Although up to that point, I had changed in many ways, I really believe that this singular, amazing, and powerful moment of clarity was the turning point in my recovery. Reflecting on that moment and remembering the words ‘changed attitudes can aid recovery’ during personal struggles and moments of frustration, kept me willing to continue my journey of self-discovery and brought me a spiritual awakening I would never have thought possible.”
Beautifully spoken by Paula W. of Arizona. I can’t really add much to that, except something my sponsor told me to always ask myself when complaining about a situation that I find myself in: “Is it working for you?” I should always ask myself, and if it’s not, what can I do to change it? Often, it’s a change in my own behavior, but when that proves fruitless then sometimes a change in attitude is all I need to get a good night’s sleep. Is it a problem I have any control over? No? Then let go and let God. Go to sleep. Maybe other solutions will present themselves tomorrow. But for now, give yourself a good night’s rest—because you’re worth it.
“My mom did not sleep. She felt exhausted. She was irritable, grumpy, and bitter. She was always sick until one day, suddenly, she changed.
One day my dad said to her:
– I’ve been looking for a job for three months and I haven’t found anything, I’m going to have a few beers with friends.
My mom replied:
– It’s okay.
My brother said to her:
– Mom, I’m doing poorly in all subjects at the University.
My mom replied:
– Okay, you will recover, and if you don’t, well, you repeat the semester, but you pay the tuition.
My sister said to her:
– Mom, I smashed the car.
My mom replied:
– Okay daughter, take it to the car shop & find how to pay and while they fix it, get around by bus or subway.
Her daughter-in-law said to her:
– Mother-in-law, I came to spend a few months with you.
My mom replied:
– Okay, settle in the living room couch and look for some blankets in the closet.
All of us gathered worried to see these reactions coming from Mom.
We suspected that she had gone to the doctor and that she was prescribed some pills called “I don’t give a damn”… Perhaps she was overdosing on these!
We then proposed to do an “intervention” w/my mother to remove her from any possible addiction she had towards some anti-tantrum medication.
But then … she gathered us around her and my mom explained:
“It took me a long time to realize that each person is responsible for their life. It took me years to discover that my anguish, anxiety, my depression, my courage, my insomnia & my stress, does not solve your problems, but aggravates mine.
I am not responsible for the actions of anyone & it’s not my job to provide happiness, but I am responsible for the reactions I express to that.
Therefore, I came to the conclusion that my duty to myself is to remain calm and let each one of you solve what corresponds to you.
I have taken courses in yoga, meditation, miracles, human development, mental hygiene, vibration and neurolinguistic programming and in all of them, I found a common denominator in them all…
I can only control myself, you have all the necessary resources to solve your own problems despite how hard they may be. My job is to pray for you, love on you, encourage you but it’s up to YOU to solve them & find your happiness.
I can only give you my advice if you ask me & it depends on you to follow it or not. There are consequences, good or bad, to your decisions and YOU have to live them.
So from now on, I cease to be the receptacle of your responsibilities, the sack of your guilt, the laundress of your remorse, the advocate of your faults, the wall of your lamentations, the depositary of your duties, who should solve your problems or spare a tire every time to fulfill your responsibilities.
From now on, I declare all independent and self-sufficient adults.
Everyone at my mom’s house was speechless.
From that day on, the family began to function better because everyone in the house knew exactly what it is that they needed to do.
For some of us this is hard because we’ve grown up being the caregivers feeling responsible for others. As moms & wives we are fixers off all things. We never want our loved ones to go through difficult things or to struggle. We want everyone to be happy.
But, the sooner we take that responsibility off of our shoulders & on to each loved one, the better we are preparing them to be MEsponsible.
We are not here on earth to be everything to everyone. Stop putting that pressure on yourself.”
As I’ve grown in recovery, I’ve grown in humility, too. My friends, I’m just not that important!!! God Bless all our children as they make their way in life. Whether we want to or not, we must do the same.
“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.”
How eloquently she describes the convergence of conflict with awareness and resolution in our lives. As “the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,” my world became brighter and more light-filled. As I shed the depression that used to be my constant companion, I embraced the idea that I could be as happy as I made up my mind to be.
Relying on God, however we understand God’s presence, is foreign to many of us. I was encouraged from early childhood to be self-reliant. Even when I desperately needed another’s help, I feared asking for it. When confidence wavered, as it so often did, I hid the fear—sometimes with alcohol, sometimes with pills or too much food. Sometimes I simply hid at home. My fears never fully abated…Slowly and with practice it became easier to turn within, to be God-reliant rather than self-reliant.”
There’s a saying in the Program that “our best thinking got us here (into the rooms of recovery).” And it’s so true! I joke at meetings that I’ve always been “CSR,” compulsively self-reliant.” I have been for much of my life, afraid to ask for help and even more afraid to accept it. As a child I had to rely on myself for so many things, and that became a survival strategy. But as an adult, that very façade of strength can become a terrible defect. Appearing to be a formidable wall of arrogance, it only served to isolate me and separate me from my peers. I had to tear down that wall.
And when I did, when I found the ability to bare my fears and vulnerabilities and ask for help when I needed it, I found my humanity. My faith in a power greater than myself enabled me to let go of my self-reliance and join hands with others as we reached out and helped one another.
It hasn’t removed the problems from my life. But it has made facing and living with them so much easier.
This poem addresses the idea of letting go, as opposed to clinging to, much of the negativity in my life—much of what used to weigh on me and drag me down into depression.
Detachment is a skill that allows me to create a safe distance between myself and my daughter. I have learned that if I don’t, I will be swallowed up in her black hole before I know it. As a parent, I’ve often felt that I didn’t deserve the gift of detachment. But I do. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I’ve learned to forgive myself for any mistakes I made with my daughter. It took a long time, but this was an important step in my recovery. Until I did that, I risked being forever enmeshed in her pain and the mess of her life as it is now.
Once I could reach some level of detachment, I was freer to work the steps. In hindsight, I see now why I couldn’t really do the first three steps in a more timely manner. I simply had not let go of my responsibility in her life, my importance in her life, and therefore my need to fix her life.
I needed to be humbled—in the best sense of the word.
“Living well is the best revenge.” ~George Herbert
I’ve received many emails from moms asking me how I cope with the living death of Annie’s substance use disorder. Many of my friends here know the hellish limbo I’m living in, without any resolution or closure. But I have found a way to cope better and move on with my life. This is what I tell them:
“I put my sadness in a back drawer and close it. Then I look at what’s in my front drawers every morning. I have so many wonderful things to be grateful for. Instead of focusing on my problems, I try to keep my mind on the solutions. This is how I live. It keeps me humble, grateful, and glad to be alive. I will never forget that Annie was once a beautiful, creative young woman. I honor her memory in this way, and I truly believe she would want me to live well and be happy. In this month of love, I celebrate my daughter with happy memories, hopes for her future, and confident in mine.”