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.

What Makes Rainbows?

From Courage to Change, March 14:

“One beautiful day, a man sat down under a tree, not noticing it was full of pigeons. Shortly, the pigeons did what pigeons do best. The man shouted at the pigeons as he stormed away, resenting the pigeons as well as the offending material. But then he realized that the pigeons were merely doing what pigeons do, just because they’re pigeons and not because he was there.

Active alcoholics are people who drink. They don’t drink because of you or me, but because they are alcoholics. No matter what I do, I will not change this fact, not with guilt, shouting, begging, distracting, hiding money or bottles or keys, lying, threatening, or reasoning. I didn’t cause alcoholism. I can’t control it. And I can’t cure it. I can continue to struggle and lose. Or I can accept that I am powerless over alcohol and alcoholism, and let Al-Anon help me to redirect the energy I’ve spent on fighting this disease into recovering from its effects.

It’s not easy to watch someone I love continue to drink, but I can do nothing to stop them. If I can see how unmanageable my life has become, I can admit that I am powerless over this disease. Then I can really begin to make my life better.”

My recovery has been, among other things, about redirecting my energy into a positive force for my loved ones and me. Before I learned the tools of recovery, though I appeared to be content and doing well, I was deeply troubled and unhappy on the inside. Then, when my daughter  became a substance abuser, it all boiled to the surface. I love my daughter very much, and I would have done anything in my power to save her.

There’s that word “power” that we hear so much in the recovery rooms. And that’s good because power and ego so often go together, and I’ve had to learn to let go of both of them. I spent several years trying to save her, but I made many mistakes and in the end was not able to influence her choices. Just like the pigeons, she’s gonna do what she has to do. I can only love her and be strong for her if and when she goes into recovery. I am, therefore, concentrating on saving myself. And if it weren’t for my daughter, I probably wouldn’t even be doing that. Beauty is often born out of loss. I still have a heart that can love—and the eyes to enjoy the beautiful sunsets where I live in Puget Sound.

“God, Grant Me The Serenity To Know The Difference…”

From Each Day A New Beginning, March 23:

“’On occasion I realize it’s easier to say the Serenity Prayer and take that leap of faith than it is to continue doing what I’m doing.’

Most of our struggles, today as in the past, are attached to persons and situations we are trying forcibly to control. How righteous our attitudes generally are! And so imposing is our behavior that we are met with resistance, painful resistance. Our recourse is now and always to ‘accept those things we cannot change, and willingly change that which we can.’ Our personal struggles will end when we are fully committed to the Serenity Prayer.

‘The wisdom to know the difference is mine today.’”

Oh yes, the wisdom to know the difference…how often our egos get in the way of living well. We want what we want when we want it! We want our substance abuser to give up drugs and come back to the living. If only that choice were in our hands…

But it’s not. Only substance abusers have the power to reach for their own recovery…and we have the power to reach for our own. That has been my choice for several years now, and I’m learning to be happy despite losing my daughter to the living death of heroin addiction.

A good friend told me that ego is what separates us from God and each other. Ego (Easing God Out) is often our enemy and keeps us from the serenity we so desperately long for. So I’ve learned to turn my pain over to God (Step Three), to “let go and let God,” and that has made all the difference in my life.

Living In The Solution

I messaged a friend on Facebook: “Oh, God Bless, Maryann, my heart goes out to you and all of us mothers. I often say in my book and on these sites that I’m grieving a living death because my daughter is not the person who’s walking in her shoes. She’s split right down the middle. Anyway, we all have different stories, but some parts are so familiar. My books are all about finding solutions for myself, and I hope they help you too. One thing I’ve learned on this difficult journey is to live in the solution, not in the problem. That’s how I’ve learned to be happy. Hugs to you!”

From a Nar-Anon handout: “People like myself whose problems have brought them to the point of despair have come to Nar-Anon to seek advice and find solutions. As soon as they attend the first meeting they feel like they have come home and feel like they are among people who really understand. And fortunate is the newcomer who finds a group that permits such expression. It gives those who have gone before them a way to give encouragement and hope. The newcomer discovers that it is by giving and receiving in our sharing that we are able to heal ourselves, and slowly we are able to regain control of our lives again.

But still more fortunate is the newcomer who finds a group that does not allow such unburdening to continue meeting after meeting. There is work to be done; Nar-Anon is not a sounding board for continually reviewing our miseries, but a way to learn how to detach ourselves from them.

A Recovery reminder:

I will learn by listening, by reading all the Nar-Anon literature as well as all good books on the subject of substance use disorder by working and trying to live the 12 Steps. The more I read and study the more knowledge I receive. Knowledge is power, and I will be able to help myself as well as others.”