Who’s Responsible?

From Susan Packer Swafford 

“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.

“Deal From Strength”

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.

Surrender

“The Journey” ~Mary Oliver
 
“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.

The rest, as they say, is up to me!    

Eternal Valentines

From Each Day A New Beginning, December 20:

“’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.

War and Peace

“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

Oh My, How Hard It Is To Change!

Oh My, How Hard It Is To 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.’ ~Joan Illsley Clarke

…Each positive change we make builds our self-esteem. Realizing that through our own actions we are becoming the kind of women (and men) we admire, gives us the strength, in fact, encourages the excitement in us that’s needed to keep changing…

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

I was desperately unhappy when I joined Al-Anon. I was sure that my misery was caused by my daughter and her substance use disorder. It didn’t occur to me that it was my reaction to those circumstances that was the culprit. But when, after years of struggle, I finally did accept that I was the author of my own unhappiness, I was ready to do some of the real work of the program. Many people write me: “But what made you WANT to change?” I answer them all the same way: “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired” (of myself).

My daughter has gone in and out of recovery from SUD. My recovery, in recent years, has followed a different trajectory. And the key, of course, is being able to cut the umbilical cord and recognize that we are on separate paths.

That’s very hard for most parents, myself included. But when I see the damage that comes from NOT detaching, from staying mired in old resentments, old guilt, old unresolved stuff, I am reminded to let the past go and stay in the here and now. “Annie,” deep in her disease, has consistently tried to keep my focus on past errors, in order to justify her rage and distract her from what she needs to do now to get well.

But that’s the illness talking. I don’t take the bait anymore. I don’t engage unless it’s on a healthy level. Why not? Because it keeps us rolling around in the mud. And that’s not productive.

For a long time I welcomed rolling around in the mud. But not anymore. That’s one of the changes in myself that I’ve enjoyed. With my history, my self-esteem has always been shaky. But the tools of recovery help me learn how to adopt new attitudes about myself. And as the reading suggests, this is most often accomplished by making positive changes in my behavior.

When I do good things, they return to me tenfold. I may not get everything I want in my life. But for me to get up every day and say to myself: “You know, Marilea? You’re okay. You’re a work in progress. You just keep doing things that reinforce that self-directed goodwill, and you’ll be okay.”

Life is unfolding as my HP intended, and all will be well.

Staying Out Of The Weeds

Before I went into recovery, I was pretty lost. On the outside, my life seemed to be rolling along well. But on the inside, I was insecure and sad. I dealt with these feelings in unhealthy ways, but didn’t feel much pressure to change them. I never missed a day of work, and I appeared to be fine. But appearances can be deceiving. Nothing had yet occurred to call my choices into question. Nothing had happened yet to push me out of my complacency.

But when my middle child fell ill with substance use disorder, after I had tried and failed over and over again to save her, I broke. The carefully manicured life I had been living was a treasured glass from my cupboard, smashed onto the kitchen floor. Many little shards, and some big ones. I cut my fingers cleaning it up.

My recovery fellowship comes with a philosophy that teaches me many different things. And one of those things is to forgive myself and others for transgressions inevitably committed in our lives. Our common humanity dovetails at every meeting I go to, where we encourage ourselves to face our defects, let them go, and move on.

For years, I held on to mine to punish myself for my part in Annie’s disease, and most importantly, for failing to “save” her. I have learned, gratefully, that my daughter suffers from substance use disorder, as do I, and I could no more save her from it than if she’d had diabetes. I simply don’t have that power.

So I try to stay away from martyrdom and self-pity, because neither of those feelings will help Annie get well, and they hurt me a great deal. That’s where the weeds are. They muddy the waters; they keep me angry and sad. When I steer clear of them, it takes some of the sting out of losing my daughter. I can more easily open my heart to what remains in my life.

Staying in the weeds prevents me from changing and growing. My recovery fellowship provides the tools to accomplish those two things—with gentleness and kindness. It’s hard, hard work. But when I see positive results in real time, I’m encouraged to keep at it. There’s no graduation from this school of life.

The miracle of my recovery is that, like a gentle breeze blowing away the clutter of remorse, my eyes can see my life through another lens now, one full of gratitude, humor and love. The fruits of my recovery rest on these three things.

“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 Annie 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 use 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 an inflated sense of responsibility, 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.

The Freedom Of Recovery

From Survival to Recovery, p. 25-26:

“Unless recovery is found, blame, guilt, anger, depression, and many other negative attitudes can go on for generations in a family affected by alcoholism…Focusing on ourselves actually allows us to release other people to solve their own problems and frees us to find contentment and even happiness for ourselves.”

We all have different stories of how substance use disorder has touched our lives. In my life, guilt was a constant theme from very early in my childhood, and, as I said in my memoir, “Guilt is a terrible crippler.” It crippled me, especially, when my own child mirrored the user in me and morphed into a worse and more dysfunctional user than I ever was. Guilt and self-blame put me at risk in setting and enforcing boundaries, in becoming an enabler, in shielding Annie from the logical consequences of her behavior. In short, guilt kept me from parenting my daughter intelligently and kept me stuck in a hole. Fortunately I found recovery and release from my own remorse, much of it misplaced, which in turn is freeing Annie to live her own life and solve her own problems.

Whatever happens in the days ahead, I won’t be burdened under a cloud of shame that isn’t  mine to carry.

Accepting What Is

From Each Day A New Beginning, November 24:

“’If onlys’ are lonely. ~Morgan Jennings

The circumstances of our lives seldom live up to our expectations or desires. However, in each circumstance we are offered an opportunity for growth or change, a chance for greater understanding of life’s heights and pitfalls. Each time we choose to lament what isn’t, we close the door on the invitation to a better existence.”

Oh, that’s a mouthful of wisdom. But it took me years to swallow it. Maybe because what God was asking me to accept—addiction and the horrible life accompanying it in my beautiful daughter—the unacceptable. I simply couldn’t. But, over time, I saw what non-acceptance was doing to both me and my daughter.

It kept me in perpetual denial as I stubbornly refused to follow the suggestions for families in recovery. Eventually, my noncompliance broke me, and I was humbled into a state of acceptance.

But it hasn’t ended there. Every day now I open the door “to a better existence.” There IS life after loss. I focus these days on all the people and blessings who remain in my life. I will always grieve the loss of years with Annie. But life goes on. In an excerpt from A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (me):

“When addiction claims our loved ones, we often feel resentful. It feels to us like we had been tagged, even though we had run as hard as we could. It’s taken me a few years to get to a place where I don’t feel angry or gypped anymore. My lot is no better or worse than any other mother’s whose child was struck down by illness. Whether or not she outlives me—as is the law of nature—remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I must remember to watch the mountain turn into a big red watermelon, and enjoy the colors of New Mexico.” (2014)