Grief and sadness are heavy. They weigh us down. Are we aware of the heavy backpack some of us are carrying? Remorse, anger, resentment, rage, disappointment and loss. That negative space is like a black hole. It’s dark and we can’t see clearly. “Our thinking becomes distorted…”
It’s been hard to let go, even of the pain and abuse, because it was my only connection to my daughter. I wanted to stay connected at any cost. But it was hurting me. I realized that I was sinking into that black hole, and then I reversed course. I didn’t want to throw my life away as well. I had too much else to live for.
I’m okay now, mostly free of the feelings that were burying me. I guess I’ve had some survivor’s guilt, but that’s faded, too. It’s been a rough twenty-two years, but life goes on in spite of the challenges. My recovery program has been a guiding light in helping me live a better life. Living in grace diminishes my pain and anger. It softens my edges.
‘It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world’—Dorothy Dix
“The storms in our lives benefit us like the storms that hit our towns and homes and wash clean the air we breathe. Our storms bring to the surface the issues that plague us…Recovery is a whole series of storms, storms that help to sprout new growth and storms that flush clean our own clogged drains. The peace that comes after a storm is worth singing about.”
Growing up surrounded by substance use disorder and falling prey to the disease myself, I was in the veritable forest, unable to see the trees. My deep and overriding love for my daughter forced me—eventually— to open my eyes and see what was right in front of me. I took a large leap toward healing myself so that I could be well enough to enjoy all my blessings. As I conclude in the final chapter of my first memoir, “What could be a better testament to Angie, to all her gifts and possibilities, than to go forward with my life savoring every moment?” Many friends in Al-Anon have expressed gratitude to their substance abuser/alcoholic for getting them into the rooms of recovery— these same friends who, like me, deeply mourn the lost years with our loved one—but who, also like me, refuse to offer another victim up to the altar of substance use disorder. Many of us have made it through the storm, and have found that we have something to sing about.
As Charles Swindoll has said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it…we are in charge of our attitudes.”
“’Life is patchwork—here and there, pleasure and despair, Joined together, hit or miss.’ ~Anne Bronaugh
As you look ahead to this day, you can count on unexpected experiences. You can count on moments of laughter. And you can count on twinges of fear. Life is seldom what we expect, but we can trust that we will survive the rough times. They will, in fact, soften our edges. Pleasure and pain share equally in the context of our lives.
We so easily forget that our growth comes from the challenges we label “problems.” We do have the tools at hand to reap the benefits inherent in the problems that may face us today. Let us move gently forward, take the program with us, and watch the barriers disappear.”
If we remain steeped in sorrow, are we receptive to joy? If all goes well for us, are we prepared for the valleys? There will always be a mix of both in our lives. The trick is to find a balance and not be overwhelmed by either emotion. To be able to say, “Okay today was not a good day, but I’m confident tomorrow will be a good day. Something good, even if it’s just the opening of my tulips, will happen.”
I have found that when I look for joy with an open mind, I will find it.
“Detachment is not isolation, nor should it remain focused on not enabling the sick behavior of the past. Detachment is not a wall; it is a bridge across which (we) may begin a new approach to life and relationships generally.”
I had a hard time at first understanding what detachment was. I thought it was an uncaring way to behave. How could I detach? I was so enmeshed with my daughter and intent on saving her from herself that I couldn’t think straight. I was just being a warrior mom, and I had a lot of company.
It was only when I faced my (misplaced) guilt and recognized it as a stumbling block that I was able to get some emotional distance and see what I was doing.
I needed to get out of the way.
Walls vs. bridges. I used to think that detaching from another person’s problem was like putting up a wall: separating myself emotionally and physically. But I needed to establish healthy boundaries in my relationship with my daughter. That’s what was missing.
I realized that it’s not okay to be overprotective; she would learn nothing otherwise. Instead of erecting a wall, I built this bridge, stone by stone, rail by rail, reinforcing it with the boundaries I needed to honor my own needs.
One of those needs was to try and be a responsible parent. I needed to stop enabling her to continue her behavior without consequences. I know she’ll do what she wants with or without me. But I have torn down the wall of shame and anger that separated us before.
As long as she’s alive, I have hope that she’ll walk across that bridge and face what’s ahead of her with the love and support of her family.
“My Twelve-Step recovery, so far, has brought me a great deal of gratitude and serenity, mostly when I remember that voice from God telling me to let go of control and resistance. Yet there’s another part of me that hurts terribly when I witness the destruction of my daughter at the hands of substance use disorder. How can I be well while Angie is so sick? I’ve spent all these years searching for an answer.
Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye, in an interview discussing her own grief about losing her mother, says this: ‘I’m changed by it, the way a tree is changed by having to grow around an obstacle.’
It’s the subliminal mother force in me. Grief and loss—they change us. I keep getting beamed onto Planet X, then back again, my molecules getting rearranged every time. Just as Angie has changed, so have I. I’ve loved my daughter as best I could for half of my life. How can losing her to this living death not change me?”
Annie was 21 when she surrendered to drug abuse. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. I was in denial, totally blindsided. I frantically sought answers, heaping much of the blame on myself, trying at times to be a firm and responsible parent, but always slipping back into my worst defects. My self-will was running riot, and I was making myself sick with PTSD, anxiety and clinical depression.
My obsession with saving her—my constant worrying—contributed bigtime to my downfall. I couldn’t let go of it. And it was so easy to justify it to myself: I love my daughter so much and I want to save her from herself. I won’t give up on her. I’ll do whatever it takes.
We are parents who love our children without exception. But our dilemma is not about love. It’s about the many stresses on that love that, in my case anyway, made me very sick. One of those stresses is worry. Too much of it can make us feel martyred, which is so passive. I was in a constant state of anxiety. And for what? It changed nothing.
These past many years striving toward recovery have slowly helped me feel worthy of being a better me and therefore worthy of having a better life. For me, that includes grieving in my own way around my daughter, while at the same time embracing all the love and joy in family members and good friends who stand by me always. It doesn’t include putting one foot in a future that hasn’t happened, weakening my footing in the present.
It’s a waste of time. And couldn’t I be doing something better for myself?
We all know people who are set in their ways. I used to be one of them. I had reached a certain age, and I thought I had my life pretty well figured out, though I was a hot mess inside. But what was on the inside was mostly hidden and I wanted to keep it that way: shame, guilt, appearances. Oh dear, what would people think? I had made my deal with the Devil and still thought I could skate through life without needing to change.
Then my middle child, struggling with depression, turned to substance abuse. From then on my carefully manicured world started to collapse. Seeing my beautiful daughter transform herself into an immoral stranger absolutely broke me. It absolutely broke me. And like a broken glass, that’s how the light started to get in. But not all at once. It was a slow wheel, my road to recovery from this. And—surprise, surprise—I learned to carve out a lane for myself, for my own recovery. Why? Because until I learned to rescue myself, I was in no position to help my daughter. The blind leading the blind!
In the rooms they tell us that “we will love you until you learn to love yourself.” I never in a million years thought that I could banish the Devil from my life. But I have, though He tries to visit sometimes. I tell him I don’t need to punish myself anymore. It’s not my fault, what happened to my daughter. Or to me…or to my father…or to my grandfather and aunt. It’s a disease, a complicated family disease. And there is a healthier lane called “Freedom from Suffering” that I try hard to remain in.
I turn to look at my daughter and the lane she’s in. It breaks my heart, my eyes well up with tears, and I grieve for the lost years with her. But I don’t stay there. There are so many others in my life for me to be thankful for. I keep my focus on them.
My years in recovery have changed my perspective and taught me that happiness is not getting what I want. It’s being grateful for what I get.
From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, CAL, August 20:
“’Everything in life that we really accept undergoes change. So suffering must become love. That is the mystery.’ ~Katherine Mansfield
Acceptance of those conditions that at times plague us changes not only the conditions but, in the process, ourselves. Perhaps this latter change is the more crucial. As each changes…life’s struggles ease. When we accept all the circumstances that we can’t control, we are more peaceful. Smiles more easily fill us up. It’s almost as though life’s eternal lesson is acceptance, and with it comes life’s eternal blessings.”
This is a hard one for me. Hard because, like many people, it is hard to accept the pain of loss. Like a recent amputee, I miss what’s not there. I miss my high school job; I miss my daughter; I miss some friends who have passed.
And at times I resist. I go into fighting mode where I refuse to accept. But that place is not peaceful for me. It stirs up feelings, long set aside as harmful: guilt, longing, even at times the wish to punish myself.
Whoa! This is why I need my recovery program, to keep me, first of all, on the road and secondly, charting a healthy course. It will do me no good to dwell on the pain of my losses. But it will help me grow a great deal if I can accept them with grace and try to let go of the pain. It will lead me to love.
There are joys in my life that clamor for my attention. That I still have the heart to embrace them openly, not as a consolation, but as emerging gifts worthy of my full attention, is how my grief leads me to a place of love.
Acceptance is the answer for me. It prevents me from getting stuck, and gives me the freedom to move forward.
My sponsor often scolded me when I put myself down, even slightly. Until I got into recovery, low self-regard followed me most of my life. I had some bad habits that needed correcting. If I had a hard time accepting myself, how could I expect anyone else to?
Thank goodness I found the rooms of recovery before I grew too old to reap the rewards! The twelve steps, when practiced with the help of my sponsor, have brought miracles of transformation into my life. I’m so grateful that I’ve remained teachable and not too set in my ways.
I, along with millions of others in our fellowship, have found the courage to change. We only get one chance to go around the block, and it’s never too late to try to do better. My life and relationships have grown richer and more rewarding as a result.
There was a time in my life when genuine joy was a foreign concept to me. Now, upon waking, each day is a new beginning, a chance to check my attitudes, my words, and my behavior.
The three A’s: awareness, acceptance, and action. Each night before my head hits the pillow, if I’m following my program, then I know I’ve done the best that I could do. I especially need to watch what I say because words can’t be taken back and they often do much harm. So, I try to be mindful that my words reflect the best in me.
Other people can be mirrors for us, and if I pay attention, I learn through my every interaction with others what is working and what is not. My program offers an endless array of guidelines to help me make the most of my life.
My joyfulness, on any given day, springs from that.