Living In Abundance

“Life holds so much—so much to be happy about always. Most people ask for happiness on conditions. Happiness can only be felt if you don’t set conditions.” ~Arthur Rubenstein

All of us in these rooms have experienced substance use disorder in one form or another: in ourselves or in a loved one. Many serious illnesses are incurable, but SUD is often conquered by the sufferer. Many substance users recognize that they have the power to change if they are committed to recovery. Different people have different ways of dealing with it: some use 12-Step recovery, some use prayer, or yoga, or running, or writing things down. No one way is better than another. Whatever works for you.

Substance use disorder is painful and messy. My life was derailed because of it. But I found a way to recover—from my own substance use as well as my obsession with saving my daughter, and I got my life back.

I’m filled with gratitude every day for that. And I wish us all the same peace and joy for that freedom. I’ve learned to be happy and to make the best of things as they are. And that’s quite a lot. Gratitude keeps me grounded in recovery, and not just on Thanksgiving!

The Power Of Speaking

Deborah Meier said in her book, The Power of Their Ideas, “Teaching is mostly listening, and learning is mostly telling.”

I love this because as a former teacher I used to have it turned all around. I got better, fortunately, but then I retired. Now I’m an author and what I’ve learned about myself by writing has filled three books.

I speak a lot, telling my story, mostly at recovery meetings. And when I’m not speaking to other people, I’m speaking to a piece of paper—many pieces of paper. It’s my therapy. It’s how I learn about myself.

It’s a constant practice of self-discovery, this discipline of pen to paper. I cross out, revise, change my mind, rephrase things. All this writing and rewriting helps me clarify my thoughts, my understanding of what’s real to me: what’s authentic. It’s how I learn about myself.

How I’m learning.

Continually.

It’s an ongoing process.

I find that as I keep growing and changing my writing reflects that as well. There’s nothing static about me or about my writing.

And just as the words flow out of my pen onto paper, my recovery continues to flow from my heart to those around me. It’s a real symbiosis, this relationship I have with my pen. It eases the words out of me so that I can share what I’ve learned with others.

The rare epiphany I experience is like a volcanic eruption. I had one recently, and writing and rewriting about that has taught me so much about its meaning. But mostly I’m just going with the flow of life, trying to pay attention with what’s going on with me.

So I continue to do public speaking, which is a tremendous learning experience. And the more I write—the more I speak on paper—the more I learn about who I am and who I’m becoming.

I just have to keep my heart open and listen.

More On Detachment With Love

“Detachment is not detaching from the person or thing whom we care about or feel obsessed with. Detachment is detaching from the agony of involvement.”

Boundaries…boundaries…boundaries. Where do I end and the other person begins? A strong sense of self enables me to set clear limits with others. I was terribly enmeshed in my daughter’s life; I had never separated from her in a healthy way. Because we were so alike, I identified with her and felt overly responsible for her troubles. Her problems became my problems, and it never occurred to me to let her face her own responsibilities, both for her betterment and my own. Four rehabs started the healthy process of accountability. Then four relapses reversed much of that work. But I still hope that some of what she learned is still with her.

Thankfully my work in recovery has helped me face myself in the mirror and make some important changes. I made the necessary separation, first of all, from my daughter. I detached—with great difficulty. I no longer feel the “agony of involvement” because I’ve let go of her illness and the consequences of her substance use. I can’t save her from herself. I can only love her and be here for her should she choose to walk with me in recovery. This is how I make living amends to my children and others in my life: by living well myself and hoping it inspires them to do the same.

Now

From Each Day a New Beginning, August 4:

 “’Let me tell thee, time is a very precious gift of God, so precious that it’s only given to us moment by moment.’ ~Viola Spolin

Being in tune with now, this moment, guarantees a direct line of communication to God. It also guarantees a full, yet simple life. Our purpose becomes clear as we trust our steps to God’s guidance. How terribly complicated we make life by living in the past, the present, and many future times, all at once…One step, one moment, and then the next step, and its moment. How the simple life bring me freedom!”

It takes a lot of discipline to clear out the clutter in our minds: the clutter littering our past; and the clutter of fear, projection and worry about the future. Before I got into recovery, one foot was in the past, while I massaged my wounds and was full of regret. The other foot was in the future, making dire projections and rendering myself sick with worry.

Stuck in one of those two realities, or both, was punishing and painful. It really was a form of self-flagellation. And doing so prevented me from focusing on what was right in front of me. But as I grew in my recovery, I found a new and higher regard for myself. It was like putting on a new dress, a little stiff and uncomfortable at first. But it had a positive effect on all my relationships, so I kept it in the closet.

That new dress reflected an increased self of self-worth, and the more I wore it the less I needed to punish myself. Guilt had been an old nemesis for many years, but as I grew to love myself, I felt no need to punish myself with it any more. It’s a very destructive, crippling emotion, but it no longer holds me hostage.

Well, now I have a lot of free time! So I keep my eyes on today. My life is full of many wonderful people and moments. I want to stay focused on it today, to appreciate my blessings. It’s a happier way to live—this simple life—and I’m grateful to have the good sense to live in the now. There’s so much freedom in that!

Making Amends

A few years ago I made amends to a number of people, but my three children were at the top of my list. In an excerpt from my memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation, I discover that the outcome is not always what I’d hoped for:

“Throughout Annie’s addiction, I’d been obsessed with saving her, putting my other children in the background. I needed to make some serious amends about that, as well as my neglect during their childhood and so much of their upbringing. Their response to me has been kind.

“Mom,” Carter said, “of course I forgive you.  I love you very much. But it’s better for me if I don’t dwell on my childhood. You need to stop bringing it up.”

I’m powerless to erase the parts of his childhood that cause him pain. It’s necessary to accept that he has his own ways to cope with what happened to him, and let it go.

           “Mom, it’s okay. I forgive you,” Caroline offered generously. “I get that you had stuff to deal with. Let’s move on from it. Just know that I love you now and appreciate the efforts you’re making.”

            I was not as fortunate with Annie five years ago.

I sent her an email because I didn’t have an address to mail her a letter. This was Annie’s response:

            “Your “amends”??? Sure, I could use a laugh. And by the way, if you think a couple warm, fuzzy emails ERASE the last 2-3 YEARS of you treating me like SHIT (ESPECIALLY when I’ve been doing everything you and dad wanted me to do, i.e. become financially independent), then you are WRONG. I’ve believed ever since I was in elementary school that you are a JOKE of a parent not to mention UTTERLY full of shit, and the fact that you’ve had the NERVE to email me the last 3-4  years WITHOUT apologizing for the atrocious shit you’ve done and said to me in the last couple years certainly confirms my long-held beliefs about you. Of COURSE I ended up on drugs. I had YOU for a mother.”

            When I shared this with my sponsor, she reminded me of something vital to my recovery: when we make amends to someone, we do it for the cleansing of our own souls, not for any anticipated outcome.

            It’s freeing to remember that, especially when I can still feel stung and shaken by Annie’s harsh words. I can’t do anything about the past, nor can I make her see that my attempts to help her, though often misguided, sprang from my love for her.

            And the best amends, I believe, are not even found in words. They are living amends.

            We can’t change the past, but we can try to do things differently now.

            “Step Ten invites me to grow up, to be responsible, and to make amends—all for my own benefit. I take Step Ten because I want to be the best I can be.”

Detachment

For mothers of substance users, detachment is one of the hardest tools to use. We are inevitably joined through years of raising, nurturing and loving our children as best we could. And when things go so horribly wrong as they do with substance use disorder, it’s only natural to question ourselves and how we raised them.

Self-blame is common, as we take on too much responsibility for our child’s illness. I myself overcompensated where I shouldn’t have. I felt guilty and that guilt crippled my judgment. I became an enabler, and that prevented my daughter from learning from the consequences of her (drug-induced) behavior.

Thankfully, I’ve had years of recovery work to learn how to detach from the pain of watching my daughter self-destruct. I did send her to several rehabs and hoped that a sound upbringing and family love would turn her life around. But ultimately the choice to recover is hers alone.

I wish I had the power to change her. I wish things were different. But I have two other children who were raised the same way, and they are blessings in my life. I’ve stopped blaming myself, and I’ve learned to accept a situation I don’t have the power to change. I detach. I move away from obsessing about the pain of losing her. And I focus on the many good things that remain. When I try to keep my attitude positive, my life works better for me.

Gratitude For What Remains

From Each Day A New Beginning, September 21:

“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.

Pass it on.

I’m Glad I Stayed

“’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.”

Loosen Your Grip!

From Survival To Recovery, page 268:

“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!