Loving Them/Loving Ourselves


“Learn to love someone even when they are unlovable.”

Substance use disorder is commonly accepted now as a brain disease. This pronouncement by the American Medical Association causes some confusion because the overuse of substances can cause such unacceptable behavior. It’s difficult to recognize, much less accept, that our loved ones aren’t always making conscious choices. They are under the influence of a bewildering array of drugs which influence them. My daughter, Angie, when she is on drugs, has not even resembled the daughter I raised. She has been angry, combative, and much worse. Her moral compass has flown out the window. I have often felt the need to distance myself from her for my own protection. This is just terrible and so counterintuitive. We want to protect our children from their disastrous choices. But I paid a heavy price by putting myself in the line of her fire. I learned the hard way that I don’t have the power to save Angie from the life she is living. But I do have the power to save myself.

Twelve-step recovery is not for everyone; I get that. But it has worked for me. One of the reasons it has worked for me is because an important part of the step work involves self-reflection. It involves looking at myself in the mirror and getting to know myself, warts and all. It involves self-forgiveness, forgiveness of others and letting go of resentments. These are just words, but in fact, they are difficult actions to take. Some resentments that we’ve been nursing our whole lives are nearly impossible to let go of. But I have learned that they will eat away at me, like acid, if I don’t. So it’s worth the effort to let them go. As I have learned to shed much of the negativity in my life, I’m learning to like myself better and be comfortable in my own skin. It’s a slow process—I’ve been at it for eighteen years!—but it has worked to help me love myself more and feel worthy of happiness.

So how has that improved relationship with myself affected my relationship with my daughter? To be honest, not much at all. She’s on her own path, one that I cannot support or enable. But what it HAS done is allow me to endure the distance created between us WITHOUT guilt or obsession. What it has done is convince me that I did the best I could with what I had to raise her, and pat myself on the back for that. The sad reality is that she got tagged with an illness that is destroying millions out there. It’s a cruel illness because it often kills our children (their minds, their spirit, their morality) before it actually kills them. Knowing now what I know about substance use disorder, I don’t beat myself up with remorse and an overinflated sense of responsibility. I continue to tell Angie that I love her because I do. I will always love her unconditionally, no matter what. The door is not closed; it remains open for her to embrace recovery and come back to her family. That will never change. As unlovable as she is when she’s using drugs, I will continue to love her while there’s breath in my body.

In the meantime, my recovery is enabling me to bridge the gap between what I’ve lost and what’s left. I have two other children, beautiful grandchildren, a loving partner, siblings and many friends who remind me what a gift it is just to be alive.  Jenny Jerome Churchill said it best: “Life is not always what one wants it to be. But to make the best of it as it is, is the only way of being happy.”

The Benefits Of Self-Reflection

When I go to bed at night I ask myself, “Did I do the best I could today?” Sometimes my answer is “yes” and sometimes it’s “no.”

I read somewhere that a life without regret is a life without reflection. So if I’m able to think about my actions—sometimes with regret and sometimes with pride—then I feel that my awareness in itself can be a source of strength. It points the way for me to change when it’s necessary. And it boosts my self-confidence when I can recognize—and give myself credit for— a day well lived.

Leave The Past There

From Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature, p. 216:

“Look back without staring.”

It’s important to understand where we’ve come from, what was done to us and what we did to others. There might be many lessons for us in the past. But the time to apply them is now.

If I can learn from my mistakes and try not to repeat them, then they have value. Making amends is a good thing; but they’re words. Of far greater value, to me, is the practice of living amends. We can’t do anything to change the past, but we can try to do things differently now.

Of particular importance is my ability to let go of resentments when they crop up. Sometimes I find myself holding onto my anger, even clinging to it. But such behavior is a big threat to my serenity. An oft-heard saying in the rooms of recovery: “Having resentments is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Holding onto resentments hurts me the most.

Bearing grudges toward people or over events from the past is a heavy undertaking. It’s that knapsack full of stones (boulders for some) that is burdensome to carry. When I set it down and free myself of its weight, there’s a lightness in my steps, and my days flow more easily.

This is another example of how I’m striving to live well. For all  of us familiar with the living death of drug addiction, the value of life comes into sharper focus. How I live mine, today, will bring me the peace and serenity I work hard for.

Sometimes, Loving Is Enough

From Hope for Today, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature,August 14:

“Holding on to anger, resentment, and a “poor me” attitude is not an option for me today…Remembering that alcoholism is a disease helps me see the person struggling beneath the burden of illness.”

It’s so simple to give in to anger. Losing a loved one to addiction is pure hell. I’ve cried out against everyone: God, all those who stigmatize and judge addiction, all those who shun my daughter as though it’s contagious, and myself, too, for my misguided attempts to help her by enabling her behavior.

Many years in the rooms of recovery have opened my eyes and my heart to the “new realities” of addictive disease. When I was growing up, I thought drug addicts wore tattoos and rode motorcycles. And of course they had to grow up in poverty.

When my daughter became an addict, I was sure she would snap out of it. But I was wrong. This disease doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anybody.

The American Medical Association has helped by declaring addiction a brain disease. Now that I know my daughter has an illness, there is no room for blame or judgment. There is no room in my heart or mind for anger. I can only feel great compassion for her. And I will always love her.

It’s as simple as that.

Seeing More Clearly

“After coming to Al-Anon, my emotional sight improved.” ~The Forum, 8/19, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature

What does that mean? When I started wearing glasses, I could read better. Improvement in my emotional sight has been slower, and not so dramatic. By using the tools of the program, I started to understand how my own shortcomings were getting in the way of healthy choices for me.

My guilt around Angie’s addiction was getting in my way, keeping me from resisting manipulation and unacceptable behavior in her. I had no healthy boundaries and didn’t feel I deserved to speak up for myself. This is crippling behavior between a parent and a child, especially a child on drugs. Many addicts when using will try to manipulate to get their way, even lie and steal. Lacking the ability to say “No!” to my daughter, she simply ran over me like a fast-moving train.

Now, many years into my recovery program, I have healthier boundaries and stronger defenses against anyone who wishes to harm me. It is the greatest sadness in the world to know that one of those people is my own daughter. But she is split down the middle: the child I raised is lost right now; the addict is in charge when she is using drugs. It is the addict I must be wary of, not my daughter. Those of us with addicts in our lives need to be mindful of this. We can love our child and feel great compassion for him/her. But when addiction rules with all its attendant behavior, my experience has taught me that it’s wise to be vigilant. I need to keep my emotional sight sharp, while remaining kind and compassionate.

It’s quite a juggling act!

Just Being Myself

“The Al-Anon program has helped me see that pleasing others over myself is no longer in my best interest.” ~The Forum, 8/19, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature

I’ve always been a people pleaser. I wanted others to be happy, and I often sacrificed something of my own to achieve that. Not always something obvious like an object: my dessert, my jewelry, or my car. Usually it was much more subtle so I wouldn’t take notice: my time, my opinions, even my values.

There was a time when I was like a chameleon, but like the lizard I was usually afraid of offending people. That’s why I made the “sacrifice.” But it was my integrity that, over time,  I lost.

In recovery, I’ve learned to understand that people pleasing isn’t always a healthy behavior. Often we lose ourselves in the process. My step work has helped me get to know myself more honestly and like myself anyway. If I value who I am, it’s easier to stick to my guns and not fear the consequences if someone disagrees with me. The cost of losing myself to please others is greater than the benefit of being who I am.

People respect honesty.

Walls Or Bridges?

“Thanks to my recovery program, I have learned to build bridges instead of walls.” ~”The Forum,”  Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature

What does that mean? From what I’ve learned in recovery, it’s about learning to set healthy, workable boundaries. And what does that word mean? A lot of questions!

I grew up in an alcoholic family without many boundaries. There was a lot of guilt, and a fair amount of permissiveness related to that. My parents were sometimes neglectful and/or passive. I was allowed to run wild and became rebellious. Even my moral code was challenged. I was not a happy camper, and it showed.

As an adult raising my three children, is it any wonder that much of my parenting was the same? We pass on what we were given. When Angie started abusing drugs at age 21, I was blindsided, but I shouldn’t have been. I was in such denial about myself and my own shortcomings that I was incredulous at the change in her. I couldn’t believe it! But, in time, with a lot of my own recovery, I learned to not only believe it but to understand it. And most importantly, not to blame myself for it.

Because of MY misplaced guilt around Angie’s addiction, early on I set almost no boundaries with her. Why would I have to? She was 21; I had instilled a moral code in her since she was a child. What I didn’t realize, and gradually learned with horror, was how the personality of the addict often changes, how they abandon their moral code over and over again to serve their addiction—their new master. Angie lied to me, she stole from me, and she violated me in many ways.

I had to establish a new set of boundaries for her, quite apart from the boundaries I set for my other children. With them, I didn’t need to protect myself. With Angie, I did.

I view an addict while using drugs as a person split down the middle: my Angie, the daughter I raised was endlessly thoughtful, always remembering birthdays and Mother’s Day; the addict on heroin bears no resemblance to the daughter I knew. This is the tragic reality of how addiction hijacks our children and sometimes renders them unrecognizable.

But boundaries are not walls to shut people out. They are bridges to ensure healthier lines of communication. I incorporate boundaries into all of my relationships. Most relationships wouldn’t work well without them. Call them “rules,” or “expectations.” Whatever word we use, they are intended to help our dealings with people work better. Curfews with our teenage children are like lines in the sand, and many kids will tell you that they feel safer when parents impose limits.

With my daughter, I’ve had to impose tough limits because she is still under the influence of drugs. The addict is in charge, and I need to stay safe. Again—the sad reality of loving an addict lost in the hellish underworld of substance use disorder. But love her, I do, and always will. She knows this.

Many addicts recover. It’s miraculous to see them return to their former selves once they stop polluting their brains with substances. I pray Angie will be one of them someday. She knows how to reach me and I pray she will want to one day. In the meantime, setting boundaries is one of the many tools of recovery I enjoy to make all of my relationships work better. I’ve had to learn to reparent myself in recent years and I’m still growing as a parent. And a grandparent! Life goes on…

Baby Steps Lead To Bigger Ones

“First Step Prayer:

Dear Lord,

I admit that I am powerless over my addict.

I admit that my life is unmanageable

When I try to control him/her.

Help me this day to understand the true meaning of powerlessness.

Remove from me all denial of my loved one’s addiction.”

The first step is probably the most important one in assuring our recovery from the effects of another’s addiction.  And it’s because I refused to take it that it took me so long to start to recover. I simply wouldn’t accept my powerlessness over my daughter’s disease. I felt as though I would be dropping the ball,  appearing as though I didn’t care about her. I felt that I had to do everything in my power to save her, not realizing that I had no such power.

So, deep pockets helped me to put Angie through four rehabs. They also had me paying her rent, paying off her loans, and paying back the creditors. All my “help” simply gave her more money for drugs. In short, deep pockets can be dangerous if they allow us to enable our children. She might have learned something from the consequences of her actions if I hadn’t kept getting in the way.

So yes, my life had become unmanageable. I love Angie very much. And I kept making things easy for her. But we can enable our children to death. Now I’ve let go of all my attempts to control her and her disease.

And I feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.

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

And another of my favorite quotes: ~Jennie Jerome Churchill: “Life may not be everything we want it to be. But to make the best of things as they are is the only way to be happy.”

All of us in these rooms have experienced addiction in one form or another: in ourselves or in a loved one. It’s a cruel illness because unlike many serious illnesses that are incurable, drug addiction is often conquered by the sufferer. Many addicts 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.

The point is that dealing with addiction is painful and messy. My life was derailed because of it. But I found a way to recover—from my own addictions as well as my addiction to saving my daughter, Angie—and I got my life back.

I’m filled with gratitude everyday for that. And I wish us all the same peace and joy for that freedom.

I learned to be happy. I learned “to make the best of things as they are.” And that’s quite a lot!

Learning From Repetition

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~Aristotle

I remember when my daughter Angie was in early recovery, a doctor we knew told her to replace the using habit with something else, something healthful. Any habit, good or bad, takes up time in our lives. When we want to rid ourselves of bad habits, according to this doctor, we need to replace them with something else that is pleasurable.

Easier said than done, of course, when drugs are surrendered in favor of something else. But creating good habits takes commitment, determination and time. Many addicts give up drugs and rebuild their lives. They just have to stay committed to sobriety.

My wish for all of us caught one way or another in the hellish world of addiction is that we find a better way to live—a way to live well and be happy.