Sailing Lessons

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott

I grew up in Massachusetts on a lake, and we sailed every summer. Boats and water are a part of my narrative because it’s where I started my life. But it was never really smooth sailing.

Eighteen years ago, my world turned upside down. My boat capsized as I started watching my daughter tumble down the rabbit hole of drug addiction. Mind you, I was living a wonderful life, not perfect, but whose is? I was a hardworking single mother with three kids who seemed to be doing well. Just one of millions of women doing their best for their families. And then I got tagged. Annie became another statistic.

I got sucked into a perfect storm of my own shortcomings colliding with my vulnerable daughter and her addictive character. I was utterly guilt-ridden, and that crippled me and my judgment. I enabled Angie far too much, cradling her in one safety net after another. I inadvertently prevented her from facing consequences and learning from her behavior.

In the end, by taking on far too much responsibility for my daughter’s illness, I had such severe PTSD/clinical depression that I felt compelled to retire. That was my bottom, when I knew I had to change my thinking and some behaviors in order to reclaim my life. Annie is a wounded soul split in half—the addict and all that that entails; and my loving daughter. I believe with all my heart that my loving daughter would want me to survive losing her. And my survival is how I choose to honor her.

I got help in the rooms of twelve-step recovery; there are many, many of them, in every city and here on Facebook. The kind of help I received involved a lot of reflection and reframing my life. I learned not to fear looking back on my childhood, that the answers to much of my coping skills lay there. As I moved forward reflecting on my life as a young mother, I understood why I behaved as I did much of the time. And I awarded myself compassion and forgiveness for doing the best I could in difficult times.

Now I feel blessed, if only because the ground under my feet is more solid. The storms in my life have rocked me many times over the years, but I’m learning how to weather them. When we lose something as precious as a child, everyone and everything in our lives loom larger in importance. It’s a terrible irony of life that the intensity of our joy often comes to us at the cost of much pain. I have a snapshot of me and Annie on my aunt’s sailboat twenty years ago just before she started tumbling away from us all. We’re both smiling, and it doesn’t make me sad to look at it. On the contrary, it reminds me of the fragility of life and how more than ever it’s important to live with intention. I think I sleepwalked through much of my early life, entirely unaware of who I was. But now, thanks to my years of work in recovery, I have learned a better way to live. We all pass through storms in the course of our lives. But they don’t have to destroy us. I wish for all my brothers and sisters in recovery that they find peace and hope for better days—by whatever means possible.

I Think I’ll Let Him

So, I was learning to let go of much of my pride, and I was acquainting myself with the beginnings of humility, something I knew nothing about. Low self-esteem, humiliation, lack of self-worth—none of this language is about humility, though there is often much confusion. I was all of those things, but until I’d accepted that something else in my life was in charge of events as they were unfolding, I couldn’t understand humility. As long as I was playing God, it was a foreign concept.

With great relief I accepted in the second step that there was a force out there that could help me think and live better. So the third step was to allow Him to do so. This is where I started to understand what it meant to be humble: it’s understanding my place in the stream of things next to God’s, which is very small. That’s not thinking little of myself; but it is thinking a lot about God, and letting Him take over the burden of my pain.

And the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders.

He Can

“Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

To take this step I had to stop trying so hard to play God. Of course, I never saw myself in those terms. I saw myself as, first of all, self-reliant and proud of myself for that. In addition, I saw myself as a strong parent who would do anything to save her child; I felt proud of that too. I guess you could say that I had a lot of pride.

But after a few years of being so “strong,” I started to feel frustrated and martyred. All my efforts were coming to nothing. Angie was still a sick drug addict, and I was becoming broken. I needed to believe that there was a greater force out there that could help me make wiser decisions and help me take my life back.

At this point I just had to believe.

A Brave New World

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, April 12:

“’Make yourself a blessing to someone. Your kind smile or a pat on the back just might pull someone back from the edge.’ ~Carmelia Elliott

We are healed in our healing of others. God speaks to us through our words to others. Our own well-being is enhanced each time we put someone else’s well-being first…We are all on a trip, following different road maps, but to the same destination. I will be ready to lend a helping hand to a troubled traveler today. It will breathe new life into my own trip.”

Easter, 2020, seems to be ushering in a brave new world to us all. I remember hearing the term “globalization” about twenty years ago, and I wasn’t sure what it meant because I wasn’t experiencing it personally. Now, in the throes of a worldwide pandemic that I’m gratified I saw in my lifetime, I am experiencing what it means.

I’m glad I’m living through this crisis because it is unveiling so many unsung heroes. My confidence in the human race is soaring. My grandchildren getting home-schooled by two loving parents tirelessly stepping up to the plate in a game they never planned for. Health care workers risking their lives so that we might live another day. Postal workers, baggers at the grocery stores; the list is endless. But what I’m seeing as a result of all this courage is what Ann Frank saw in that attic in Holland before she died: “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”

It’s not every day that our lives, and how we live them, are brought into such sharp focus, from frequent hand washing to thinking twice before we hug someone. How life has changed for us all! Now it is abundantly more clear to us how what we do in our individual spaces has an impact on the community we live in, and in neighboring communities and so on. I’ve learned a great deal about what happens in a petri dish.

But of much more interest to me now is how the health crisis has brought out the best in millions of people around the world. There are also sad, angry stories of corruption popping up like weeds in my garden. But I don’t focus on them any more than I focus on anything else I can’t control. I am heartened by this Easter’s celebration of humanity and hope in a time of fear and uncertainty. And how creative we are! Drive-in movie theaters have become venues for church services. And long after Easter Sunday this year there may be a revival of drive-in movie watching!

“Revival…” My Latin tells me that word means “live again.” Is that what we’re all doing now? Learning how to live again?

Rain Dancing

The road to my spiritual life began when I was a young child growing up in an alcoholic family. But I didn’t start to walk down this road until halfway through my life when my daughter fell ill with substance use disorder.

I was very unhappy growing up. It’s a classic story of family dysfunction that many of us have experienced as children. But back then I didn’t have Alateen to go to. My father was never treated and died prematurely because of his illness. I, too, was untreated for the effects of alcoholism, and grew into an adult child.

Well, many of us know how rocky that road is: low self-esteem, intense self-judgment, inflated sense of responsibility, people pleasing and loss of integrity, and above all, the need to control. I carried all of these defects and more into my role as a mother to my sick daughter, and predictably the situation only got worse.

I was a very hard sell on the first three steps of Al-Anon, and my stubbornness cost me my health and my career. But once I did let go of my self-reliance, my whole life changed for the better.  The Serenity Prayer has been my mantra every day. I’ve learned to let go of what I can’t change. I don’t have the power to free Angie of her disease, but I can work hard to be healed from my own.  This is where I’ve focused my work in the program.

My daughter has gone up and down on this roller coaster for nearly eighteen years, and right now she’s in a very bad place. But that has only tested me more. My faith grows stronger every day when I release my daughter with love to her higher power, and I am able to firmly trust in mine.

Friends of mine ask me, “How do you do that? You make it sound so simple!”  I tell them, “First of all, getting here hasn’t been simple. It’s the result of years of poisoning my most important relationships with the defects I talked about earlier. I knew I had to change in order to be happy. Secondly, I fill my heart with faith-based unconditional acceptance of whatever happens in my life. It’s my choice.

Somewhere in the readings, someone wrote ‘Pain is not in acceptance or surrender; it’s in resistance.’ It’s much more painless to just let go and have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. There’s a reason that HP is running the show the way he is. I just have to get out of the way; I’m not in charge. I also read somewhere the difference between submission and surrender: submission is: I’ll do this if I get XYZ; surrender, on the other hand, is unconditional acceptance of what I get.  Well, the latter is easier because I’m not holding my breath waiting for the outcome. I just let go—and have faith. Again, it’s a very conscious choice.

We all have different stories. What has blessed me about a spiritual life is that I can always look within myself and find peace regardless of the storms raging around me. I’m learning how to dance in the rain.

The Freedom Of Surrender

From Courage To Change, January 23:

“Today’s reminder: At the start of each day I can make the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God. This way I begin my day with a strong assertion that I choose to accept the reality of my life. I am growing in a healthy direction, growing ever more able to live a good life and to love those I meet along the way.

‘Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being free.’”

My will(fullness) has gotten me into trouble often. I’ve exercised bad judgment and made questionable decisions, especially around my daughter Angie. I wanted to help her beat her addiction—as if I had any power over that.

When I was finally, after much trial and error, able to accept my powerlessness, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Nothing changed in our situation except the way I began reacting (or not) to it.

Taking my attention away from Angie and the struggle that is hers alone, what was I going to do with all my energy?

Focus on myself and all the blessings God has given me. When I turn my burdens over to Him, I am free.

The Benefits Of Self-Reflection

When I go to bed at night I ask myself, “Did I do the best I could today?” Sometimes my answer is “yes” and sometimes it’s “no.”

I read somewhere that a life without regret is a life without reflection. So if I’m able to think about my actions—sometimes with regret and sometimes with pride—then I feel that my awareness in itself can be a source of strength. It points the way for me to change when it’s necessary. And it boosts my self-confidence when I can recognize—and give myself credit for— a day well lived.

Guilt And Redemption

“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 these dozen 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 anything or anyone 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.”

You can find my award-winning book, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pseudonym) on Amazon.

Empowerment

What I like about my recovery program is learning that I’m not a victim—that I have choices. My daughter, Angie, is an addict, yes, but I haven’t been victimized or punished for my sins. Angie is sick; addiction is a brain disease, and she has the power to fight it. She can choose. Not easily, to be sure, but the power is in her hands.

By detaching myself sufficiently from the agony of her struggle, I can recognize that I am free to choose too. I can help her, if she wants recovery, but beyond that it’s not my battle. As heartbreaking as that is for any mother—to admit her powerlessness—it’s what I have had to do in order to reclaim my life. I love my daughter, and I pray with all my heart that she chooses recovery someday. But in the meantime, I have many blessings to enjoy and pay attention to.

Even if Angie were my only child, there are still sunsets…

Awareness, Acceptance, Action


“The universe is run exactly on the lines of a cafeteria. Unless you claim—mentally—what you want, you may sit and wait forever.” ~Emmet Fox

Fear has always kept me from asking for what I want. But the older I get, the less I care about rejection. Living fully means facing that on a regular basis. And I always learn something. Maybe I learn that my request was ill-timed or inappropriate. Other times I might learn that I asked for just the right thing, but it was denied. I can spend hours ruminating on why it was denied, driving myself batty. Or I can accept that things worked out differently, and let it go. My energy is better spent on other things I have control over now.

That’s important. Because wasting my energy on things I can’t do anything about saps my strength—strength I need to stay in recovery.