Getting Out Of The Way

I’m a mother. When my kids were little, it was my job to keep them safe from harm. If they ran across the street with a car coming, I might have spanked them a little so they’d remember to look both ways next time. Yes: pain; yes: consequences. Yes: both good teachers.

But when Annie was twenty-one and started making terrible choices, I still thought it was my job to protect her from harm, self-inflicted or otherwise. And I still treated her like a two-year-old.

When she first stole from me early on, I went into a long period of denial and guilt, minimizing my feelings and believing her incredible explanations. My inaction only emboldened her, and she went on to steal in other ways. Several times, she stole my identity, with no explanations. So even when it was clear to me that her behavior was unacceptable, I still behaved inappropriately: I did nothing. Even when the credit card company told me to do something—that it would be a lesson for her—I still did nothing.

Where was the smack on the rear she would have gotten from running across the street? Where were the consequences that would have reminded her to be careful? I presented Annie with no consequences in the beginning of her illness and so she learned nothing. Her progressive illness got much worse. My guilt was crippling me as an effective parent.

Not until I started working my own program of recovery was I able to release myself from the hold that was strangling us both. I needed to get out of my daughter’s way. She wasn’t two anymore.

I’ve made a lot of progress since those early days. I’ve learned to let go and leave Annie to the life she has chosen. Four rehabs helped her turn her life around for a while, but she always slipped back into her substance use disorder and the life that goes with it. But staying out of the way has given me the freedom to take back my life and learn to live well by focusing on something else. It has also given Annie the freedom to take responsibility for her own life and hopefully her own recovery. If she reaches for it again, and I pray she will, how much more rewarding it will be for her to find her own way!

“We are all broken; that’s how the light gets in.”

“This journey of mine, this parenting journey, would involve going two steps forward sometimes and then three steps backward. It was not vertical progress I was making, but it was progress. And strangely, the more I kept the focus on myself and striving to be happy, the easier it was to let go of my child. I knew I had paid my dues, and I feared no one’s judgment, least of all God’s.

I’ve railed at God many, many times during all these years of joy and pain, this God they speak of at Twelve-Step meetings. How many times had I sinned in my life? Many, more than I want to remember. And so the child in me had been sure, earlier on, that I was being punished for all of them. It was my karmic payback. “What goes around comes around,” etc. Indeed, for all of my life, before my breakdown, I had no faith in any thing or any one other than myself. I grew up very lonely and isolated, and if there was a god, he wasn’t paying any attention to me. So I learned to be very independent and self-reliant. 

But when I finally found myself on my knees, I felt broken and whole at the same time: broken because my MO for dealing with my problems hadn’t been working; and whole because I finally let myself believe in something outside of myself to strengthen me, to fill in the gaps that were missing in me, and to help me cope. I was starting to develop and cling to a faith that assured me that I was not being punished and that I would be OK in the end, no matter what happened to my daughter.  And I realized that fighting Angie’s battles for her was not only a waste of time; it was also useless and of questionable value.

            My energies, spent though they were, would be better directed toward reclaiming my own life, which had been sorely compromised in the fight to save my daughter. And in reclaiming my own life, I was bidding for my redemption, long overdue, but just within my reach. This was my journey now, I knew it; I sadly accepted it. I wanted us to be connected but we weren’t. I wanted her struggle to be our struggle, but it wasn’t. I wanted to save her life but I couldn’t. I could only save my own. And I’d keep working at it—or this relentless disease would claim two more victims instead of one.”

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

My Life, My Choice

From Each Day is a New Beginning, August 5:

“’The bottom line is that I am responsible for my own well-being, my own happiness. The choices and decisions I make regarding my life directly influence the quality of my days.’ ~Kathleen Andrus

There is no provision for blaming others in our lives. Who we are is a composite of the actions, attitudes, choices, decisions we’ve made up to now. For many of us, predicaments may have resulted from our decisions to not act when the opportunity arose. But these were decisions, no less, and we must take responsibility for making them.

We need not feel utterly powerless and helpless about the events of our lives. True, we cannot control others, and we cannot curb the momentum of a situation, but we can choose our own responses to both; these choices will heighten our sense of self and well-being and my well positively influence the quality of the day.”

My long journey to wellness has involved learning many new things, and letting go of old ideas that weren’t working for me anymore. That is the key for me: letting go of stubbornly held-onto ideas that perpetuated my downward spiral. I received the “gift of desperation,” and far from turning away from it, I embraced it.

Positive self-governance is the key to living well and in harmony with others,  and most recovery programs teach us how to do this. It’s not automatic, especially if we’re carrying a lot of baggage from the past.  As long as I remain teachable, the rewards are endless.

Who’s Crazy?

From Hope for Today, May 27:

“Before I came into the program, I struggled with feeling numb and fragmented. Once in Al-Anon and exposed to Step Two, I had to ask the question, “What does it mean to me to be sane or insane?” There were some good indicators in my life of both sanity and insanity. Still I didn’t believe I had anything to do with the presence or absence of either of them; they just happened.

In time I learned that the emotional numbness I had developed to cope with growing up with alcoholism contributed much to my sense of insanity. It forced me to see life as happening totally outside of and unconnected from myself. In Al-Anon, by learning to listen to my feelings, give them a name, and express them. I built a bridge between my broken self, my Higher Power, and my wholeness. Never in my wildest dreams could I have known that my insanity came from my lost relationship with myself and with God.”

I used to think that tragic events around me were what made me feel crazy. But I don’t think so. It’s my reaction to them, my attitude about them, that determine how I will come out on the other side.

Had I not been so broken to begin with, I might have weathered events differently. But I was broken, and that shattered mirror in my head greatly altered my perception of things. I’m happy that I found a recovery fellowship that helped me put the pieces back together. I’m learning to let go of the past and things I have no control over. Little by little, sanity and  harmony are returning to my life. And I know that all will be well. When I share my space with my Higher Power, I feel whole—and at peace in the world.

The Grounding of Gratitude

“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue, an everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.” ~Carole King

We all live our lives, savoring our victories and weathering the storms we encounter. Some years are better or worse than others. I’ve been sorely challenged most of my life with family illness and dysfunction, and if it weren’t for the wisdom in this quote I’d be thinking I’m the victim of poor fortune and full of self-pity.

But that’s not the case. My life has been full of many, many gifts. And I’ve learned the value of keeping a grateful heart and daily jotting down all of my blessings in a journal.

The challenge of substance use disorder is still with me, but I’m not consumed by it, defined by it, or obsessed with it. My focus is elsewhere: on the positive aspects of my life, my joys, and my strengths. It is from this that I am learning to deal my hand. And when I remember to be positive and grateful, it’s a winning hand.

“…and the Wisdom to Know the Difference.”

From Each Day a New Beginning, 10/12:

“’…there are two entirely opposite attitudes in facing the problems of one’s life. One, to try and change the external world; the other, to try and change oneself.’ ~Joanna Field

God grant us the courage to change what we can—ourselves. How difficult it is to let go of our struggles to control and change someone else. How frequently we assume that everything would be fine if only someone else would change. All that needs to change is an attitude, our own.

Taking responsibility for improving one’s own life is an important step toward emotional health.

Blaming another for our circumstances keeps us stuck and offers no hope for improved conditions. Personal power is as available as our decision to use it. And it is bolstered by all the strength we’ll ever need. The decision to take our lives in hand will exhilarate us. The decision each day to be thoughtful, prayerful, and wholly responsible for all that we do will nourish our developing selves. Each responsible choice moves us toward our wholeness, strengthening our sense of self, our wellbeing.

I will change only who I can today: myself.”

I read a good definition of substance use disorder the other day. It said something like this: when we focus on another substance, or the love of someone else, or another activity as the source of our happiness and well-being, then it takes on the attractive power of addiction. This includes our belief that if someone else would change, we’d be happy. I’ve stopped measuring my happiness on things and people outside of myself. If I keep the focus on myself, and keep my side of the street clean, all will be well in my world. I pray for the happiness of my daughter and all my loved ones, and then I let it go and get back to the business of living. I believe that things are unfolding as they are meant to.

Boundaries and Self-Regard

“If you bring me peace then you get more of my time. Simple.”

I read this online a few months ago and I’m so struck by the message, the tone, the unapologetic boundary setting. How many of us can say this to our loved one, whether it’s our child or our third cousin? This is a hard one for me. It puts my own needs first. And good self-care is something I’ve learned late in my life.

Early on in Annie’s disease, I allowed myself to be a battering ram. She was very abusive to me. Now I know that it was the drugs talking. (“What we allow will continue.”) But I was stunned, ashamed and feeling overly responsible at the time. I thought I deserved her wish to punish me (#martyrdom).

What a relief to finally reach a place where I feel worthy of some peace and joy. This has come after several years of working on myself and changing some self-defeating attitudes. Going into reverse, I’m no longer ashamed, and I know I’m not responsible. May we all reach a place where we can deal effectively and intelligently with this baffling disease. And not be destroyed by it. God Bless!

Redemption and Freedom

From Hope For Today, Conference Approved Literature, October 29:

“Now when my son tells me he was teased at school, I pass on my recovery lessons to him as we talk about self-love. I teach him what I have learned in Al-Anon. I help him by suggesting simple ways he can detach. I explain how he can let it begin with him by not retaliating. I help him understand that sometimes he also does things that hurt others and that he can feel better about himself by making amends. Not only has Al-Anon helped heal my past, it’s helping me give my son a healthier future.”

In an excerpt from my Homepage, I draw a similar conclusion:

“The true blessing of my recovery program is that its embedded principles cover all aspects of my life. Letting go of any particular substance is just one step toward spiritual recovery. I have found after a number of years that following the guidelines of recovery enhances my life in all areas. As my confidence grows, my relationships tend to work better, and when there is (inevitable) conflict, the means to work through differences honestly and effectively seem more attainable. 

I envision a world where the shame and stigma of substance use disorder is replaced by understanding that it is a brain disease, compassion for those affected by it, and appropriate government intervention in support and treatment of it. My mission is to share my experience, strength and hope with all those affected by this illness. Substance use disorder has reached epidemic proportions in our society, even more so in this time of global pandemic. Many people, in their fear and isolation, are turning to easy solutions to escape the tedium of quarantine. And some solutions are addictive. But none of us is alone. By sharing with others, we can put an end to our isolation. It is my wish to share with you my journey toward wellness in all aspects of my life. As we touch each other’s lives in fellowship, our struggles seem smaller, and our hope for a happier life grows.”

Resistance Training

From Hope for Today, October 10:

“Sometimes I need to work Step One backwards. I don’t always recognize when I’m powerless, but I certainly notice when my life becomes unmanageable. Then I remember that usually when I’m feeling insane, I’m forgetting my powerlessness and trying to control outcomes or other people…The pain is not in the surrender and acceptance. It’s in the resistance.”

Oh, I was a warrior, a heavy hitter where my daughter was concerned. I would have done anything to save her from this cruel disease. “I don’t always recognize when I’m powerless:” you bet I didn’t. That, I thought, would be accepting the unacceptable. No wonder I was in so much pain, resisting the reality of substance use disorder, resisting the fact that Annie was taken over by a complicated brain disease, and it was not within my power to cure her.

I needed to accept that fact. But there was still much that I could do to help her. I could set boundaries, exact appropriate consequences for bad behavior, show her volumes of compassion and love, and most of all practice self-care. Because if I didn’t take care of myself, how would I be strong enough to take care of her (or anyone else)?

I’m still a warrior, I guess, but I throw my energy into different battles: raising awareness about the devastation of substance abuse disorder, and more of it from the enforced isolation of Covid-19; writing books and blogs that resonate with others and show them they’re not alone; sharing my spiritual recovery with those who are interested; putting my focus on my remaining family TODAY and being available to help them navigate through this family disease.

God Bless Her, my daughter is in a terrible place right now, and I have to accept the reality that only she has the power to change her life for the better. I’ve learned to let go of her, and gain some distance and perspective. She knows she can come back whenever she wants to.

I’ve also learned to be grateful for all my blessings. My recovery is grounded in gratitude. There is tremendous peace in surrender and acceptance. I’ve put my resistance training on hold.

My (Old) Achilles Heel

Guilt has been a huge stumbling block for some of us in recovery. This is true because it keeps us stuck in the problem rather than in the solution.

I, too, have struggled with multiple addictions. So when my daughter mirrored my behavior, I was stunned to see her becoming a worse version of myself. The heartache was so real, and so deep, that I carried the responsibility for it. And that miscalculation crippled my judgment in numerous ways, ways in which I knew better. But I was still stuck in the problem.

Gratefully, I’ve become more educated about substance use disorder. It’s a brain disease with many moving parts, both physical and emotional, and with the cooperation of the user, it is highly treatable. But full recovery rests there, in the hands of the suffering addict. There is much we in the family can do to help and encourage, ways to show love and support without drowning ourselves. But we do not have the power to cure our loved one.

I am so heartened by what I’m learning about SUD recovery. More family involvement, love and support can make all the difference to a struggling family member. It encourages me a great deal to see substance use awareness moving in a more positive direction. Someday shame and stigma will be relics of the past, and SUD sufferers will be treated more effectively, with intelligence and compassion.

And guilt, one of the most useless and harmful emotions there is, will be kicked to the curb.