Taking Ownership Of My Own Recovery

Many people are not strong enough to battle the terrible force of substance use disorder on their own. Application of the Twelve Steps had proven successful over and over again since they were put together by a couple of alcoholics and their friends back in the late 1930’s. Substance abusers need help; some say they need spiritual help. Our society is full of naysayers—skeptics who eschew these programs that are found in every major city across the country, and in big cities, in many of the churches, meeting three or four times a day. There’s a reason for the popularity of Twelve-Step programs: they work for many people. So I promised myself I would try harder now. My daughter was worth it. My daughter was worth it?

There is no one place on this journey to pinpoint where I discovered that I was worth it. I knew what a flawed human being I was. I was aware of my mistakes along the way—big ones and little ones.

But as I was starting to embrace the principles found in these Twelve Steps I was reacquainting myself over and over again with my own humanity and feeling my self-worth solidify with roots into the earth. None of this growth in me would have occurred if my daughter’s illness hadn’t pushed me onto this path. And I would always—still—reckon with the survivor guilt that has challenged my right to be happy while my daughter still struggles with this cruel disease.

There are many who view Twelve-Step groups as cultish and unattractive. There’s such a powerful stigma in our society against substance use disorder in all its forms that, I suppose, families of substance abusers suffer from guilt by association. Early on in my recovery my sister once said that it must be nice to have “those people” to talk to. But as she’s watched me grow and change these past few years I think she’s developed a healthy respect for the Program.

To this day, though, she has never discussed with me the dark side of our father, the alcoholic. Maybe she never saw his dark side, as I did. To her, he was the best father in the world, and I have no need to invade that sacred place where she holds him in her heart. In fact, I agree with her. He was a very loving man who passed on many gifts to his children and grandchildren. Yes, he was sick, and he died too young because of it. But just as I have forgiven my mother for any ways she may have hurt me so have I lovingly accepted my father’s illness. And in learning to forgive my parents and others who have wounded me in my life, it has become easier for me to forgive myself for my own shortcomings and the part they played in hurting my own children.

I, being a substance abuser, a daughter of one and a parent of one, have found myself quite at home among these seekers of peace and serenity. I’ve been in the right place for twenty-three years now, and I cannot begin to tell you the gratitude I feel for the wisdom in this simple program that has helped me to look forward to the sun coming up every day—and to embrace my life in its entirety.

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.

Surround Yourself With Love, And Not Just On Valentine’s Day!

My recovery work over the years has brought me out of isolation and pushed me into the circle of love in this picture. I have learned many things in my recovery program, but the most important has been placing a greater value on my worth, my needs and my wants. Learning to set boundaries is another way to take care of myself, letting others know what is and what isn’t acceptable to me. This tool has made my relationships healthier. Without a daily practice of self-care, what shape am I in to interact with those around me?

“Progress, not perfection,” to be sure, and we all have bad days. But I’m grateful to have found a sound guide for living in my recovery program. It doesn’t take away the pain of struggling with my daughter throughout her substance use disorder. But it does offer coping strategies that encourage me to focus on what I can control in my life. No longer drained from fighting a battle I can’t win, I feel energized to move on and celebrate the blessings God has given me.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Attitude is everything.

The Power Of Our Thoughts

“Thoughts become things: choose the good ones.”

It seems logical, doesn’t it? Why would we choose negative thoughts? Well, sometimes it’s all we know, what we learned growing up. It’s been our default setting. And, as my sponsor always used to say, “How’s that been working for you, huh?”

Not well, of course. And it wasn’t until I did a lot of work in recovery that I actively started challenging my thinking. For example, the guilt trip:

“It’s all my fault. I didn’t raise her right.”

Another one: the fear trip:

“OMG, look how she’s destroying her health!”

Another one: the responsibility trip:

“She’s not capable. Only I (my love, my wisdom) can fix her.”

All this tripping did not help me, and it helped her even less.

How can I move my erroneous thinking into a more positive space?

the guilt trip:

My mothering didn’t cause this. It’s a disease. And why are my other children well-adjusted?

the fear trip:

Many substance abusers go into lasting recovery, motivated, among other things, by their own fear.

the responsibility trip:

Only she has power over her disease and has the power to recover from it. It’s totally up to her.

When I move my sometimes faulty thinking to a more sane and reasonable place, it’s much easier to live my life. I can accept what I can’t change. I can surrender to the will of my higher power. This is not giving up. This is understanding my own power and using it to dig out of my despair and arrive at a better place, one filled with faith and hope for better things.

Recovery.

“Look Back Without Staring”

From Hope for Today, September 13:

“Never underestimate the power of self-awareness to put past experience into a new perspective…Until we take the time to look at ourselves honestly. we may never be free of the bondage in which alcoholism holds us captive.”

As the mother of a substance user, I was focused completely on my daughter and her problems. In the beginning of her illness, I failed to see that how I handled the chaos in my home might have more to do with me than with her. I didn’t realize what a powder keg my past was bringing to an already explosive situation.

My own history of substance abuse played a big role in my reactions. Whoever said “Blame is for God and small children” forgot about me. I thought Annie’s illness was my fault. I burdened myself with guilt, and that burden crippled me when dealing with the consequences of her bad choices. I often lost my own moral compass, the one I raised her to follow. That guilt put at risk all the healthy boundaries I had set in place with all of my children. I became lost.

Much of my behavior was a misguided attempt to protect my daughter. I became overprotective, and shielded her from the logical consequences of many choices that might have taught her some valuable life lessons.

I did step up and put her through four rehabs. I was happy to do that and so hopeful. But after she got out and relapsed every time, I fell back into old patterns. I didn’t see how I might be part of the problem.

My enabling just kept her stuck, and I became stuck too in a vicious cycle that wasn’t helping either one of us. I needed to distance myself just enough to learn how to detach from my daughter. To do it lovingly and without any judgment.

It’s a fine line we mothers walk between protecting our children and letting them go to learn how to live well. Since so many substance users stop growing emotionally when they start using, it’s easy to step in and do too much for them. There’s nothing easy about what we face with our children.

But the more I learn about myself, the more armed I am to avoid the pitfalls along the way. As I find the need to change much of my behavior, so do those around me. My recovery has affected all those I come into contact with. And it has “freed me of the bondage that had held me captive” all of my life, so that I can let go of the past, and more effectively deal with the challenges that face me now.

Hide And Seek

Twenty-one years.

Almost twenty-two. That’s a lot of time to live with substance use disorder in my child. It’s a third of our normal lifespan. So much time lost to the battle of this relentless disease. Some win the battle and some do not. No matter what “approach” we eventually embrace, some of our children will not make it. We can look for answers in hindsight, second guess ourselves ad nauseam. But to what purpose? Acceptance is what enables me to still get out of bed every day.

At first I was in denial. My kid? No way! This sort of thing happens to other people’s children. I was disabused of my arrogance and complacency pretty early, though, when she brazenly stole my identity—twice. That’s when I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I got tough at first. I kicked her out, frantically wondering what would become of her. I felt like a moth turned into a butterfly for the moment, like I was taking charge. I was definitely giving her the message to shape up or lose her family. Little did I know at that point that many in the disease couldn’t care less about family.

Oh how this butterfly would flutter and die in subsequent years, as I backtracked over and over again, trading in my courage for equal doses of martyrdom.

This was all characteristic of my disease, of course. My inability to let go of my own guilt and responsibility (which she played on whenever I let her), my needing her in my life at all costs (the martyrdom of the ATM machine), and still thinking that I was her Higher Power. I’m her mother. It’s up to me to save her. Well, that’s bunk, of course. If she had terminal cancer, I wouldn’t be putting myself through all this. When will the world accept that SUD is a complicated brain disease? When will we look on these people with compassion and not crucify them with shame, stigma, and isolation? Do we do that with cancer?

My daughter did go to four rehabs, all of them using the 12-Step approach to recovery. She told me afterwards  that she was an atheist and could not buy into it. There are a few other approaches as well, Smart Recovery for example. But whether or not substance abusers accept any form of recovery has everything to do with their willingness to change what they’ve been doing. The willingness to let go of the high they get from drugs. The willingness to face the demons that made them seek numbness and oblivion from pain in the first place.

My daughter has played hide and seek with recovery all these years. She’s had periods of remission that we all celebrated as a family. She was a reader at her brother’s wedding in 2009, for example, and I was sure we had her back then. How could she go back out when it was so clear to her on that joyful occasion what she would be giving up?

But within two years, she was gone again, sucked into the belly of the beast in the underworld of San Francisco. I haven’t see her since May, 2012. Yes, she’s alive. She reminds me of her presence every once in a while with a barrage of emails, blaming me for everything. This is her disease.

So, clearly, my daughter lacks the willingness to do the interior work necessary to disempower the disease that has taken control of her. And if I am to have any peace in my life, I must accept that. She may decide to come back to the living—the willingness to change—but if she does it will be primarily because she wants recovery for herself, and less about me wanting it for her.

I can only pray to accept God’s will for her—and for me.

“In the end what matters most is

How well do I live…

How well do I love…

How well do I learn to let go.”

An Important Distinction

A few years ago, I was reading about one of my favorites, Naomi Judd, and how she sadly died by suicide. This is what her daughter, Ashley, said about her death:

“When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important to be clear and to make the distinction between our loved one and the disease,” she continued. “It’s very real … it lies, it’s savage.”

Hmmm…

I believe that. We all know how substance use disorder can change our kids: change their minds, change their lifestyle, change the values we taught them. In my daughter’s case, as long as drugs were flooding her system, she ceased to be the daughter I raised. So yes, I make the distinction Ashley has called for. And I pray that someday the general public will have as much compassion for our lost children.

I remember my daughter before this disease took her away from me. And I take comfort in those memories—because I can separate her from her disease. It’s a surreal exercise, I know. But remembering our children as they were—and as they can be again—is profoundly comforting to me. It doesn’t change the present, but it puts things into perspective. Smile about the birthday parties and the piñatas. They happened. I did my best with who I was at the time.

We all did.

Expectations

In recovery, we learn to profoundly adjust our expectations, hard as it is. We raised one child, and now we have another. We are all too aware of the change that drugs have produced in our children. A parent wrote in Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope ( the SESH book) a very revealing statement, something I could have written myself. It is a key to understanding my story, my mother and father’s stories, and my daughter’s painful struggle:

“I expected my children to be perfect, to always do the right thing. I tried to control them by giving them direction and making them do things in a way that I felt was correct! When they didn’t, I could not handle it.

I could not accept their drug use and I felt that their behavior was a reflection on me. I was embarrassed for myself and scared to death for them. I became so distrusting of my children that I showed them no respect. I would meddle and invade their privacy looking for any excuse to challenge and confront them.

When I came to Nar-Anon, I learned that my interference and my attempts at controlling them were actually standing in the way of their recovery. I learned to let go of the control I never had in the first place.”

In an earlier blog, “Redemption and Freedom,” I said, “I would finally, thank God, let go of the oppressive burden I was placing on my daughter by demanding she get well so that I could be OK.”  This is a difficult statement for some of us to make.

I’m very codependent; my daughter’s active drug addiction shook me to the core and made me decidedly unwell. Her illness had the power to ruin my day (and my life) before I got into a recovery program and started practicing the concept of detachment with love.

This concept has placed me at a healthy distance from my daughter so that I could view her situation with some objectivity and respond to her with intelligence and compassion. I’m very grateful for the education I’ve received in the rooms of recovery. I will always love her and I grieve the loss of her. But there are other people in my life, and I want to stay well for them. Thank you, Nar-Anon, for helping me reclaim my life!