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.

Getting Unstuck

From Hope For Today: September 5:

“…In Step Four I realized I was stuck in the past. My daily thoughts were usually about plans for the next day, week, or even month. I always anticipated tomorrow to the point where it became my today. I’d get so caught up in what I was going to do that I often wasn’t aware of what I was doing now.

After realizing this character defect and asking my Higher Power to remove it, each day I have is usually better than the one before. I give thanks for the little joys in each day. I still make plans, but I don’t let my thoughts erase the present. Anticipation is sweet, but not at the cost of today.

When I look back on this in the context of alcoholism, I understand why I behaved as I did. With all the awful happenings at home, there were many today’s I didn’t want to experience. As a child, I had limited options, so the best way to escape was to flee into the possibility of a better tomorrow. I have different choices now. I know enjoying my day and doing the right thing for myself and my Higher Power is the best plan for an even better tomorrow. Thought For The Day: Just for today I choose to enjoy all this day has to offer. If I don’t like the offering, I’ll ask my Higher Power to help me adjust my attitude.”

Attitude IS everything. I grieve the loss of my daughter like everyone else who faces this cruel illness in their child or loved one. But I can try to transform it into something that works for me. Gratitude does that. And it infects those around me. In the most uplifting way!

Sometimes good things are born out of loss. When I see all the recovery in all these rooms, my eyes are bearing that out. God Bless us all at this trying time of the year. May we all find some peace to carry us through to the New Year!

“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.

Self-Love

“Thoughts become things; choose the good ones.”

Unlocking the key to this is the key to 12-Step recovery, because with it I become empowered to intelligently deal with the substance use disorder of a loved one (and/or myself). In a letter to another parent I said, “ I love my daughter with all my heart and soul. And I deeply grieve the loss of her. But it’s been learning how to love and value myself that has elevated me from the reality I live with”—“elevate,” as in rise above, detach from, avoid becoming enmeshed in and manipulated by my child. Oh, it’s a sad, sorry catechism we mothers of substance users must learn in order to survive the illness of our children, which changes some of them into people we don’t even recognize.

How I think about myself is conveyed to others. If I put myself down, or have self-deprecating humor, what will others think of me? I will try to guide my thoughts better and guard my tongue more.

But if I can create even a little bit of distance and objectivity from the problem that is consuming me, I might be given some freedom: to look around me and appreciate other blessings in my life, whether it’s a good job, good health, other healthy children, grandchildren, or a sunny day.  Life goes on, relentlessly, with or without me. I choose to live well in my golden years. And I’ll do what’s necessary to insure that. My recovery has taught me that I deserve to.

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)

The Power Of Choice

I am not a victim, but an active participant in my own life. I learned the 3 A’s in Al-Anon: awareness, acceptance, and action. Those are three very loaded concepts.

Awareness requires some honesty and courage, the willingness to look in the mirror and face one’s reflection—sometimes good and sometimes not; it also requires an alertness to what’s happening around me.

Acceptance asks us to recognize the difference between changing what we can and what we can’t, which is really huge and really hard for most ordinary humans like myself.

Finally, action asks more courage of us to make changes—rendering our lives happier and more productive.

I may be an adult child, but I’m growing up. I will take responsibility for my own life, for my successes and my failures. In this way I feel empowered, no matter the outcome, to be the star in my own show.

“I don’t want to wake up one day and find I’m at the end of someone else’s life!”

Trusting In Our Goodness

“’There is a divine plan of good at work in my life. I will let go and let it unfold.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman

Letting go of the outcome of every experience, focusing instead on our efforts, making them as good as possible, validates our trust in the ultimate goodness of life. Our frustrations diminish when our efforts, only, are our concern. How much easier our days go when we do our work and leave the outcome where it belongs.”

My recovery program is faith-based. That says a great deal. I don’t rely solely on outcomes to measure my success or failure. I ask myself, “What is my intention?” “Do I have the means to accomplish a particular goal?” “If so, do I try?” If not, can I let it go and move on to something else?”

“Do I love without condition and let my actions flow from there?”

I haven’t realized all my hopes and dreams. But I’m not waiting for joy to drop in my lap. I make an effort every day to do what is right and true. Then I trust in my Higher Power and his will for me.

Happiness is not a destination. It’s the journey I’m on!

“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)

The Enormous Power of Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, October 7:

“’There is a divine plan of good at work in my life. I will let go and let it unfold.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman

…Letting go of the outcome of every experience, focusing instead on our efforts, making them as good as possible, validates our trust in the ultimate goodness of life. Our frustrations diminish when our efforts, only, are our concern. How much easier our days go when we do our work and leave the outcome where it belongs.”

Sometimes it seems like I’m hanging onto my faith by a mere thread. That’s how fragile it is. And that’s why I continually work to banish my fears. They are the basis for a lot of poor judgment and destructive behaviors in my life. Grappling with them is critical.  In my opinion, substance use disorder is a symptom of, among other things, our fears, and when fears dominate me, where is my faith?

I do believe that fear and faith are often at odds with each other. When I am afraid, whether it’s real or imagined, my adrenaline goes into overdrive and I often act rashly without thinking things through. When my daughter is in trouble, my instinct is to rescue and protect her from harmful consequences. Now, after years of recovery, I know that those same consequences might be her best teachers. This is the hard part that many of us parents face: police, jail, loss of family and friends, or deteriorating health. Protecting our kids from the consequences sometimes just delays what’s coming down the road. When my kids were teenagers and didn’t listen to me, I used to mutter under my breath: “Well, okay. I guess life will teach you!” Sad but true.

Maya Angelou has said something like: “When you know better, do better.”

So I do accept that substance use disorder has been a challenge in my family. I have spent many years trying to weather it. I’ve made mistakes, usually when I’ve allowed my fears to hold me hostage. It’s been a slow wheel, my road to recovery. But I’m grateful that my faith has broken down my resistance and given me hope for a happier life. Now that I know better, I will try to do better.

“Life is not always what one wants it to be. But to make the best of it as it is, is the only way to be happy.” ~J.J. Churchill