The Grounding of Gratitude

“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue, an everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.” ~Carole King

We all live our lives, savoring our victories and weathering the storms we encounter. Some years are better or worse than others. I’ve been sorely challenged most of my life with family illness and dysfunction, and if it weren’t for the wisdom in this quote I’d be thinking I’m the victim of poor fortune and full of self-pity.

But that’s not the case. My life has been full of many, many gifts. And I’ve learned the value of keeping a grateful heart and daily jotting down all of my blessings in a journal.

The challenge of substance use disorder is still with me, but I’m not consumed by it, defined by it, or obsessed with it. My focus is elsewhere: on the positive aspects of my life, my joys, and my strengths. It is from this that I am learning to deal my hand. And when I remember to be positive and grateful, it’s a winning hand.

“…and the Wisdom to Know the Difference.”

From Each Day a New Beginning, 10/12:

“’…there are two entirely opposite attitudes in facing the problems of one’s life. One, to try and change the external world; the other, to try and change oneself.’ ~Joanna Field

God grant us the courage to change what we can—ourselves. How difficult it is to let go of our struggles to control and change someone else. How frequently we assume that everything would be fine if only someone else would change. All that needs to change is an attitude, our own.

Taking responsibility for improving one’s own life is an important step toward emotional health.

Blaming another for our circumstances keeps us stuck and offers no hope for improved conditions. Personal power is as available as our decision to use it. And it is bolstered by all the strength we’ll ever need. The decision to take our lives in hand will exhilarate us. The decision each day to be thoughtful, prayerful, and wholly responsible for all that we do will nourish our developing selves. Each responsible choice moves us toward our wholeness, strengthening our sense of self, our wellbeing.

I will change only who I can today: myself.”

I read a good definition of substance use disorder the other day. It said something like this: when we focus on another substance, or the love of someone else, or another activity as the source of our happiness and well-being, then it takes on the attractive power of addiction. This includes our belief that if someone else would change, we’d be happy. I’ve stopped measuring my happiness on things and people outside of myself. If I keep the focus on myself, and keep my side of the street clean, all will be well in my world. I pray for the happiness of my daughter and all my loved ones, and then I let it go and get back to the business of living. I believe that things are unfolding as they are meant to.

What Grief Continues To Teach Me

From Opening Our Hearts Transforming Our Losses, Conference Approved Literature, p. 170-172:

“After the acute pain of grief, the one feeling at the forefront now is gratitude— tremendous, overwhelming gratitude.”

“I’ll probably never know why some people are able to find recovery while others are not.  Still, I’m astonished to discover that not only in spite of, but because of my losses, I am more keenly aware of the tenuousness, the delicacy, and the beauty of every moment.”

 I particularly like this book because it’s straightforward and puts the stress on positive solutions. It takes the disease of substance use disorder out of the closet and shows it at its worst, which is why people affected by it have earned the right to grieve. I know many people who can’t even admit to the disease in their family, much less grieve about it. The book puts our losses out on the table, but doesn’t leave us mourning. The shared stories show us how to move on with our lives.

            Whether or not your loved one has died, I highly recommend this book. For the families of substance abusers, it is intensely painful to watch these people descend into this terrible disease. We know many ways to help, but there is no magic bullet to cure them. This fact alone has caused me years of grief. And I found much empathy and comfort in the collection of stories found here.

Redemption and Freedom

From Hope For Today, Conference Approved Literature, October 29:

“Now when my son tells me he was teased at school, I pass on my recovery lessons to him as we talk about self-love. I teach him what I have learned in Al-Anon. I help him by suggesting simple ways he can detach. I explain how he can let it begin with him by not retaliating. I help him understand that sometimes he also does things that hurt others and that he can feel better about himself by making amends. Not only has Al-Anon helped heal my past, it’s helping me give my son a healthier future.”

In an excerpt from my Homepage, I draw a similar conclusion:

“The true blessing of my recovery program is that its embedded principles cover all aspects of my life. Letting go of any particular substance is just one step toward spiritual recovery. I have found after a number of years that following the guidelines of recovery enhances my life in all areas. As my confidence grows, my relationships tend to work better, and when there is (inevitable) conflict, the means to work through differences honestly and effectively seems more attainable. 

I envision a world where the shame and stigma of substance use disorder is replaced by understanding that it is a brain disease, compassion for those affected by it, and appropriate government intervention in support and treatment of it. My mission is to share my experience, strength and hope with all those affected by this illness. Substance use disorder has reached epidemic proportions in our society, even more so in this time of global pandemic. Many people, in their fear and isolation, are turning to easy solutions to escape the tedium of quarantine. And some solutions are addictive. But none of us is alone. By sharing with others, we can put an end to our isolation. It is my wish to share with you my journey toward wellness in all aspects of my life. As we touch each other’s lives in fellowship, our struggles seem smaller, and our hope for a happier life grows.”

Resistance Training

From Hope for Today, October 10:

“Sometimes I need to work Step One backwards. I don’t always recognize when I’m powerless, but I certainly notice when my life becomes unmanageable. Then I remember that usually when I’m feeling insane, I’m forgetting my powerlessness and trying to control outcomes or other people…The pain is not in the surrender and acceptance. It’s in the resistance.”

Oh, I was a warrior, a heavy hitter where my daughter was concerned. I would have done anything to save her from this cruel disease. “I don’t always recognize when I’m powerless:” you bet I didn’t. That, I thought, would be accepting the unacceptable. No wonder I was in so much pain, resisting the reality of substance use disorder, resisting the fact that Annie was taken over by a complicated brain disease, and it was not within my power to cure her.

I needed to accept that fact. But there was still much that I could do to help her. I could set boundaries, exact appropriate consequences for bad behavior, show her volumes of compassion and love, and most of all practice self-care. Because if I didn’t take care of myself, how would I be strong enough to take care of her (or anyone else)?

I’m still a warrior, I guess, but I throw my energy into different battles: raising awareness about the devastation of substance abuse disorder, and more of it from the enforced isolation of Covid-19; writing books and blogs that resonate with others and show them they’re not alone; sharing my spiritual recovery with those who are interested; putting my focus on my remaining family TODAY and being available to help them navigate through this family disease.

God Bless Her, my daughter is in a terrible place right now, and I have to accept the reality that only she has the power to change her life for the better. I’ve learned to let go of her, and gain some distance and perspective. She knows she can come back whenever she wants to.

I’ve also learned to be grateful for all my blessings. My recovery is grounded in gratitude. There is tremendous peace in surrender and acceptance. I’ve put my resistance training on hold.

Moving Forward

From “The Forum,” August, 2015, p. 19:

“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.

The Many Faces of Gratitude

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:

Dear Annie,

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?

By living well—By loving well.

Mom

Out Of My Mouth

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.

Dancing In The Rain

                                                               

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.

Can We Give Ourselves A Break?

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.