I am not a victim, but an active participant in my own life. I learned the 3 A’s in Al-Anon: awareness, acceptance, and action. Those are three very loaded concepts.
Awareness requires some honesty and courage, the willingness to look in the mirror and face one’s reflection—sometimes good and sometimes not; it also requires an alertness to what’s happening around me.
Acceptance asks us to recognize the difference between changing what we can and what we can’t, which is really huge and really hard for most ordinary humans like myself.
Finally, action asks more courage of us to make changes—rendering our lives happier and more productive.
I may be an adult child, but I’m growing up. I will take responsibility for my own life, for my successes and my failures. In this way I feel empowered, no matter the outcome, to be the star in my own show.
“I don’t want to wake up one day and find I’m at the end of someone else’s life!”
“’Love and the hope of it are not thing one can learn; they are a part of life’s heritage.’ ~Maria Montessori
Love is a gift we’ve been given by our Creator. The fact of our existence guarantees that we deserve it. As our recognition of this grows, so does our self-love and our ability to love others.
High self-esteem, stable self-worth were not our legacies before finding this program. We sought both through means which led nowhere. These Steps and our present relationships are providing the substance and direction needed in our lives to discover our worthiness.
Had we understood that we were loved, in all the years of our youth, perhaps we’d not have struggled so in the pain of alienation…”
Happiness surely is an inside job. And it’s in several 12-Step fellowships that I have learned to treat myself with kindness and dignity. I’ve turned my new self inside out so that it’s visible to the world. It colors all of my relationships. No matter what happens in my life, I trust in the goodness of my Creator. All will be well.
In this excerpt from my award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation, I come to the same realization: I am a child of God, and I am worthy of love. All good things will flow from there.
“While working at Harvard back in 1972, I spent a lot of time at a particular thrift shop in Cambridge. Making only about six thousand dollars a year, I was grateful to have acquired a taste for second-hand merchandise.
For twenty dollars, I bought a large print of Maxfield Parrish’s most famous painting, Daybreak, mounted in a handsome frame. Something stirred in me as I caught the alluring blues in an obscure corner of the shop where someone had placed the painting. It has held a prominent place over every bed I’ve slept in since that year.
I am the woman lying on the floor of the temple, one arm casually framing her face, shielding it from the sun. Columns support the temple and there are leaves, water, rocks and mountains in the background, painted in tranquil shades of blue.
Bending over me is a young undressed girl. I am in conversation with her. My face feels warm and I’m smiling. The setting in this picture is one of absolute calm, beauty, and serenity.
That has been my ever-present wish: to be as watched over and cared for, as it appears that woman was.
All my life, though I wasn’t always awake and aware of it, I have been.”
“Today I express my fears and know that my Higher Power will control the outcome. I am where I need to be. When I feel anxiety, I can focus on the slogan T-H-I-N-K, which reminds me how to react differently.
T – Thoughtful
H – Honest
I – Intelligent
N – Necessary
K – Kind”
One slogan, T-H-I-N-K, can be very helpful. However, as with most tools, I need to use it with care and reason. As I’ve heard it said around these rooms, ‘my best thinking is what got me here.’ For me, thinking too much or in a negative way is almost as dangerous as thinking not at all. Obsessive thinking can be my symptom of this family disease as much as obsessive drug use is the substance user’s.
I will try to free myself of pointless rumination and stay focused on the freedom of my recovery.
Spending too much time regretting my past mistakes and/or fearing what may happen in the future keep me from looking at what’s right in front of me. But the present moment is all that’s real and something I can hold onto. So I will try to be present and attentive to what’s going on right now. That’s how I can relish what’s good in my life and enjoy the ride.
I’m not sure why “Just for Today” has always been difficult for me. I was either weighed down with guilt and regret about past mistakes, or else I was frantic with worry about the future. No wonder I was miserable! I do have so many things to feel grateful for. But before recovery, I barely recognized them. It’s like I was living in a dark hole of my own making, and this went on for years without the proper intervention.
To be honest, I went through some “survivor guilt.” How could I be reaching for recovery while my daughter was in such a bad place? But after much step work and learning to forgive myself and treat myself with compassion, I accepted that it would serve no one if I lost myself in substance use disorder as well. There are other people in my life who need me whole and healthy.
And so, I make a choice every day to move forward and do the best I can with what I’ve got. The loss of a loved one doesn’t have to bury me. It can be my teacher. God works in mysterious ways, and I’ll never understand his reasons. But I don’t have to.
That’s where my faith comes in. I believe that something good can come out of pain and suffering. Today I live soberly, with the grace of God, and happily.
“I maintain my struggles with righteous behavior. They lose their sting when they lose my opposition. I will step aside and let God.”
Somewhere in the readings, someone wrote ‘Pain is not in acceptance or surrender; it’s in resistance.’ It’s much less painful to just let go and have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. There’s a reason that my Higher Power is running the show the way he is. I’m not in charge; I just have to get out of the way.
I also read somewhere the difference between submission and surrender: submission is: I’ll do this if I get XYZ; it’s entirely transactional. Surrender, on the other hand, is unconditional acceptance of what I get in life. Well, the latter is easier because I’m not holding my breath waiting for the outcome. I just let go – and have faith. Again, it’s a very conscious choice.
We can get bogged down in semantics. But each day as I go about my routines, I pray to keep Spirit close in all my affairs. For a long time I had an adversarial relationship with my Higher Power because I needed to be in control. My self-will was running rampant. I was white-knuckling my way through life. And getting very sore knuckles.
It’s been such a relief to learn how to surrender without feeling like I have failed. In some other places we are called warrior moms. And that very term says that we must do battle. Well, we have been, in some of the most painful ways. I have many battle scars, along with my brothers and sisters in these rooms.
At some point, embracing the idea of acceptance became my only option if I wanted any peace in my life. I will always love my daughter, and I tell her so. She has options, too. I can only pray that she exercises healthy ones someday.
In the meantime, though, I take comfort in accepting realities that I cannot change. Lord knows I’ve tried. Haven’t we all?
‘The Chinese say that water is the most powerful element, because it is perfectly nonresistant. It can wear away a rock and sweep all before it.’ —Florence Skovel Shinn
“Nonresistance, ironically, may be a posture we struggle with. Nonresistance means surrendering the ego absolutely. For many of us, the ego, particularly disguised as false pride, spurred us on to struggle after struggle. ‘Can’t they see I’m right,’ we moaned, and our resistance only created more of itself.
Conversely, flowing with life, ‘bubbling’ with the ripples, giving up our ego, releases us from an energy that heals the situation—that smooths the negative vibrations in our path. Peace comes to us. We will find serenity each time we willingly humble ourselves.”
‘Resistance is more familiar. Nonresistance means growth and peace. I’ll try for serenity today.’
I wrote in my first memoir toward the end: “This is where I was in my recovery as I left San Francisco, at that hard won place I’d fought through years of resistance to find: the end of the battle—acceptance.” That’s what the above reading is all about, I think. Letting go of my desperate need to save my daughter from her substance use disorder, and coming to accept that I simply don’t have that power. I can only love her.
What could be harder for any parent than to accept our powerlessness over our child’s substance use disorder? Yes, there are many things we can do to help, not the least of which is continue to love our kids unconditionally. My experience has taught me, though, that when I make decisions out of fear, I risk making bad choices. When my actions flow from a place of love, including love of self, all will be well.
“’There is a divine plan of good at work in my life. I will let go and let it unfold.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman
Letting go of the outcome of every experience, focusing instead on our efforts, making them as good as possible, validates our trust in the ultimate goodness of life. Our frustrations diminish when our efforts, only, are our concern. How much easier our days go when we do our work and leave the outcome where it belongs.”
My recovery program is faith-based. That says a great deal. I don’t rely solely on outcomes to measure my success or failure. I ask myself, “What is my intention?” “Do I have the means to accomplish a particular goal?” “If so, do I try?” If not, can I let it go and move on to something else?”
“Do I love without condition and let my actions flow from there?”
I haven’t realized all my hopes and dreams. But I’m not waiting for joy to drop in my lap. I make an effort every day to do what is right and true. Then I trust in my Higher Power and his will for me.
Happiness is not a destination. It’s the journey I’m on!
I’m a mother. When my kids were little, it was my job to keep them safe from harm. If they ran across the street with a car coming, I might have spanked them a little so they’d remember to look both ways next time. Yes: pain; yes: consequences. Yes: both good teachers.
But when Annie was twenty-one and started making terrible choices, I still thought it was my job to protect her from harm, self-inflicted or otherwise. And I still treated her like a two-year-old.
When she first stole from me early on, I went into a long period of denial and guilt, minimizing my feelings and believing her incredible explanations. My inaction only emboldened her, and she went on to steal in other ways. Several times, she stole my identity, with no explanations. So even when it was clear to me that her behavior was unacceptable, I still behaved inappropriately: I did nothing. Even when the credit card company told me to do something—that it would be a lesson for her—I still did nothing.
Where was the smack on the rear she would have gotten from running across the street? Where were the consequences that would have reminded her to be careful? I presented Annie with no consequences in the beginning of her illness and so she learned nothing. Her progressive illness got much worse. My guilt was crippling me as an effective parent.
Not until I started working my own program of recovery was I able to release myself from the hold that was strangling us both. I needed to get out of my daughter’s way. She wasn’t two anymore.
I’ve made a lot of progress since those early days. I’ve learned to let go and leave Annie to the life she has chosen. Four rehabs helped her turn her life around for a while, but she always slipped back into her substance use disorder and the life that goes with it. But staying out of the way has given me the freedom to take back my life and learn to live well by focusing on something else. It has also given Annie the freedom to take responsibility for her own life and hopefully her own recovery. If she reaches for it again, and I pray she will, how much more rewarding it will be for her to find her own way!
Heroin and all dangerous drugs are the scourge of the 21st century.
My daughter always hated needles as a child. She hated going to the doctor. Now she has hepatitis C from sharing needles with other IV substance users.
I have no idea how to stop this epidemic, which I have no control over. And Annie is caught up in it. I don’t know how it will turn out for her.
But I do know that the only thing I can control is my own life and how I choose to live it.
I’ve spent twenty years obsessing, suffering, denying, covering, enabling, excusing, and manipulating my daughter. I’ve hurt my health and ended my career.
This is not love. This is martyrdom.
The best way to love my child now is to let go, release her to her disease, and pray she chooses recovery. If she reaches out to me in a healthy way, I will happily respond.
I will be forever grateful to the wisdom in the simple 12-Step programs that have helped me reclaim my life, even as I felt I felt I was losing it.
All the self-reflection in the step work helped me face myself with honesty—warts and all—and own both my mistakes and my successes. It doesn’t stop there, though. This is a gentle program, gentle and kind. We learn to forgive ourselves because we did the best we could with what we had. Then, and only after I could let go of my remorse, did I feel worthy to move on, away from all the disappointment and pain.
That sense of worthiness has been the key for me. I spent most of my life not feeling good about myself on the inside. Grappling with all those negative feelings and behaviors took up most of my energy. Now I’m free to take care of myself without feeling selfish. And I’m learning to love Annie in a different way.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has said: “I’ve studied alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and more recently obesity. There’s a pattern in compulsion. I’ve never come across a single person that was addicted that wanted to be addicted. Something has happened in their brains that has led to that process.”
I picked up my tools for recovery in various 12-Step fellowships, which are at times controversial. I was reading in “Psychology Today” an article addressing this controversy. Here’s the link:
I honestly think that I could have picked up some of these life lessons anywhere; Al-Anon doesn’t have a lock on teaching gratitude and acceptance. The fellowship just happens to be where I gained some tools to change my attitudes and try to live better. I learned in more than one program how to take responsibility for my own happiness and how to stop searching for validation outside of myself. I’m happy to be a member. But this is an interesting article, and explains why many people still shy away from 12-Step programs.