Mirrors

From Each Day A New Beginning, February 11:

 “’It’s odd that you can get so anesthetized by your own pain or your own problem that you don’t quite fully share the hell of someone close to you.’ ~Lady Bird Johnson

Preoccupation with self can be the bane of our existence. It prevents all but the narrowest perspective on any problem. It cuts off any guidance…that may be offered through a friend…When we open our minds to fresh input from others, insights emerge. We need the messages others are trying to give us.”

 An end to my isolation. Opening my mind and heart to what others offer me.

For many years, I closed myself off from these offerings. I was busy with my life, self-sufficient…but unhappy. I was pretty bewildered about that—yet resigned to it.

Then—for the worst possible reason—I joined a recovery program that provided tools to help me climb out of my self-imposed misery. There are many new attitudes that I have adopted over time. But the most critical, I think, has been taking the risk to open myself to others and learn about myself using others’ perspectives to add balance to my own.

I’m not afraid of mirrors anymore.

I’ve had to let go of years of denial and preconceived notions about myself. I’ve had to learn how to be honest. And in doing that, I have discovered my own humanity. I am not unique, but part of a fellowship of equals who share a common bond.

No longer alone or lonely, I’m learning how to accept life on life’s terms…and be happy.

Beach Combing

I have a huge collection of shells that I’ve amassed over fifty years. But I’ve pretty much stopped collecting because I have no more room to put them! It’s time to enjoy what I have. And to wonder what they’ve represented to me all these years.

Ego. Such a fundamental part of the human condition, and yet it’s the very thing that makes me human and separates me from God. It’s ego that keeps me struggling in my relationships, ego that keeps me from accepting things as they are and feeling content with what I have. It’s ego and my willfulness beneath it that traps me in my restless search to outdo myself and others.

And it’s ego that makes me want to leave an imprint in the sand.

All human beings wrestle with ego, but substance users have found a solution that elevates us from our soul sickness: losing ourselves in substances and behaviors that provide oblivion for a time.  “We want what we want when we want it.” That tired old phrase smacking of egocentricity and childishness.

Substance users in their disease are all about themselves. In Alcoholics Anonymous, one definition of an alcoholic is an egomaniac with an inferiority complex..

To be “relieved of the bondage of self,” as the Third Step Prayer states in the Big Book, I’m learning how to nurture a relationship with God and remember my place in relation to Him. My importance is next to nothing in the scheme of things. This keeps me right-sized and humble. I’m just another grain of sand on the beach.

Learning to live beyond ego has been one of my biggest challenges. And, like all my work in the school of recovery, there is no graduation.

I line up all my conches and other shells, like students in a classroom, mindful of what they are teaching me.

The Healing Power Of Humor

From Hope for Today, April 6:

“…Today my sense of humor is a natural reflection of who I am. I experience the world through smiles and laughter rather than through bitter smirks. I share joy with others rather than seek company for my misery. I help others heal rather than attack them. I allow my sense of humor to unfold naturally, just the way it was meant, and I watch the wonderful results as my Higher Power works through me toward a higher good.”

Finding my sense of humor has been a reflection of how I’ve changed in recovery. I’ve worked through my grief around my daughter and continue to do so every day. But the darkness has receded. Somehow it’s not as heavy to carry as it used to be. It seems lighter. I’ve gained perspective from years of reading and writing, and listening to other peoples’ stories. Being able to laugh, and cease to take myself too seriously, has eased my journey through this frightening tunnel. I can see the light at the end of it.

At times I wondered if I would ever laugh again, but my Higher Power wanted me not only to survive but to do so joyfully. There are many other people in my world, and my recovery spills over onto them in countless ways.

Cultivating a healthy sense of humor keeps me right-sized; I stay small and HP stays big. Then I don’t get in my own way so much!

A Quiet Mind

“Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment.“ ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

From Courage to Change, September 4:

“As we let go of obsession, worry, and focusing on everyone but ourselves, many of us were bewildered by the increasing calmness of our minds. We knew how to live in a state of crisis, but it often took a bit of adjustment to become comfortable with stillness. The price of serenity was the quieting of the constant mental chatter that had taken up so much time; suddenly we had lots of time on our hands and we wondered how to fill it.”

Over time, I’ve learned how to “be still in the stream.” It took a long time for me to accept my powerlessness. But obsessing over my daughter and living in all her drama was threatening my health. I was suffering from severe PTSD and endured many other negative consequences in my life as a result of my constant worry over something I couldn’t control.

So, I finally took the first three steps in my recovery program. It was hard to do that because I felt that letting go was giving up on my daughter. Not loving her anymore. But that’s not how I feel now.

Once, not so long ago, Annie was a loving daughter to me, a college graduate with her whole life ahead of her. Then, like the great cosmic crapshoot that afflicts millions of families, she fell out of her life and into substance use disorder. She’s been lost to us all for a long time now.

But my daughter, not the addict that lives in her body, would want me to reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.

I believe this with all my heart.

Embracing Our Freedom

From Each Day A New Beginning, April 1:

“‘It is only when people begin to shake loose from their preconceptions, from the ideas that have dominated them, that we begin to receive a sense of opening, a sense of vision.’ ~Barbara Ward

…The past that we hang onto stands in our way. Many of us needlessly spend much of our lives fighting a poor self-image. But we can overcome that. We can choose to believe that we are capable and confident. We can be spontaneous, and our vision of all that life can offer will change—will excite us, will cultivate our confidence…We can respond to life wholly. We can trust our instincts. And we will become all that we dare to become…Each day is a new beginning. Each moment is a new opportunity to let go of all that has trapped me in the past. I am free. In the present, I am free.”

I’m not on automatic pilot anymore. My step work has helped me know myself better, be accountable for my actions, make amends when necessary, and move on. That last one is critical. When I get stuck on something, my sponsor in the program helps me shake free of it. Get unglued. Life is too short to bury myself in the past that I can’t do anything about. And tomorrow? Well, we’ll see what happens.

If I make an effort to stay in today, I have an opportunity to make “cleaner” choices and live better. At my age, that matters a lot to me. The three A’s are an important tool: Awareness, Acceptance and Action. I choose to act differently now. I have the freedom to choose.

I’m not in a coma…I’m an actor in my own script—not someone else’s. I feel tremendously empowered by this, taking control of my own life. Awareness has been a key in maintaining my emotional sobriety. And that awareness is reinforced all the time by the mirrors that surround me.

Another Perspective

“A Open Letter to My Family (from the substance user)

I am a drug user. I need help.

Don’t solve my problems for me. This only makes me lose respect for you.

Don’t lecture, moralize, scold, blame, or argue, whether I’m loaded or sober. It may make you feel better, but it will make the situation worse.

Don’t accept my promises. The nature of my illness prevents my keeping them, even though I mean them at the time. Promising is only my way of postponing pain. Don’t keep switching agreements; if an agreement is made, stick to it.

Don’t lose your temper with me. It will destroy you and any possibility of helping me.

Don’t allow your anxiety for me to make you do what I should do for myself.

Don’t cover up or spare me the consequences of my using. It may reduce the crisis, but it will make my illness worse.

Above all, don’t run away from reality as I do. Drug dependence, my illness, gets worse as my using continues. Start now to learn, to understand, to plan for recovery. Find NAR-ANON, whose groups exist to help the families of drug abusers.

I need help: from a doctor, a psychologist, a counselor, from an addict who found recovery in NA, and from God.

Your User”

 Enmeshment can be crippling: we don’t have enough emotional distance, often, to deal intelligently and effectively with the substance user. Stepping back, detaching, takes discipline and restraint. Such a hard thing to do when we’re in this emotional minefield. It has taken me years in my recovery program to act more and react less.  I need to deal from strength to be any help to my daughter. The oxygen mask must go on me first.

The Elusive Butterfly

From Each Day A New Beginning, June 18:

“’…we could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.’ ~Helen Keller

We chase after joy, like a child after a firefly…”

Yes I did, all my life, and then I changed. I stopped chasing the butterfly, not because it was a waste of time, but because my time could be better spent on other things.

In a quote from Cathy Hull Taughinbaugh’s new book, The Compassion Antidote:

“While you may feel your happiness or well-being depend on what your child does or doesn’t do, the more you can focus on yourself and your happiness the better…And the more you work on yourself, the better off your child will be—now and in the future…You will then become a role model for your child. She will see you not just as her parent, but as a strong person who can weather the storms that life throws at her.”

Our children are watching. The suffering in my family has gone on for over twenty years. But if I can turn my sadness and grief into lessons in resilience and hope for the rest of my family, then it was time well-spent.

Naranon Do’s and Don’ts

“Do note the effect the user has on each member of the family…

Do always encourage attempts to seek help.

Do remember to see the good in others and yourself.

Don’t accept guilt for another person’s acts.

Don’t nag, argue, lecture or recall past mistakes.

Don’t overprotect, cover up or rescue from the consequences.

Don’t neglect yourself or be a doormat.

Don’t forget that addiction is a disease, not a moral issue.

Do allow other people to accept their own responsibilities.

Don’t manipulate or make idle threats.

Do involve yourself with the activities of Nar-Anon.

Do learn to be open and honest.

Don’t yearn for perfection in yourself or others.

Do grow day by day, by reading Nar-Anon literature.

Do remember to focus on your OWN reactions and attitudes.

Don’t overlook the growth opportunities of a crisis.

Don’t underestimate the importance of release with love (commonly called detachment with love).

Do please try to manage your anxieties with love.

Don’t start the recovery program with the user. Start with the family at Nar-Anon, meeting and learning the difference between destructive and constructive help.”

Spiritual Levitation

From Hope for Today, May 20:

“The serenity I am offered in Al-Anon is not an escape from life. Rather it is the power to find peacefulness within life.

Al-Anon does not promise me freedom from pain, sorrow, or difficult situations. It does, however, give me the opportunity to learn from others how to develop the necessary skills for maintaining peace of mind, even when life seems most unbearable…

Serenity is not about the end of pain. It’s about my ability to flourish peacefully no matter what life brings my way.”

In the movie, “The Shack,” Mac has a dream and in it he meets God. Mac had recently lost his young daughter, and in his anger and bitterness he lashed out at God. Who else to blame? God (a woman in the movie) came right back at Mac with Her own defense: She didn’t orchestrate all the misery on earth: Aleppo, slaughter in Ukraine, children starving in Nigeria. “Don’t blame me for all that,” She said.” My purpose is to help you rise above it.”

Al-Anon has the same purpose in my life. God doesn’t have the power to return my daughter to me. But if I continue my daily practice of gratitude, accept what I don’t have the ability to change, and have faith that God’s plan is unfolding for a greater good than I may ever see, I can live peacefully and even joyfully, savoring all the goodness that is in my life. It’s my choice.