“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 Annie 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 Annie. 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 Annie 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.
“The Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps have been the most helpful in my recovery: ‘We believe alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery.’ That is to say, it is our attitudes, not our situation, that cause our unhappiness. When I first came to Al-Anon, and heard these words being read, it was like listening to a foreign language that I did not speak. It was beyond my comprehension that I could find peace and happiness through a change in my own attitude. As I heard these words being read week after week and meeting upon meeting, I resisted the suggestion that I could find peace and contentment if I would become willing to change the attitudes that kept me a prisoner of pain and suffering. First of all, I didn’t know that I had any particular attitude. My thinking made perfect sense to me. There was nothing wrong with my attitude. I didn’t even understand what my attitude was. Slowly, as I listened in meetings and began working the Steps with my Sponsor, my attitude did begin to change. I was not consciously aware of the change, but I did recognize that my life was less stressful and I was finding periods of happiness and serenity. One night, a few years into the program, it hit me. I was leading a meeting and as I read the Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps, these words ‘…changed attitudes can aid recovery’ struck me. I wanted to laugh out loud and say, ‘Duh…do you think?’ It was so completely clear to me. I got it. I really got it! Although up to that point, I had changed in many ways, I really believe that this singular, amazing, and powerful moment of clarity was the turning point in my recovery. Reflecting on that moment and remembering the words ‘changed attitudes can aid recovery’ during personal struggles and moments of frustration, kept me willing to continue my journey of self-discovery and brought me a spiritual awakening I would never have thought possible.”
Beautifully spoken by Paula W. of Arizona. I can’t really add much to that, except something my sponsor told me to always ask myself when complaining about a situation that I find myself in: “Is it working for you?” I should always ask myself, and if it’s not, what can I do to change it? Often, it’s a change in my own behavior, but when that proves fruitless then sometimes a change in attitude is all I need to get a good night’s sleep. Is it a problem I have any control over? No? Then let go and let God. Go to sleep. Maybe other solutions will present themselves tomorrow. But for now, give yourself a good night’s rest—because you’re worth it.
“My mom did not sleep. She felt exhausted. She was irritable, grumpy, and bitter. She was always sick until one day, suddenly, she changed.
One day my dad said to her:
– I’ve been looking for a job for three months and I haven’t found anything, I’m going to have a few beers with friends.
My mom replied:
– It’s okay.
My brother said to her:
– Mom, I’m doing poorly in all subjects at the University.
My mom replied:
– Okay, you will recover, and if you don’t, well, you repeat the semester, but you pay the tuition.
My sister said to her:
– Mom, I smashed the car.
My mom replied:
– Okay daughter, take it to the car shop & find how to pay and while they fix it, get around by bus or subway.
Her daughter-in-law said to her:
– Mother-in-law, I came to spend a few months with you.
My mom replied:
– Okay, settle in the living room couch and look for some blankets in the closet.
All of us gathered worried to see these reactions coming from Mom.
We suspected that she had gone to the doctor and that she was prescribed some pills called “I don’t give a damn”… Perhaps she was overdosing on these!
We then proposed to do an “intervention” w/my mother to remove her from any possible addiction she had towards some anti-tantrum medication.
But then … she gathered us around her and my mom explained:
“It took me a long time to realize that each person is responsible for their life. It took me years to discover that my anguish, anxiety, my depression, my courage, my insomnia & my stress, does not solve your problems, but aggravates mine.
I am not responsible for the actions of anyone & it’s not my job to provide happiness, but I am responsible for the reactions I express to that.
Therefore, I came to the conclusion that my duty to myself is to remain calm and let each one of you solve what corresponds to you.
I have taken courses in yoga, meditation, miracles, human development, mental hygiene, vibration and neurolinguistic programming and in all of them, I found a common denominator in them all…
I can only control myself, you have all the necessary resources to solve your own problems despite how hard they may be. My job is to pray for you, love on you, encourage you but it’s up to YOU to solve them & find your happiness.
I can only give you my advice if you ask me & it depends on you to follow it or not. There are consequences, good or bad, to your decisions and YOU have to live them.
So from now on, I cease to be the receptacle of your responsibilities, the sack of your guilt, the laundress of your remorse, the advocate of your faults, the wall of your lamentations, the depositary of your duties, who should solve your problems or spare a tire every time to fulfill your responsibilities.
From now on, I declare all independent and self-sufficient adults.
Everyone at my mom’s house was speechless.
From that day on, the family began to function better because everyone in the house knew exactly what it is that they needed to do.
For some of us this is hard because we’ve grown up being the caregivers feeling responsible for others. As moms & wives we are fixers off all things. We never want our loved ones to go through difficult things or to struggle. We want everyone to be happy.
But, the sooner we take that responsibility off of our shoulders & on to each loved one, the better we are preparing them to be MEsponsible.
We are not here on earth to be everything to everyone. Stop putting that pressure on yourself.”
As I’ve grown in recovery, I’ve grown in humility, too. My friends, I’m just not that important!!! God Bless all our children as they make their way in life. Whether we want to or not, we must do the same.
Self-Care demands discipline from us. And I haven’t always had a lot of that! But people can change. That’s the beauty of 12-step recovery. It helps me be the best human being I can be.
Physical Self-Care has many faces. For some of us it’s making sure we get enough sleep. Or trying to eat healthy foods. Taking enough vitamins. I do all of those things, and I try to walk a mile a day. Sometimes I do that just running up and down stairs in my own home. Gardening and putting plants in the earth is life-enhancing and gives me hope.
Spiritual Self-Care is equally important to me. I start the day with an entry in my gratitude journal. The old me, before recovery, would dwell on the sadness of losing Annie in my life. Next month it will be ten long years since I’ve seen her! But the new me takes joy in my other children and grandchildren. And my many friends. It’s where I put my focus now, if only because I have some control over these relationships. Prayer and talking to God is critical, too, because I don’t have power over some things, and I need His guidance in choosing my battles. And on a bad day, helping me feel the sunshine.
“Deal from strength:” I heard this many years ago, and I understand it now. I’m not in a good position to help others if I’m too sick myself. I will continue to care for myself so that my presence can be of benefit to others. The people in my life now will thank me for it.
“All we are asked to bear we can bear. That is the law of the spiritual life. The only hindrance to the working of this law, as of all benign laws, is fear.” ~Elizabeth Goudge
I’ve read that fear and anxiety are at the basis for many substance use disorders. I can’t speak for all of them, or for everyone, but I can speak for myself. Fear precipitated much of my self-destructive behavior. Fear of being “less than,” fear of criticism and disapproval, fear of not belonging, fear of failure, and fear of retribution.
And it was fear that kept me obsessed with my daughter’s choices. Fear for her well-being—and for mine. That fear kept me enmeshed in her life and her choices, thinking I was always riding to her rescue when I was doing nothing of the kind; shielding her from consequences just kept her from learning and growing. I needed to think that I had the power to save her.
Letting go of my obsession and fear—replacing them both with faith—has brought peace into my life. Now I’m better educated about the disease of substance use disorder; I’m learning what I can do and what I can’t do. How can I be helpful? And what must I surrender? All good questions and the answers are coming to me through my 12-Step work.
There are many paths to peace, and I respect them all. I’m just grateful that the path I have chosen has delivered me from a lifetime of fear and isolation and closer to the God of my understanding. No matter what happens in my life, I believe all will be well, according to God’s plan.
“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice — though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. ‘Mend my life!’ each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voice behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do — determined to save the only life that you could save.”
How eloquently she describes the convergence of conflict with awareness and resolution in our lives. As “the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,” my world became brighter and more light-filled. As I shed the depression that used to be my constant companion, I embraced the idea that I could be as happy as I made up my mind to be.
“’Somewhere along the line of development we discover what we really are, and then we make our real decision for which we are responsible. Make that decision primarily for yourself because you can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your own child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life and what you become yourself.’ ~Eleanor Roosevelt”
Through my recovery work, I’m learning to take better care of myself. I’m making wiser choices, living better, and embracing my life. Firm boundaries, healthy perspectives, daily gratitude are just a few of the tools that help me live well. In this way I’m trying to be a good example to those who come after me.
We all leave footprints somewhere. We have stories to tell. We all leave a legacy. May we all find some level of recovery as we weather the storm of substance use disorder. Our newer, healthier selves are a worthy legacy to pass on to the next generation. This is how I honor Annie’s memory, and this is how I will always love her: by living well myself.
Relying on God, however we understand God’s presence, is foreign to many of us. I was encouraged from early childhood to be self-reliant. Even when I desperately needed another’s help, I feared asking for it. When confidence wavered, as it so often did, I hid the fear—sometimes with alcohol, sometimes with pills or too much food. Sometimes I simply hid at home. My fears never fully abated…Slowly and with practice it became easier to turn within, to be God-reliant rather than self-reliant.”
There’s a saying in the Program that “our best thinking got us here (into the rooms of recovery).” And it’s so true! I joke at meetings that I’ve always been “CSR,” compulsively self-reliant.” I have been for much of my life, afraid to ask for help and even more afraid to accept it. As a child I had to rely on myself for so many things, and that became a survival strategy. But as an adult, that very façade of strength can become a terrible defect. Appearing to be a formidable wall of arrogance, it only served to isolate me and separate me from my peers. I had to tear down that wall.
And when I did, when I found the ability to bare my fears and vulnerabilities and ask for help when I needed it, I found my humanity. My faith in a power greater than myself enabled me to let go of my self-reliance and join hands with others as we reached out and helped one another.
It hasn’t removed the problems from my life. But it has made facing and living with them so much easier.
“They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.” ~Dorothy Parker
Do I see myself here? Somewhat, if I’m honest, as cynical as that quote is. Maybe in the beginning I was addicted to the drama of Annie’s substance use disorder. That—and all the martyrdom I subjected myself to. But this did not bring me happiness. There are a number of ways, I have learned, to stay involved with an addicted child—ways that might have helped us both navigate this illness better. But for a long time I was stuck and didn’t know how to free myself of the downward spiral.
Over time, my obsession broke me down and wore me out. I do enjoy the peace in my life now, though I still experience some PTSD. So many years, it seems, of struggling to help her, and then for both our sakes, letting go of the struggle to save her. Addressing once and for all my own substance use—so that my presence could benefit my other loved ones. Don’t think for a moment that I don’t feel the pain of losing Annie. I do. The trauma of losing a child, to whatever illness, never goes away. But, in my experience, it isn’t so heavy to carry. It feels lighter now. Hang in there, Moms. Many things are resolved with better education and the passage of time. Keep loving yourselves and the world around you. Love is the great healer of all things!
“Loving, like prayer, is a power as well as a process. It’s curative. It is creative.” ~Zona Gale
This poem addresses the idea of letting go, as opposed to clinging to, much of the negativity in my life—much of what used to weigh on me and drag me down into depression.
Detachment is a skill that allows me to create a safe distance between myself and my daughter. I have learned that if I don’t, I will be swallowed up in her black hole before I know it. As a parent, I’ve often felt that I didn’t deserve the gift of detachment. But I do. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I’ve learned to forgive myself for any mistakes I made with my daughter. It took a long time, but this was an important step in my recovery. Until I did that, I risked being forever enmeshed in her pain and the mess of her life as it is now.
Once I could reach some level of detachment, I was freer to work the steps. In hindsight, I see now why I couldn’t really do the first three steps in a more timely manner. I simply had not let go of my responsibility in her life, my importance in her life, and therefore my need to fix her life.
I needed to be humbled—in the best sense of the word.