Grief and sadness are heavy. They weigh us down. Are we aware of the heavy backpack some of us are carrying? Remorse, anger, resentment, rage, disappointment and loss. That negative space is like a black hole. It’s dark and we can’t see clearly. “Our thinking becomes distorted…”
It’s been hard to let go, even of the pain and abuse, because it was my only connection to my daughter. I wanted to stay connected at any cost. But it was hurting me. I realized that I was sinking into that black hole, and then I reversed course. I didn’t want to throw my life away as well. I had too much else to live for.
I’m okay now, mostly free of the feelings that were burying me. I guess I’ve had some survivor’s guilt, but that’s faded, too. It’s been a rough twenty-two years, but life goes on in spite of the challenges. My recovery program has been a guiding light in helping me live a better life. Living in grace diminishes my pain and anger. It softens my edges.
‘It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world’—Dorothy Dix
“The storms in our lives benefit us like the storms that hit our towns and homes and wash clean the air we breathe. Our storms bring to the surface the issues that plague us…Recovery is a whole series of storms, storms that help to sprout new growth and storms that flush clean our own clogged drains. The peace that comes after a storm is worth singing about.”
Growing up surrounded by substance use disorder and falling prey to the disease myself, I was in the veritable forest, unable to see the trees. My deep and overriding love for my daughter forced me—eventually— to open my eyes and see what was right in front of me. I took a large leap toward healing myself so that I could be well enough to enjoy all my blessings. As I conclude in the final chapter of my first memoir, “What could be a better testament to Angie, to all her gifts and possibilities, than to go forward with my life savoring every moment?” Many friends in Al-Anon have expressed gratitude to their substance abuser/alcoholic for getting them into the rooms of recovery— these same friends who, like me, deeply mourn the lost years with our loved one—but who, also like me, refuse to offer another victim up to the altar of substance use disorder. Many of us have made it through the storm, and have found that we have something to sing about.
As Charles Swindoll has said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it…we are in charge of our attitudes.”
“Detachment is not isolation, nor should it remain focused on not enabling the sick behavior of the past. Detachment is not a wall; it is a bridge across which (we) may begin a new approach to life and relationships generally.”
I had a hard time at first understanding what detachment was. I thought it was an uncaring way to behave. How could I detach? I was so enmeshed with my daughter and intent on saving her from herself that I couldn’t think straight. I was just being a warrior mom, and I had a lot of company.
It was only when I faced my (misplaced) guilt and recognized it as a stumbling block that I was able to get some emotional distance and see what I was doing.
I needed to get out of the way.
Walls vs. bridges. I used to think that detaching from another person’s problem was like putting up a wall: separating myself emotionally and physically. But I needed to establish healthy boundaries in my relationship with my daughter. That’s what was missing.
I realized that it’s not okay to be overprotective; she would learn nothing otherwise. Instead of erecting a wall, I built this bridge, stone by stone, rail by rail, reinforcing it with the boundaries I needed to honor my own needs.
One of those needs was to try and be a responsible parent. I needed to stop enabling her to continue her behavior without consequences. I know she’ll do what she wants with or without me. But I have torn down the wall of shame and anger that separated us before.
As long as she’s alive, I have hope that she’ll walk across that bridge and face what’s ahead of her with the love and support of her family.
“My Twelve-Step recovery, so far, has brought me a great deal of gratitude and serenity, mostly when I remember that voice from God telling me to let go of control and resistance. Yet there’s another part of me that hurts terribly when I witness the destruction of my daughter at the hands of substance use disorder. How can I be well while Angie is so sick? I’ve spent all these years searching for an answer.
Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye, in an interview discussing her own grief about losing her mother, says this: ‘I’m changed by it, the way a tree is changed by having to grow around an obstacle.’
It’s the subliminal mother force in me. Grief and loss—they change us. I keep getting beamed onto Planet X, then back again, my molecules getting rearranged every time. Just as Angie has changed, so have I. I’ve loved my daughter as best I could for half of my life. How can losing her to this living death not change me?”
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.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, November 28:
“The idea of God is different with every person. The joy of my recovery was to find God within me.” ~Angela L. Wozniak
Well, there’s a thought…and how empowering! Too much do I rely on the outside world for kindness and goodness and strength. When I don’t always get those things, I feel vulnerable. We’re all flawed human beings, and we don’t always give or receive what’s craved in the moment. All the more reason to maintain a wellspring within ourselves—one of faith and hope for better days.
Isolation is not the answer for us who are in recovery. But neither is too much dependence on how we interact with others. We have to face life’s inevitable disappointments. I try hard to keep my expectations in check, do what I can to make a positive difference in the world, and then let go. I can’t control other people, places or things. But I can try to remain a steady force in my own life and those closest to me.
My recovery has taught me how to manage my ego and remember how small I am in the scheme of things. I have to muster humility in order to take the first three steps (the “God” steps), and humility is knowing my place in relation to God’s: a very small one, like the grains of sand on my beach. Every day I have the ability to marshal my thoughts and inner resources so that I’m not thrown off balance by what’s happening in my small world or in the world at large. All I can do is use the tools of the program as best I can. And, for me, that means keeping God close in my heart and relying on His strength as I watch what’s happening in the world. We all have the power to find peace amid the storms swirling around us. Blessings to all my sisters and brothers!
Happy New Year! Regardless of the storms swirling around us, I will try to remember what’s most important in life. I ask myself, “How important is it?” before I work myself up into a lather! I’ll try to slow down and not overreact to events. I’ll try to keep things in perspective and maintain a healthy attitude.
Let us all try to live well and hope for the best in our world.
“A slump can go on for days. We feel sluggish, unfocused, and sometimes overwhelmed with feelings we can’t sort out. We may not understand what is going on with us. Even our attempts to practice recovery behaviors may not appear to work. We still don’t feel emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as good as we would like.
In a slump, we may find ourselves reverting instinctively to old patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, even when we know better. We may find ourselves obsessing, even when we know that what we’re doing is obsessing and that it doesn’t work.
We may find ourselves looking frantically for other people to make us feel better, the whole time knowing our happiness and well-being does not lay with others.
We may begin taking things personally that are not our issues, and reacting in ways we’ve learned all too well do not work.
We’re in a slump. It won’t last forever. These periods are normal, even necessary. These are the days to get through. These are the days to focus on recovery behaviors, whether or not the rewards occur immediately. These are sometimes the days to let ourselves be and love ourselves as much as we can.
We don’t have to be ashamed, no matter how long we’ve been recovering. We don’t have to unreasonably expect “more” from ourselves. We don’t ever have to expect ourselves to live life perfectly.
Get through the slump. It will end. Sometimes, a slump can go on for days and then, in the course of an hour, we see ourselves pull out of it and feel better. Sometimes it can last a little longer.
Practice one recovery behavior in one small area, and begin to climb uphill. Soon, the slump will disappear. We can never judge where we will be tomorrow by where we are today.
Today, I will focus on practicing one recovery behavior on one of my issues, trusting that this practice will move me forward. I will remember that acceptance, gratitude, and detachment are a good place to begin.”
It’s important for families to communicate well, especially where illnesses are involved. We didn’t talk much in my family, especially about the elephant in the living room, my father’s alcoholism. In those days there was so much shame and stigma, and it was swept under the rug.
Not a healthy way to deal. I always knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what. Many children are naturally egocentric, and I thought everything was my fault. I internalized all of the dysfunction and blamed myself. So that’s how I proceeded through life, feeling guilty for what was not my responsibility.
If I had been told what was going on—even later on when I could handle it— I would have gotten a healthier perspective on my family and my place in it. And I would have let go of the guilt, which wasn’t mine to carry.
Talk to your kids, no matter what. It might not change what’s going on, but it might provide a smoother landing pad for your kids later on in their lives. “Knowledge is power.”