“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.
“’…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.
“If you bring me peace then you get more of my time. Simple.”
I read this online a few months ago and I’m so struck by the message, the tone, the unapologetic boundary setting. How many of us can say this to our loved one, whether it’s our child or our third cousin? This is a hard one for me. It puts my own needs first. And good self-care is something I’ve learned late in my life.
Early on in Annie’s disease, I allowed myself to be a battering ram. She was very abusive to me. Now I know that it was the drugs talking. (“What we allow will continue.”) But I was stunned, ashamed and feeling overly responsible at the time. I thought I deserved her wish to punish me (#martyrdom).
What a relief to finally reach a place where I feel worthy of some peace and joy. This has come after several years of working on myself and changing some self-defeating attitudes. Going into reverse, I’m no longer ashamed, and I know I’m not responsible. May we all reach a place where we can deal effectively and intelligently with this baffling disease. And not be destroyed by it. God Bless!
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.
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.”
“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.
Guilt has been a huge stumbling block for some of us in recovery. This is true because it keeps us stuck in the problem rather than in the solution.
I, too, have struggled with multiple addictions. So when my daughter mirrored my behavior, I was stunned to see her becoming a worse version of myself. The heartache was so real, and so deep, that I carried the responsibility for it. And that miscalculation crippled my judgment in numerous ways, ways in which I knew better. But I was still stuck in the problem.
Gratefully, I’ve become more educated about substance use disorder. It’s a brain disease with many moving parts, both physical and emotional, and with the cooperation of the user, it is highly treatable. But full recovery rests there, in the hands of the suffering addict. There is much we in the family can do to help and encourage, ways to show love and support without drowning ourselves. But we do not have the power to cure our loved one.
I am so heartened by what I’m learning about SUD recovery. More family involvement, love and support can make all the difference to a struggling family member. It encourages me a great deal to see substance use awareness moving in a more positive direction. Someday shame and stigma will be relics of the past, and SUD sufferers will be treated more effectively, with intelligence and compassion.
And guilt, one of the most useless and harmful emotions there is, will be kicked to the curb.
“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.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, Conference Approved Literature, 9/27:
“’As we think, so we are.’ We are gifted with the personal power to make thoughtful choices and thus decide who we are. Our actions and choices combine to create our character, and our character influences the circumstances of our lives…Our minds work powerfully for our good. And just as powerfully to our detriment, when fears intrude on all our thoughts.”
Giving in to fear is an abandonment of my faith. And without faith I wouldn’t have a program.
Fear is the basis for many of my problems which can lead to crazy behaviors: panic, and all the irrational choices I make because of it; self-pity, which has led into my own challenges with substance use; guilt and shame, which have led me to lie and dissemble.
I was given the gift of desperation when I entered the rooms, desperate to be happier than I felt at the time. I have accepted now, despite much resistance, that I can’t control the choices of my forty-one-year-old daughter. But I can control my own.
As I continue in my recovery, I am keenly aware of what powerful character builders the twelve steps are. I can work on myself, and be the best me I can be. I can try to improve myself. And whether or not it has an effect on my estranged daughter, it is noticeably affecting the family and friends I interact with today. For that I am very grateful.
My partner, Gene, and I were in a beautiful part of eastern Washington for his nephew’s wedding at the end of last summer. Much of his family gathered from all over the country to celebrate the couple’s happiness and toast to their future.
For what is life for us now? With many years behind us, joyful at times and other times sorrowful, and uncertain of how many more years are ahead of us, what is there now but an appreciation of each day as it unfolds? If I concentrate on today, let go of regrets from the past, and ignore worries about the future, I have the best chance of enjoying the time I’m being given.
My life in recovery encourages me to be grateful for simple things. Sunrises and sunsets, always looking for silver linings.