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!

Two-Stepping The Twelve-Step

Excerpted from my memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation:

 “’Marilea, why don’t you try a recovery meeting?’ my counselor gently advised me. She had heard me week after week moan about Annie turning into a monster I didn’t recognize anymore. It was terrifying; sleep eluded me.

‘Oh no, that’s not for me,’ I responded, echoing my mother from thirty years before when my sister tried to get her to do the same thing.

‘Well, I think it will help you to be around people going through the same thing.’

Thinking about it for a few weeks, though, I took her advice and started going to a meeting on Saturday mornings. Gene also felt it was a good idea.

And so began a long period of faithfully going to several twelve-step meetings, but essentially paying lip service much of the time, particularly to the first three steps, because I was nothing if not the biggest control freak around.

Step One: Admit my powerlessness? Never! I brought her into the world. It was my job to protect and save her.

Step Two: Believe that God could restore me to sanity? What’s insane about trying to save my child?

Step Three: Turn my will over to God? No way! I had to stay in control.

As a child, I took care of my own needs. I’d asked for company, hollered for attention, hoped for forgiveness, but was often ignored. So I became compulsively self-reliant: CSR, I humorously say at meetings. And much of that self-reliance, attempting to appear competent, looked like arrogance.

It took me a long time before I found the humility to get a sponsor. Part of me didn’t want to ask for help; an even bigger part thought I didn’t need help.It was Annie, I argued, who needed help.

Humility, I discovered, was a tremendous leveler, and it would bring me closer to what I’d been missing my whole life: being part of a community of equals.

But without being honest with myself and others, I remained isolated on the outside, looking in.”

Two-Stepping The Twelve-Step

Memoir Excerpt from Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation:

 “’Marilea, why don’t you try a recovery meeting?’ my counselor gently advised me. She had heard me week after week moan about Annie turning into a monster I didn’t recognize anymore. It was terrifying; sleep eluded me.

‘Oh no, that’s not for me,’ I responded, echoing my mother from thirty years before when my sister tried to get her to do the same thing.

‘Well, I think it will help you to be around people going through the same thing.’

Thinking about it for a few weeks, though, I took her advice and started going to a meeting on Saturday mornings. Gene also felt it was a good idea.

And so began a long period of faithfully going to several twelve-step meetings, but essentially paying lip service much of the time, particularly to the first three steps, because I was nothing if not the biggest control freak around.

Step One: Admit my powerlessness? Never! I brought her into the world. It was my job to protect and save her.

Step Two: Believe that God could restore me to sanity? What’s insane about trying to save my child?

Step Three: Turn my will over to God? No way! I had to stay in control.

As a child, I took care of my own needs. I’d asked for company, hollered for attention, hoped for forgiveness, but was often ignored. So I became compulsively self-reliant: CSR, I humorously say at meetings. And much of that self-reliance, attempting to appear competent, looked like arrogance.

It took me a long time before I found the humility to get a sponsor. Part of me didn’t want to ask for help; an even bigger part thought I didn’t need help. It was Annie, I argued, who needed help.

Humility, I discovered, was a tremendous leveler, and it would bring me closer to what I’d been missing my whole life: being part of a community of equals.

But without being honest with myself and others, I remained isolated on the outside, looking in.”

“Stealth Bomber”

“One weekend before we left the country, telling Angel he was on his own with the kids, I drove East to be by the sea. In Ocean City, I got a cheap hotel room, a cheap bottle of vodka, and spent my time numbing myself. Instead of walking on the beach at the ocean I love so well, instead of grabbing a bag and adding more souvenirs to my beautiful collection, I lay on my bed, drank vodka straight out of the bottle, and passed out.

I might as well have stayed in a cheap motel near my own house.

In a fog most of the time, eating junk food from the boardwalk, I ran away from my life. I left my “shell” for the weekend, ventured off by myself, as empty coming out of a bottle as I was going into it.

I learned nothing, gained nothing from escaping for a few days other than missing my children terribly. I was still as hollow as the bleached whelks waiting to be snatched up by grateful collectors.

I would discover, many years down the road, the sneaky and devastating nature of addictive disease: how it stalks you, dupes you into thinking you’re okay “if it’s just once in a while.”  It’s like any virus: it needs a host to take root. And grow.

To flourish. And continue.

Addiction, like any cancer, wants to survive. It filled my empty shell, opportunistic disease that it is, with false-confidence, false promises, false hopes.

Maybe I’ll be happier in Greece…”

Excerpted from my recently released, award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation

“Two-Stepping the Twelve-Step”

                                         

 “’Marilea, why don’t you try a recovery meeting?’ my counselor gently advised me. She had heard me week after week moan about Annie turning into a monster I didn’t recognize anymore. It was terrifying; sleep eluded me.

‘Oh no, that’s not for me,’ I responded, echoing my mother from thirty years before when my sister tried to get her to do the same thing.

‘Well, I think it will help you to be around people going through the same thing.’

Thinking about it for a few weeks, though, I took her advice and started going to a meeting on Saturday mornings. Gene also felt it was a good idea.

And so began a long period of faithfully going to several twelve-step meetings, but essentially paying lip service much of the time, particularly to the first three steps, because I was nothing if not the biggest control freak around.

Step One: Admit my powerlessness? Never! I brought her into the world. It was my job to protect and save her.

Step Two: Believe that God could restore me to sanity? What’s insane about trying to save my child?

Step Three: Turn my will over to God? No way! I had to stay in control.

As a child, I took care of my own needs. I’d asked for company, hollered for attention, hoped for forgiveness, but was often ignored. So I became compulsively self-reliant: CSR, I humorously say at meetings. And much of that self-reliance, attempting to appear competent, looked like arrogance.

It took me a long time before I found the humility to get a sponsor. Part of me didn’t want to ask for help; an even bigger part thought I didn’t need help. It was Annie, I argued, who needed help.

Humility, I discovered, was a tremendous leveler, and it would bring me closer to what I’d been missing my whole life: being part of a community of equals.

But without being honest with myself and others, I remained isolated on the outside, looking in.”

Excerpted from my recently released and award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation.

Walls Or Bridges?

“Thanks to my recovery program, I have learned to build bridges instead of walls.” ~”The Forum,”  Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature

What does that mean? From what I’ve learned in recovery, it’s about learning to set healthy, workable boundaries. And what does that word mean? A lot of questions!

I grew up in an alcoholic family without many boundaries. There was a lot of guilt, and a fair amount of permissiveness related to that. My parents were sometimes neglectful and/or passive. I was allowed to run wild and became rebellious. Even my moral code was challenged. I was not a happy camper, and it showed.

As an adult raising my three children, is it any wonder that much of my parenting was the same? We pass on what we were given. When Angie started abusing drugs at age 21, I was blindsided, but I shouldn’t have been. I was in such denial about myself and my own shortcomings that I was incredulous at the change in her. I couldn’t believe it! But, in time, with a lot of my own recovery, I learned to not only believe it but to understand it. And most importantly, not to blame myself for it.

Because of MY misplaced guilt around Angie’s addiction, early on I set almost no boundaries with her. Why would I have to? She was 21; I had instilled a moral code in her since she was a child. What I didn’t realize, and gradually learned with horror, was how the personality of the addict often changes, how they abandon their moral code over and over again to serve their addiction—their new master. Angie lied to me, she stole from me, and she violated me in many ways.

I had to establish a new set of boundaries for her, quite apart from the boundaries I set for my other children. With them, I didn’t need to protect myself. With Angie, I did.

I view an addict while using drugs as a person split down the middle: my Angie, the daughter I raised was endlessly thoughtful, always remembering birthdays and Mother’s Day; the addict on heroin bears no resemblance to the daughter I knew. This is the tragic reality of how addiction hijacks our children and sometimes renders them unrecognizable.

But boundaries are not walls to shut people out. They are bridges to ensure healthier lines of communication. I incorporate boundaries into all of my relationships. Most relationships wouldn’t work well without them. Call them “rules,” or “expectations.” Whatever word we use, they are intended to help our dealings with people work better. Curfews with our teenage children are like lines in the sand, and many kids will tell you that they feel safer when parents impose limits.

With my daughter, I’ve had to impose tough limits because she is still under the influence of drugs. The addict is in charge, and I need to stay safe. Again—the sad reality of loving an addict lost in the hellish underworld of substance use disorder. But love her, I do, and always will. She knows this.

Many addicts recover. It’s miraculous to see them return to their former selves once they stop polluting their brains with substances. I pray Angie will be one of them someday. She knows how to reach me and I pray she will want to one day. In the meantime, setting boundaries is one of the many tools of recovery I enjoy to make all of my relationships work better. I’ve had to learn to reparent myself in recent years and I’m still growing as a parent. And a grandparent! Life goes on…

Making It Real

Step Five: Admitted to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

 

This is an honest program, and I recognize that I’ve been lying to myself and others my whole life. Shame, stigma, embarrassment were just a few of my rationales. But the lies kept my addictions going. I didn’t have to face them if I didn’t acknowledge them.

Telling someone else was the game changer for me. Other people became the mirrors I needed for valuable feedback. And telling other people made it all real. I could no longer hide in the shadows with my defects.

Bringing them out in the open with witnesses gives us a chance to deal with our defects more honestly and effectively. Freeing myself of some of my defects is critical to my growth and recovery in the program. My defects were roadblocks for me and contributed to my drinking.

I’m glad I’ve come out of isolation and faced myself. Day by day, I’m healing and getting better.

 

 

The Benefits Of Fellowship

From From Survival to Recovery, p. 19:

“Surrounded by other recovering people, we are learning how to heal our broken hearts and create healthy, productive, joyful lives…(our program) has led many of us to serenity, fellowship, and relief from loneliness and pain.”

Because of the stigma and shame surrounding all forms of addiction, many of us have kept our loved one’s problem (or our own) shrouded in secrecy. I did most of my life, and only in recent years have I dared to share my family disease with the rest of the world. I realized that until I faced the dreaded subject and learned more about it, it would continue to rule me and my family.

“It” is addiction and all of its effects and consequences. They are far reaching, especially for the family of an addict. And they can become terribly complicated as we become enmeshed in the lives of those we love. Being in the rooms of recovery has helped me untangle the mess.

That’s why a number of programs have been so valuable to many of us who suffer. We break out of our isolation and share our stories with others like us. We gain valuable perspective by listening to others. Our self-esteem soars as we see others listening to us and validating our experiences. We are offered compassion and understanding inside the rooms when it may be hard to find either of those things on the outside.

And we begin our journey toward getting our lives back when once they seemed to be lost.

HOW: Honest. Open. Willing.

“Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are the three primary principles in laying down a solid foundation for recovery. Honest with oneself. Being open to a Power greater than ourselves and willing to take certain steps.”

 

For a long time I avoided looking in the mirror. I used to walk down a busy street and turn my head away from any mirrors or reflections of myself. Why did I do that? I’m not so hard on the eyes! But it’s not about my physical appearance. I think it goes much deeper than that.

There was much about myself that I didn’t like, but rather than face it squarely I hid it in denial. I didn’t really know myself at all, and I wondered sometimes why I had the problems I had. Especially why other people reacted to me the way they did.

I realized I needed to make some changes in myself, and one of the first steps for me was taking an honest inventory of my defects of character, especially my resentments. They were weighing me down and acting as roadblocks in a number of my primary relationships.

I guess things had to break down pretty badly in my life for me to open my mind to change. And willingness followed easily because I wanted to be happy. Without healthy relationships with my loved ones, I wasn’t.

I will always be grateful to have found my recovery fellowship. It’s there that I learned the tools to live well and strive to be happy. One day at a time, I work hard to be honest with myself and others, remain open to the need to change something about myself, and be willing to do the necessary work.

The rewards just keep pouring in!

If We Only Had A Crystal Ball…

My daughter, Angie, got through childhood and adolescence very well, and not unlike many other young people. But there were signs of the coming storm. Here’s an early excerpt from my award-winning recovery memoir:

“If I was surprised by my daughter’s drug addiction in 2001, it’s because she appeared so functional and went out of her way to hide herself from me.  Later on once her addiction had taken hold of her, I would be incredulous at the dysfunctional behavior I was seeing. It’s as though she had become possessed. She had problems, but I thought I was helping her deal with them responsibly. There were no visible red flags. She didn’t stay in bed every day and pull the covers over her head. She diligently saw her therapist every week, facing every day with discipline and good humor. She never missed her classes and she never quit her jobs. Her grades were excellent. Maybe—and this is important to recognize now—this was the beginning of the denial that would hamper me throughout Angie’s addiction, preventing me from dealing with her illness intelligently and effectively.

Angie was a good daughter. But please, beware of the complacency in those words.  Clearly, she hid her pain very well. Clearly, much was lurking beneath the surface that I did not see. And if I ache with the vacant promise of all the “woulda, coulda, shouldas,” it’s because I know that even if I had known what was coming down the road, I couldn’t have stopped it.”  ~from A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pseudonym), available on Amazon