Humanity Is Changing The Face Of Substance Use Disorder

A while back a friend in Naranon shared this link with our group. I watched it and was so heartened to see how attitudes are changing across the country. This PBS special focused on a program in Seattle, WA. It is a practical and above all humane way to deal with substance users. The more we talk about alternative ways to treat substance use disorder, the more likely there will be people to bring pressure to bear on government officials and on insurance companies. And the more likely our loved ones will feel embraced with compassion and understanding instead of fear and judgment.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/chasing-heroin/

Mirrors

From Each Day A New Beginning, February 11:

 “’It’s odd that you can get so anesthetized by your own pain or your own problem that you don’t quite fully share the hell of someone close to you.’ ~Lady Bird Johnson

Preoccupation with self can be the bane of our existence. It prevents all but the narrowest perspective on any problem. It cuts off any guidance…that may be offered through a friend…When we open our minds to fresh input from others, insights emerge. We need the messages others are trying to give us.”

 An end to my isolation. Opening my mind and heart to what others offer me.

For many years, I closed myself off from these offerings. I was busy with my life, self-sufficient…but unhappy. I was pretty bewildered about that—yet resigned to it.

Then—for the worst possible reason—I joined a recovery program that provided tools to help me climb out of my self-imposed misery. There are many new attitudes that I have adopted over time. But the most critical, I think, has been taking the risk to open myself to others and learn about myself using others’ perspectives to add balance to my own.

I’m not afraid of mirrors anymore.

I’ve had to let go of years of denial and preconceived notions about myself. I’ve had to learn how to be honest. And in doing that, I have discovered my own humanity. I am not unique, but part of a fellowship of equals who share a common bond.

No longer alone or lonely, I’m learning how to accept life on life’s terms…and be happy.

Beach Combing

I have a huge collection of shells that I’ve amassed over fifty years. But I’ve pretty much stopped collecting because I have no more room to put them! It’s time to enjoy what I have. And to wonder what they’ve represented to me all these years.

Ego. Such a fundamental part of the human condition, and yet it’s the very thing that makes me human and separates me from God. It’s ego that keeps me struggling in my relationships, ego that keeps me from accepting things as they are and feeling content with what I have. It’s ego and my willfulness beneath it that traps me in my restless search to outdo myself and others.

And it’s ego that makes me want to leave an imprint in the sand.

All human beings wrestle with ego, but substance users have found a solution that elevates us from our soul sickness: losing ourselves in substances and behaviors that provide oblivion for a time.  “We want what we want when we want it.” That tired old phrase smacking of egocentricity and childishness.

Substance users in their disease are all about themselves. In Alcoholics Anonymous, one definition of an alcoholic is an egomaniac with an inferiority complex..

To be “relieved of the bondage of self,” as the Third Step Prayer states in the Big Book, I’m learning how to nurture a relationship with God and remember my place in relation to Him. My importance is next to nothing in the scheme of things. This keeps me right-sized and humble. I’m just another grain of sand on the beach.

Learning to live beyond ego has been one of my biggest challenges. And, like all my work in the school of recovery, there is no graduation.

I line up all my conches and other shells, like students in a classroom, mindful of what they are teaching me.

A Quiet Mind

“Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment.“ ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

From Courage to Change, September 4:

“As we let go of obsession, worry, and focusing on everyone but ourselves, many of us were bewildered by the increasing calmness of our minds. We knew how to live in a state of crisis, but it often took a bit of adjustment to become comfortable with stillness. The price of serenity was the quieting of the constant mental chatter that had taken up so much time; suddenly we had lots of time on our hands and we wondered how to fill it.”

Over time, I’ve learned how to “be still in the stream.” It took a long time for me to accept my powerlessness. But obsessing over my daughter and living in all her drama was threatening my health. I was suffering from severe PTSD and endured many other negative consequences in my life as a result of my constant worry over something I couldn’t control.

So, I finally took the first three steps in my recovery program. It was hard to do that because I felt that letting go was giving up on my daughter. Not loving her anymore. But that’s not how I feel now.

Once, not so long ago, Annie was a loving daughter to me, a college graduate with her whole life ahead of her. Then, like the great cosmic crapshoot that afflicts millions of families, she fell out of her life and into substance use disorder. She’s been lost to us all for a long time now.

But my daughter, not the addict that lives in her body, would want me to reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.

I believe this with all my heart.

Habits Can Be Unlearned

From Each Day A New Beginning, April 20:

“‘One has to grow up with good talk in order to form the habit of it.’ ~Helen Hayes

Our habits, whatever they may be, were greatly influenced, if not wholly formed, during childhood. We learned our behavior through imitation, imitation of our parents, our siblings, our peer group. But we need not be stuck in habits that are unhealthy. The choice to create new patterns of behavior is ours to make…We can find strength from the program and one another to let go of the behavior that stands in the way of today’s happiness. And we can find in one another a better, healthier behavior to imitate…I am growing up again amidst the good habits of others, and myself.”

I often say that I grew up in the rooms as well. I’m over seventy years old, so that’s a lot of years to look at and take inventory. But I’ve learned to “look back without staring.” Not to obsess about things that are over, that I can’t change now. To let go of what’s past and focus on what’s right in front of me.

The tools I’ve picked up in my recovery program have been essential for guiding me into new ways of behaving—“acting my way into right thinking.” And doing things differently now—whether it’s eating right, power walking, not drinking alcohol, or remembering to tell people I love them every day—are changing the way I think. And this, in turn, has the effect of elevating me—moving me away from old negative patterns that kept getting in my way.

It’s never too late to learn how to be happy.

The End Of Isolation

“Thank You For My Recovery”

I like to end my shares at meetings with these words. Why am I thanking the people there for my recovery? Because they and so many others are the mirrors I need to see myself as I really am. And grow from it.

Before my recovery in the rooms, I was depressed and very isolated. I still saw people, I worked, I had friends. But on what level was I operating a lot of the time? I was often very dishonest, with myself most of all. So I shuffled through life, bewildered, often feeling like a victim, sad, and unaware of the tools out there that, if utilized, gave me the power to be happy.

The 12-Steps and other tools I’ve picked up in the rooms are my guideposts for living. They encourage me to review my life, but not to stay stuck in the past. They ask me to look at my imperfections, ways I may have hurt others, make amends for them, and move on. This is where the mirrors I mentioned are especially critical, why it’s helpful to have a sponsor and other friends who can give me honest feedback about myself. Help me to be accountable. To grow. Up. Shed any illusions about myself that may have been getting in my way.

I got my life back in the rooms. Regardless of the storms whirling around me, and we all know what that’s like, if I have myself and my health and wellbeing to anchor me, I’m much stronger to weather any difficulties.

An Important Distinction

I was reading about one of my favorites, Naomi Judd, and how she sadly died by suicide recently. 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 Annie 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.

Laughter Is Contagious

From Hope for Today, April 6:

“…Today my sense of humor is a natural reflection of who I am. I experience the world through smiles and laughter rather than through bitter smirks. I share joy with others rather than seek company for my misery. I help others heal rather than attack them. I allow my sense of humor to unfold naturally, just the way it was meant, and I watch the wonderful results as my Higher Power works through me toward a higher good.”

Choices. Life is chock full of them. Every day when I wake up, I have a choice about how to experience my life.
 
In the past, if I was sad, I ran with that feeling. At first, I guess I needed to experience those feelings. But when I allowed them to overwhelm me, it was the author of many bad choices.

Now I choose gratitude. Why??? The problem that brought me into the rooms of recovery hasn’t changed. So what am I grateful for?

Everything else. My world isn’t defined by my problems, by what is lacking. I choose to define it with the joy of my blessings. They far outweigh my losses, and I put my focus on them. In years past it was hard to smile or feel any joy at all. Time can heal us, and now I’m glad that it can.

I’ve had an attitude adjustment, and it’s working for me. Nowadays I seek out comedy and enjoy a hearty belly laugh at a good joke. It beats feeling unhappy all the time.

My soul is dancing when I laugh.

A Mother’s Story

In this month that celebrates mothers, I’d like to celebrate a memory of my daughter, Annie (Angie in this book). She was just 22 when she made this tapestry for me after her first rehab. She was always interested in Oriental art and designs. I think the simplicity fascinated her.

For a long time I couldn’t look at it. In my early recovery, I was still wedded to the “If onlys.” But over time, I’ve learned to let go of “might have beens” and accept what is.

I hang the tapestry proudly on my wall now. It’s one of many of my happy memories of her. I had twenty-one years with her as my daughter before substance use disorder hijacked and transformed her.

I’m grateful for the good years I had with my daughter.

I love her.

Memoir Excerpt:

“When Angie came out of that first rehab, she made me the most beautiful gift.

‘Mom, I’m not quite finished with it. I just have a few more flowers to cut. You’ll need to find a 17-by-22-inch frame to mount it on. Sorry it’s such an odd size. Guess I wasn’t thinking. I copied it from one of my Chinese art books. I hope you like it!’

Right now it’s hanging in my room for me to see. Over the years I’ve taken it on and off the wall, hidden it in a closet, too painful for me to look at. Maybe it’s a sign of my recovery. Now I can leave it on the wall, look at it, and appreciate all the work she put into it. This was her way, I believe, of telling me she loved me and she was sorry, not for getting sick, but for what that sickness drove her to do to me. She never, ever, was able to express her feelings easily with words.  So she showed me, in countless ways, as she did once in December 1993.

“Where the hell is that $300 I put away for safekeeping? If you kids want any Christmas presents, you’d better help me find it now,” I shouted, panicking at the thought of losing my hard-earned cash. I was so scattered sometimes. I was perfectly capable of misplacing it.

“Found it, Mom! Don’t you remember when you hid it in this book? Well, here it is. Aren’t you glad I’m as honest as I am?”

“Yes, Angie, my darlin’ girl, I am. And thank you!”

Years are passing by, and sometimes it’s hard to remember her as she was. But when I look at the tapestry she made, I remember:

Angie had a fascination for all things Asian—Chinese, Japanese, it didn’t matter. She loved the grace and flow of much of the artwork. She copied a simple series of flowers. But she did it not with paint or pencil or pen; she cut out every pistil, not completely detailed, a few sepals in place, the rest scattered, all the ovaries in different colors for contrast, every leaf, in varying sizes and colors, every stem, and glued it all together on a piece of gold cloth. It looked just like the picture in her book. 

I treasure this gift she made. The tapestry is twelve years old, and sometimes a petal comes unglued and I have to put it back on. I should put it under glass to preserve it. I wish we could put our children under glass—to keep them safe.

 I would soon discover, though, that no matter what I did for Angie it would never be enough to protect her from the illness that was consuming her.”

From A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pen name) (Amazon)

Walls and Bridges

From Courage To Change, January 22:

“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.