“Step One: Admitted we were powerless over (you name it), that our lives had become unmanageable.”
For a very long time I couldn’t take the first step. I realize now that I was confusing powerlessness with weakness. I couldn’t allow myself to be weak; I had to be strong for my daughter. But only after seeing how unmanageable my life had become in my attempts to be strong was I able to finally see my stubbornness and self-will for what it was: a desperate attempt to control the uncontrollable.
Then, and only then, was I able to let go and accept the unacceptable: I couldn’t save Angie. And I learned, paradoxically, that there is a lot of strength in surrender.
“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. The lessons they taught me have been learned. 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, January 1:
“Acceptance of our past, acceptance of the conditions presently in our lives that we cannot change, brings relief. It brings the peacefulness we so often, so frantically, seek.”
The drama that filled my life when my daughter, Angie, first got sick was overwhelming. Eventually, it broke me. And I needed to step back and take a look at my behavior. The first thing I did was remove “frantically” from my vocabulary. Next, because I realized that my guilt and inflated sense of responsibility were actually harming her and preventing her from learning, I needed to step way back and detach, but always with love. Loving detachment need not be a slap in the face to our loved one, but rather it gives him/her the freedom and opportunity to be accountable for choices they made, often under the influence. If I continually step in and try to fix everything for my daughter, she will have little or no opportunity to accept life on life’s terms. And isn’t that, without resorting to substance use disorder, what we all need to do?
Life on life’s terms. Substance use disorder around the world is a deeply disturbing reflection of how people respond to loneliness and alienation. When emotional longing collides with the easy availability of substances—dangerous drugs, too much food, alcohol sold at gas stations—that’s a recipe for problems which might end with physical illness, but they didn’t begin that way. Emotional pain, Dr. Edwin Shneidman calls it “psychache,” came first.
There isn’t a nation on earth that doesn’t have people with some form of emotional pain that he writes about, and their solutions vary. In America, though, there has been a growing epidemic of substance use disorder for many years. The experts can figure out what this means, but as a substance user myself, I’m observing my world, and the world of all my friends in recovery, from that perspective. Only time will tell how the pandemic will affect those of us who used various substances to lessen our “psychache.” But I’m grateful, one day at a time, to continue the work on my emotional sobriety and enjoy the positive effect it has on those closest to me. My world may be turning slower than it used to, but it’s still turning!
“There’s always going to be someone out there with far less than I have who is happy.”
It’s so important to keep things in perspective. Even though the compounding tragedies that bring us together in the rooms consume us, they needn’t. When I take a fully inventory of my life and recognize that my blessings far outnumber my losses, I know how much worse things could be.
And, for me, that makes all the difference.
Keeping things in perspective is a daily balancing act for me. Especially now, when everyone’s life is out of whack, it’s easy to get overly emotional and overreact to small things that we used to ignore. In a way, with all of our worlds reduced to the inside of our homes, we are living under a microscope. Families that used to send three kids off to school every day with husbands and wives sharing the car with public transportation are having to remain inside their home, constantly bumping into each other.
This is not something I’m experiencing, but millions of other families are, and results from this new normal will start pouring in. All anyone can do is try to make the best of a new situation. Hopefully many families will be stronger on the other side of this. My recovery demands that I remain grateful for my blessings because “there’s always going to be someone out there with far less than I have who is happy.” I’ll take a page from his/her book.
attitude is crucial. It determines our experiences. A trying situation can be
tolerated with relative ease when we have a positive, trusting attitude. We
forget, generally, that we have an inner source of strength to meet every
situation…I can turn my day around. I can
change the flavor of today’s experiences. I can lift my spirits and know all is
well. To firmly believe that, when our lives are roiling with chaos and
heartache, requires a certain amount of faith. And that’s something that can’t
to me when I was on my knees, broken. When I finally realized that, despite all
my efforts to help her, my daughter Angie was going to do as she pleased, and I
needed to let go of my desperate attempt to save her. It was then that I
started to understand the concept of accepting things I could not change.
acceptance came with heartache, and I wanted some relief from that. So I turned
my eyes upward, and prayed for release from my unremitting pain. The harder I
prayed, the more faith I was given. The less I relied on myself and the more I
relied on (my concept of) God, the more I believed with certainty that all was
completely understand why people all over the world gather together to worship.
It breaks our spiritual isolation. It’s hard now, in the time of coronavirus,
to physically come together. So creative churchgoers are meeting in drive-in
movie theaters, and what a wonderful idea! The point is that faith is a gift
that must be regularly nurtured, either in a church or elsewhere. God has
graced me with faith that my life is unfolding as it was meant to. And when I
remember that, especially in times of trouble, I feel the peace and serenity
that is promised to me. A faith-based attitude of acceptance, gratitude and
love carries me through every day.
remember to adjust my attitude, I know that all is well.
I am a
blogger for The Addict’s Parents United. The sequel to my award-winning first
memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t
Live Here Anymore, will be released by She Writes Press on 6/16/20. This is
an excerpt from Stepping Stones: A Memoir
of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation:
“Several years before I attempted to
make amends to Angie, she was in her last rehab in California. It was 2009, and
I flew across the country for Parents’ Weekend. After excitedly showing me
around the grounds, she bumped into a couple of new friends.
“Hey, Angela, show us more of those
My daughter still enjoyed showing people what she had been able to do as
a gymnast in Greece.
“Sure.” Proud of her agility, she
showed us, among other things, a backward twist that must have been difficult
then. She wasn’t ten anymore.
As she leaned backward
toward the floor, her hair fell back; I saw the scar again and wondered how
she’d gotten it. She must have had an accident to have sustained such a deep
gash around her hairline in the middle of her forehead.
Angie was a child, she looked like a beautiful mandarin doll. She’d always had
a thick pile of bangs to frame her oval face. But her hair didn’t fall that way
anymore because of the scar, and she hadn’t been wearing bangs for several
years. I remembered the picture of my children from J. C. Penney’s one
Christmas in Miami, her pretty brown eyes accented by her thick bangs.
her then in rehab, I focused on her bangs. How much I missed seeing them on her!
What mother doesn’t mourn her child’s innocence and wish a painless life for
last time I saw her, for Mother’s Day in 2012, I was
in a San Francisco motel near the hostel in the Tenderloin where she was
staying. She was to spend a night with me and had a key to the room. It was
five in the morning when I heard her unlocking the door, and I jumped up to
“Hi, Mom. This is Pontus.”
“Hi there,” the much older man said as he offered to shake
“Hello, Pontus. Angie, please come in now so I can go back
“Sure, Mom. See you later, Buddy.”
have a picture of her sitting on my bed the next morning, her terrier, Loki, on
her lap; she was never without him. Her hair was pulled to the side and held
with a clip, exposing the scar.
looked so strange—like someone else—without those
lustrous bangs. But of course she was . . . someone
Eight years. Some digital contact in all that time—most of it unpleasant. I’ve often said in my commentary over the years that an addict, after long periods of using, seems split down the middle: the child we raised, and what remains after years of substance abuse.
I’ve hoped for the happy ending so
many of my fellow mothers are blessed with. I’m so genuinely happy for them,
and I hold a fervent wish in my heart that their addicts continue to enjoy
sobriety. But many of us have not been so fortunate. And many mothers have
buried their children. So how do we move forward with our grief and loss?
Together, for one thing. Together we are stronger. Talking openly about it, putting an end to the shame and isolation. There is strength and empowerment in our ability to stand tall and add our voices to the others out there. Substance use disorder—this is hard to believe—is even more on the rise now. As a result of all the forced isolation in the time of coronavirus—isolation which is a substance user’s worst enemy—a few mothers I know have found themselves frustrated and saddened to watch their children falling back into the rabbit hole. I pray their relapses are short-lived and they are able to get back to living their lives without using substances to cope.
I think of my Angie on this Mother’s
Day, 2020. I don’t know how she is. I sent her an email, telling her how much I
love her and I hope she’s well enough to survive another day. The email didn’t
bounce back. If she’s still with us in San Francisco, that’s good, because
where there’s life there’s hope.
We all have different stories with our children; some are happy and some are sad. This is just my story. But I know that I was the best mom that I could be, and I believe that most mothers are. Because of that stirring belief, I’m proud to celebrate myself and all of you on Mother’s Day, this year and every year. We have more than earned a place in that fellowship.
though I can’t solve your problems, I will be there as your sounding board
whenever you need me.’ ~Sandra K. Lamberson
emotional well-being is enhanced each time we share ourselves—our stories or
our attentive ears. We need to be part of someone else’s pain and growth in
order to make use of the pain that we have grown beyond. Pain has its purpose
in our lives. And in the lives of our friends, too. It’s our connection to one
another, the bridge that closes the gap.”
my lifetime have words and phrases meant more to me than “connection,”
“bridge,” and “closes the gap.” We are all living through an extraordinary time
where the viral pandemic has halted life as we know it. Of necessity, many of
our routines have stopped. From my small world of one to the world at large,
nothing will ever be the same again. This is a time when our physical health
and wellness are uncertain; it’s a time when the world is being engulfed by an
invisible threat which to some extent is out of our control. We’re doing our
best to slow the progression of the disease. Mitigation, social distancing. We
are being tested.
one, am enjoying yet another opportunity to look within and put things into a
larger perspective. And things will be different after this. I can’t see into
the future, and everyone’s world will change in different ways. But my world
already involves more appreciation for the finer things in life: things like
kindness, consideration and thoughtfulness, generosity of spirit and time, and
human connectedness. Just remember how Zoom crashed recently while Americans
across the country were anxiously trying to visually connect with one another. This
intense appreciation for those things will inform my choices on how to live,
what to do with my time. This is a good thing.
interconnected and interdependent. We may not be able to connect hands right
now, but we can connect our hearts and minds as we all strive to figure things
out, learn some important lessons, and determine to make our planet stronger for
the next generation to enjoy and pass on. The world belongs to my grandchildren
and their children. God keep me strong to leave them something beautiful and
resilient, reflecting the best in us all.
“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
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, when all these weeks 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
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
in the world of substance use disorder is overwhelming, whether I’m a substance
user or love one. So when I try to do things on a daily basis, and not for the
rest of my life, getting through every day seems more manageable.
I am not
able to multitask. Not at all. If I try to do two things at once, neither of
them gets done. I’m just not able to juggle two things at once. So I make a lot
of lists and I try to manage things simply, doing one thing at a time. This
process has taught me a lot of patience, if only because the rest of the world
is screaming at my back to hurry up! So—with difficulty— I tune them out,
listening to my own drummer.
pressures of living are out there, relentlessly telling me to do this or finish
that. It takes discipline to ignore the ads, the competitive wars I
unconsciously wage against others, and proceed at my own pace—often just
putting one foot in front of the other. This is more necessary than ever in
this day only—yesterday never happened and tomorrow is just a dream—keeps
things remarkably simple and uncomplicated. I’m also, consciously, learning to
set healthy boundaries, where I recognize my own needs as they bump up against
the needs of others, figuratively, not physically! It’ll be a while before I
bump up against others.
Oh brother! Life is so complicated. That’s why I make an effort to “Keep It Simple”! 🙂
day is a beautiful room that’s never been seen before. Let me cherish the
seconds, minutes, and hours I spend here. Help me to THINK before I speak and pray
before I act. ‘The program helps me gain the freedom to make wise choices that
are good for me. I choose to put that freedom in my life today.’”
used to be on automatic pilot, prone to old actions and reactions that were
familiar to me. But I wasn’t happy. So when I began my recovery program
eighteen years ago, I learned that I can switch that autopilot off. I learned
that I have choices about how I want to live.
Angie to the hellish world of substance use disorder helped bring some things
into focus for me. But not until I spent a lot of time grieving for her. I
tried to help her, made many mistakes in the process, but ultimately as a
matter of survival, I had to let go and practice acceptance of what I couldn’t
did so without shame or guilt. I started to hear, faintly at first, the voices
of other people in my life calling out for attention. Ten years ago my first
grandchild was born, and that changed me forever. I was no longer just a mother
who had struggled to raise her children. With the birth of both of my
grandchildren, I could now start over with a clean slate. I’m not the same
troubled young woman who raised my children. Now I’m a recovering grandmother
with better health and a happier spirit to help raise this new generation. This
is God’s gift to me, a second chance to try and live well without the demons
that plagued me when I was younger.
the beneficiaries of this second chance? Everyone who is in my life today: my
remaining family, of course. But even without family, the world is a big place:
neighbors, co-workers, the delivery man, the man I pass when I walk in the
morning, my friends in and out of recovery, the people I sing to in the nursing
home (on hold for the foreseeable future! L)—the list is endless.
me open my eyes and appreciate this beautiful room that I’ve never seen before.
I believe that if I look for joy, I will find it.