Living In The Solution

I messaged a friend on Facebook: “Oh, God Bless, Maryann, my heart goes out to you and all of us mothers. I often say in my book and on these sites that I’m grieving a living death because my daughter is not the person who’s walking in her shoes. She’s split right down the middle. Anyway, we all have different stories, but some parts are so familiar. My books are all about finding solutions for myself, and I hope they help you too. One thing I’ve learned on this difficult journey is to live in the solution, not in the problem. That’s how I’ve learned to be happy. Hugs to you!”

From a Nar-Anon handout: “People like myself whose problems have brought them to the point of despair have come to Nar-Anon to seek advice and find solutions. As soon as they attend the first meeting they feel like they have come home and feel like they are among people who really understand. And fortunate is the newcomer who finds a group that permits such expression. It gives those who have gone before them a way to give encouragement and hope. The newcomer discovers that it is by giving and receiving in our sharing that we are able to heal ourselves, and slowly we are able to regain control of our lives again.

But still more fortunate is the newcomer who finds a group that does not allow such unburdening to continue meeting after meeting. There is work to be done; Nar-Anon is not a sounding board for continually reviewing our miseries, but a way to learn how to detach ourselves from them.

A Recovery reminder:

I will learn by listening, by reading all the Nar-Anon literature as well as all good books on the subject of substance use disorder by working and trying to live the 12 Steps. The more I read and study the more knowledge I receive. Knowledge is power, and I will be able to help myself as well as others.”

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 Challenge Of Change

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 8:

“’When people make changes in their lives in a certain area, they may start by changing the way they talk about that subject, how they act about it, their attitude toward it, or an underlying decision concerning it.’ ~Jean Illsley Clark

Acting “as if” is powerful. It leads the way to a changed attitude, a changed woman…Each positive change we make builds our self-esteem. Realizing that through our own actions we are becoming the kind of women we admire gives us the strength, in fact, encourages the excitement in us that’s needed to keep changing…Each gain makes the next one easier to attempt.

I will accept an opportunity today to act as if I can handle a situation I used to run from.”

I think, as  any of us grow older but not always wiser, that it becomes easy to descend into a passive state of “Oh well, what’s the use? I’ve tried everything I can think of to make this problem go away, and nothing works. So I guess I’m stuck with it.”

I’ve certainly been there, but eventually I got lucky. I got so tired of my misery that I became willing to try something else. That was the key. Willingness to change and do something else. It worked.

Now I’m happy, joyous and free of the demons and obsession that were destroying my life. I had to work hard for this. But it was time well-spent in recovery.

I’m in two 12-step programs, and they all have one thing in common: helping those of us who suffer to recognize our own part in our misery, to work through all those demons, and hopefully learn to be accountable and free of guilt. The freedom that follows is indescribable. And though I still carry the sorrows that brought me to the rooms, I’ve learned to view them through a new and different lens.

Life can be a glorious adventure. I’m so grateful for my recovery.

The Spirit Coming Alive

“The idea of God is different in every person. The joy of my recovery was to find God within me. “ ~Angela Wozniak

One of the promises of 12-Step recovery is that we shall learn to be “happy, joyous and free.” I like the free part best. For too many years I’ve been chained to my own human failings. I never understood with such clarity my own defects and limitations until I started to work this Program. I was so lonely and isolated. But when I came to believe after much trial and error that I was in fact powerless over substance use disorder—mine, my daughter’s, and anyone else’s—I fell to my knees and turned this struggle over. And I felt so much lighter. Now, at last, I was off the hook. I’ve turned over all the lost years with my daughter and turned my attention to things I can control now. And that has given me the freedom to focus on other things.

My spirituality is based on three factors: far less EGO (Easing God Out), humble acceptance of whatever my lot is in life, and the vision to appreciate every day for all the good that I can see and experience. In this way, the principles of this Program have changed my life. It’s really great to be alive, and for so many years my life was utterly joyless. That’s the power of the spirit coming alive in me through my spiritual Program.

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.

Chasing The Butterfly

From Each Day A New Beginning, July 19

‘At fifteen, life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.’—Maya Angelou

“We had to surrender to a power greater than ourselves to get where we are today. And each day, we have to turn to that power for strength and guidance. For us, resistance means struggle—struggle with others as well as an internal struggle.

Serenity isn’t compatible with struggle. We cannot control forces outside of ourselves. We cannot control the actions of our family or our co-workers. We can control our responses to them. And when we choose to surrender our attempts to control, we will find peace and serenity.

That which we abhor, that which we fear, that which we wish to conquer seems suddenly to be gone when we decide to resist no more—to tackle it no more.

The realities of life come to us in mysterious ways. We fight so hard, only to learn that what we need will never be ours until the struggle is forsaken. Surrender brings enlightenment.”

Surrender is not transactional. It’s not submission. It’s freely giving up our wills to a power who is smarter than we are, a power who has our back. Surrender is like wearing a loose-fitting garment. It’s easy, comfortable, and doesn’t restrict me to my own demands. It is, as the third step prayer tells us, “freedom from the bondage of self.”

Acceptance and surrender. Peace and serenity await me there.

“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.

A New Kind Of Freedom

From Each Day A New Beginning, November 25:

“’Change occurs when one becomes what she is, not when she tries to become what she is not.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman

Learning self-acceptance, and then loving the selves we are, present perhaps our two biggest hurdles to the attainment of emotional and spiritual health. Fortunately, they are not insurmountable hurdles. The program offers ready assistance.”

Well, learning to be comfortable in my own skin has been a lifelong process for me. But not until I found 12-step recovery did I discover such a well-conceived plan to achieve that. Before I found a way to recover from substance use disorder—my own and my daughter’s—I wore masks to conceal how unhappy I was. It all started with me in an unhappy childhood. But I don’t dwell on any of that anymore because it represents the beginning of my problems, not the solution to them. I think it can be self-defeating to remain stuck in the past because I can’t do anything to change it. But I can, with effort, keep laser-focused on the present and paying attention to what I can do something about.

“Learning to love all our parts, the qualities we like and the traits that discouragingly hang on, offers a new freedom. A freedom that invites change. A freedom that safeguards the emotional and spiritual well-being that we strive for.”

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.”

Let God Do It

I raised my family with the best of intentions. I loved my kids to the moon—still do—but I also felt completely responsible for them. That’s understandable when they’re children and young adults. But at some point—and this place is different for all of us—I feel it’s important to relinquish our responsibility and allow our children to be responsible for themselves.

This gets so complicated because mental health issues so often accompany active substance use disorder. There is so much for our children to shoulder, and we want to help.

This understanding is never more critical than when our adult children struggle with this disease. If we are hampered by guilt—a truly crippling emotion—we might allow ourselves to feel overly responsible. We keep moving our own healthy boundaries to accommodate the substance abuser. This in turn puts us at risk of becoming enablers. And that downward spiral will continue—until we break free of it. It’s a hard journey we’re on, and we need help too.

”We didn’t cause it; we can’t control it; we can’t cure it.”