“Aye, There’s The Rub…”

The Serenity Prayer (Part 3)

 “Courage to change the things I can…

When my ego is involved and there’s a calculated risk, I’m going to be gutsy, not courageous. It takes guts to ski a steep trail; I alone will be rewarded. Courage is different. There is always a parenthesis of fear in Courage; the risk becomes minor. This parenthesis remains a void of fear until it is filled by God. There is no ego in a courageous act. Courage can ask for help. It is often something done for someone else, or it may be something I am not attracted to doing at all. I may lose by doing it. The courageous act is often the unpopular choice, to do or not to do. The results are seldom only mine. It requires more of me than I want to think I can do, alone. After it is finished, gratitude to someone or something is usually in order. Courage requires a moral strength not of myself. This strength is given by faith.”

EGO—Easing God Out—is my enemy in many ways. It makes me willful and arrogant. It’s the great separator—of me from people, of me from God. When I let God back in again, my life and my relationships seem to work better. And God has always given me the courage to do what is difficult in relation to my daughter. My faith in Him has given me the strength to do what I believe is right, regardless of the consequences. I believe things are unfolding as they are meant to. When I surrender to this belief, I am at peace.

Taking Ownership Of My Own Recovery

Many people are not strong enough to battle the terrible force of substance use disorder on their own. Application of the Twelve Steps had proven successful over and over again since they were put together by a couple of alcoholics and their friends back in the late 1930’s. Substance abusers need help; some say they need spiritual help. Our society is full of naysayers—skeptics who eschew these programs that are found in every major city across the country, and in big cities, in many of the churches, meeting three or four times a day. There’s a reason for the popularity of Twelve-Step programs: they work for many people. So I promised myself I would try harder now. My daughter was worth it. My daughter was worth it?

There is no one place on this journey to pinpoint where I discovered that I was worth it. I knew what a flawed human being I was. I was aware of my mistakes along the way—big ones and little ones.

But as I was starting to embrace the principles found in these Twelve Steps I was reacquainting myself over and over again with my own humanity and feeling my self-worth solidify with roots into the earth. None of this growth in me would have occurred if my daughter’s illness hadn’t pushed me onto this path. And I would always—still—reckon with the survivor guilt that has challenged my right to be happy while my daughter still struggles with this cruel disease.

There are many who view Twelve-Step groups as cultish and unattractive. There’s such a powerful stigma in our society against substance use disorder in all its forms that, I suppose, families of substance abusers suffer from guilt by association. Early on in my recovery my sister once said that it must be nice to have “those people” to talk to. But as she’s watched me grow and change these past few years I think she’s developed a healthy respect for the Program.

To this day, though, she has never discussed with me the dark side of our father, the alcoholic. Maybe she never saw his dark side, as I did. To her, he was the best father in the world, and I have no need to invade that sacred place where she holds him in her heart. In fact, I agree with her. He was a very loving man who passed on many gifts to his children and grandchildren. Yes, he was sick, and he died too young because of it. But just as I have forgiven my mother for any ways she may have hurt me so have I lovingly accepted my father’s illness. And in learning to forgive my parents and others who have wounded me in my life, it has become easier for me to forgive myself for my own shortcomings and the part they played in hurting my own children.

I, being a substance abuser, a daughter of one and a parent of one, have found myself quite at home among these seekers of peace and serenity. I’ve been in the right place for twenty-three years now, and I cannot begin to tell you the gratitude I feel for the wisdom in this simple program that has helped me to look forward to the sun coming up every day—and to embrace my life in its entirety.

Mindfulness

From SESH, June 27: T.H.I.N.K.

Am I thoughtful?

Am I honest?

Are my words intelligent?

Are they necessary?

Am I kind?

I love this acronym because it shows how emotions can collide with rational thinking. It also shows that even when we are being rational, we sometimes say the wrong thing. As a writer, I’m aware of the power of words—how they can persuade, or repel, how they can win friends, or lose them. I’ve done them all! When I get too emotional, I’m sure to say the wrong thing. Experience has taught me to use this acronym to weigh carefully what comes out of my mouth. To ask myself if what I say is necessary, or am I just spouting off, releasing steam like Old Faithful in Yellowstone? Am I being honest, or are my words brutal and tactless? Do I care how my words might affect the other person? Am I so emotional, in the moment, that my words might appear unintelligible? And most of all, do my words demonstrate kindness towards the other person?

Of all those terms, kindness for me is the most far-reaching and important. No matter what happens to us in our lives, no matter how deeply we are humbled by our circumstances and shortcomings, if we can remain kind in the face of everything, then that says a lot about our character.

“Thoughts become words. Choose the good ones!”

Grateful To Be Growing Within

from Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope, June 16:

“I remember feeling my anger and resentment lessen at my first meeting when I learned that addiction is a disease, like cancer or diabetes. I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it.

Today I am grateful that I am married to an addict because I have been given the opportunity to explore my spiritual nature and move out of my comfort zones. I have taken a good look at who I am, what I want and where I’m going. I am facing my past, my faults and my fears. I am becoming a better person, a happier person, and a more serene person. I am slowly but surely learning not to suppress my emotions and fears, but to release them and grow.”

‘No longer forward nor behind I look in hope or fear. But, grateful, take the good I find, the best of now and here.’  John Greenleaf Whittier

Just for today, I will pay attention to my blessings. I have so much to be grateful for, and I guard against complacency. It can all be snatched away in a heartbeat, so I take nothing for granted. This is a good way to live, savoring every good moment.

Writing As A Tool To Heal

“Oh I hate to write, Marilea. It’s like pulling teeth. And I’m afraid of what I might find.”

“Bingo, girlfriend, that’s the whole point. Discovery. I’ve been writing my heart out for more than a decade, and what I’ve learned about myself in the process could fill a book. In fact, it did. It filled three books and countless essays.”

“Yeah, but you’re a good writer and I’m just a hack.”

“Whoa! There’s all that judgment we keep heaping on ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you write well or not. The work is putting your words on paper. How they are received is also not important. What you do with those words is not important. Just get them out of you and examine what’s on the page. Maybe you will learn something new.”

So my friend and I went back and forth about the value of writing. She said she’d get back to me.

But I learned many things about myself from reading my early writing. I learned that I was extremely angry and judgmental toward my daughter. How could she be behaving so badly? And then I wrote about my own youth and realized that we were mirror images of each other.

Discovery.

I learned that I needed to be in the rooms as much as my daughter, if not more, because there were two of us who were sick. And that was the beginning of my healing. My words on the page stood out like red flags everywhere. That’s when I stopped being so angry or judgmental. If I could forgive myself for my sick soul and the behavior it reflected, I could certainly forgive my daughter. And that smoothed the way for her to come back to her family when she was ready.

Our lives rarely enjoy Hollywood endings. My story has not ended well for my daughter. But my writing has helped me cope with that too. The two of us might have fallen down the rabbit hole and never returned. But the catharsis I experienced from being honest on the page has freed me to look beyond my daughter and see my life in perspective. I have a wonderful life, surrounded by people I love. And though I miss my daughter and feel the loss of her every day, I can transform my grief into something positive: joy and gratitude for all that’s left in my life. This book, Opening Our Hearts, Transforming our Losses, is a great resource for those who don’t know what to do with their grief. Take a look.

Playing God

Recovery in the Program, time and the perspective it brings us, has given me a lot of new information. My own recovery has also graced me with a healthy amount of humility. I used to confuse humility with humiliation. I used to think that admitting my faults would produce shame in me and threaten my self-worth. But in recent years I have a different understanding of this word.

Having taken the Fourth Step (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”), and later the Seventh Step (“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings”), I began to see myself in a healthier light. I began to see myself in relation to my higher power. I am just a speck in the universe, no more, no less. This need to stay right-sized keeps me out of trouble. I’ve been playing God for much of my life. It doesn’t matter anymore why; what matters now is that I remain ever mindful of the amount of power I have over others and stop trying to play God with them. They have their own Higher Power, and I’m not It!

Memoir Excerpt

“All my children had finished college and had spread their wings. Caroline lived in San Francisco, and Carter was about to leave for Austin to get his master’s. But Annie was still living in the area, utterly transformed by the disease of substance use disorder. I bore witness, close-up, to unbelievable changes in her character, shocking new behaviors, as I experienced a mother’s bewildering sadness and grief. I felt sometimes, like going to bed and staying there.

              Exploding into my living room a year later with a pit bull and an overflowing suitcase, her eyes were blood red as she pleaded with me.

             ‘Mom, help me. I can’t do this anymore!’

              Of course I’ll help you, my darling girl. We’ll arrange for another rehab, and I know it will work this time.

             ‘Annalise,’ I told her without giving her a choice, ‘I’m taking you to Arlington Hospital. They can help you there. Where is your car? How did you get here?’

             ‘My car was stolen. I got a ride here,’ she said, looking toward the door, wild-eyed. ‘Please get me out of here. I need help.’

             ‘Honey, it’ll be okay,’ I offered. ‘I’m sure they’ll give you something to calm you in the hospital.’

            Thank God Gene was living with me then and happened to be home.

             ‘Gene,” I was trembling, ‘you need to take Dante to the animal shelter in Alexandria. I’m sure they’ll find a home for him.’ I wasn’t sure of that at all, but it helped Annie say goodbye to her dog.

             I got in the car with her and drove the short distance away, illegally parking right at the entrance. The staff checked her in to the psych ward. As I turned to leave, Annie suddenly approached me, panicked. Of course she was afraid. She was putting herself in a situation where she would have to stop abusing drugs as long as she was there.

              ‘Annie,’ warmly offering her a hug, ‘Gene and I will visit you every day. And Dad and Paula will come over from Georgetown, too. Just try to get better. We all love and miss you so much.’

              She turned away from me and followed the nurse. The door to the psych ward slammed behind her. It only opened in one direction. She was locked in.

              And I was locked out. I still couldn’t accept the fact that Annie was a runaway train—and I couldn’t stop the wreckage. It was October, 2007, my favorite time of year. But I was blind to the autumn beauty all around me. The world appeared bleak and colorless.

              After I got home, I repeated Psalm 23 over and over again: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…’

            I was praying as hard as I could. But not hard enough.

           Total Wine wasn’t far from my condo. I popped in there for an economy-size bottle of Chardonnay, not even waiting for the change. The twist-off cap let me start right there in the parking lot. Once again I felt rattled and sick with worry. Alcohol was how I was finding my courage more and more in those days. The courage to watch my daughter fall into the rabbit hole of substance use disorder and be helpless to stop her.

Mirror, mirror…I was following her down that hole.

By the time Gene returned from taking Annie’s dog to the shelter, I’d finished about half of the bottle, was terribly drunk, dizzy, and sprawled on the sofa, wailing out loud.

‘I’ll never do this again, make me promise! This is the last time!’

Gene just held my hand.”

© Marilea C. Rabasa and Gene Dunne, 2023. Excerpt from Gene and Toots: A Story of Love…and Recovery (Sidekick Press).

Others Need Us Too

I’ll never forget a friend I had years ago. She was the youngest of three girls in her family. The middle sister had suffered from cancer years before and had died. My friend was ten when her sister died at age fourteen. But it wasn’t the death that traumatized Jillian so much. It was the years of care, heartbreak and obsession with saving her dying child that her mother endured—to the exclusion of her other two girls—that turned Jillian into an angry, rebellious teenager. She did not get her share of mother love, she felt, and to this day she has not forgiven her mother. I should have remembered that story while I was obsessing over my daughter.

I have since made amends to my other children and family members for allowing my daughter’s illness to take up so much emotional energy in my life. And they have forgiven me. It’s so easy for a loving mother to become enmeshed in the life of a troubled child. But I need to remember that there are other people in my life, and I will try to keep a healthy perspective and a sense of balance. For them. Because they matter too.

Find Something To Smile About

Silver linings are everywhere in our lives. I try to appreciate them when I see them. My family has lived through four generations of alcoholism, but it wasn’t until my daughter was stricken with substance use disorder that I was motivated to go into serious recovery for myself. Losing her all these years to this cruel disease has been heartbreaking, and my serenity has come at a very high price. But though I’ll never get over these lost years with her, I like to think that she would be glad that I’ve survived and am learning to live well. This is how I honor her memory. She’s left a few flowers along the way, and I’m grateful.

Detachment 101

“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 us 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 messes. Her problems became my problems, and it never occurred to me to let her tackle her own issues, both for her betterment and my own.

But 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 her. I no longer feel the “agony of involvement,” as I’ve let go of her illness and the ensuing consequences of her substance abuse. 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.