“Wanting to control other people, to make them live as we’d have them live, makes the attainment of serenity impossible. And serenity is the goal we are seeking in this serenity program. In this life.
We are each powerless over others, which relieves us of a great burden. Controlling our own behavior is a big enough job…”
When I took the Third Step, and turned my concerns about my daughter over to the God of my understanding, I felt a freedom that I’d never felt before. I stopped trying to control everything so much, stopped trying to play God when that’s not my job. With this freedom comes the faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to, without any help from me. Acceptance of life on life’s terms gives me peace—and the energy to open my eyes and keep moving.
In recovery, we learn to profoundly adjust our expectations, hard as it is. We raised one child, and now we have another. We are all too aware of the change that drugs have produced in our children. A parent wrote in Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope ( the SESH book) a very revealing statement, something I could have written myself. It is a key to understanding my story, my mother and father’s stories, and my daughter’s painful struggle:
“I expected my children to be perfect, to always do the right thing. I tried to control them by giving them direction and making them do things in a way that I felt was correct! When they didn’t, I could not handle it.
I could not accept their drug use and I felt that their behavior was a reflection on me. I was embarrassed for myself and scared to death for them. I became so distrusting of my children that I showed them no respect. I would meddle and invade their privacy looking for any excuse to challenge and confront them.
When I came to Nar-Anon, I learned that my interference and my attempts at controlling them were actually standing in the way of their recovery. I learned to let go of the control I never had in the first place.”
In an earlier blog, “Redemption and Freedom,” I said, “I would finally, thank God, let go of the oppressive burden I was placing on my daughter by demanding she get well so that I could be OK.” This is a difficult statement for some of us to make.
I’m very codependent; my daughter’s active drug addiction shook me to the core and made me decidedly unwell. Her illness had the power to ruin my day (and my life) before I got into a recovery program and started practicing the concept of detachment with love.
This concept has placed me at a healthy distance from my daughter so that I could view her situation with some objectivity and respond to her with intelligence and compassion. I’m very grateful for the education I’ve received in the rooms of recovery. I will always love her and I grieve the loss of her. But there are other people in my life, and I want to stay well for them. Thank you, Nar-Anon, for helping me reclaim my life!
Deborah Meier said in her book, The Power of Their Ideas, “Teaching is mostly listening, and learning is mostly telling.”
I love this because as a former teacher I used to have it turned all around. I got better, fortunately, but then I retired. Now I’m an author and what I’ve learned about myself by writing has filled three books, essays, and poems.
I speak a lot, telling my story, mostly at recovery meetings. And when I’m not speaking to other people, I’m speaking to a piece of paper—many pieces of paper. It’s my therapy. It’s how I learn about myself.
It’s a constant practice of self-discovery, this discipline of pen to paper. I cross out, revise, change my mind, rephrase things. All this writing and rewriting helps me clarify my thoughts, my understanding of what’s real to me: what’s authentic. It’s how I learn about myself.
How I’m learning.
It’s an ongoing process.
I find that as I keep growing and changing my writing reflects that as well. There’s nothing static about me or about my writing.
And just as the words flow out of my pen onto paper, my recovery continues to flow from my heart to those around me. It’s a real symbiosis, this relationship I have with my pen. It eases the words out of me so that I can share what I’ve learned with others.
The rare epiphany I experience is like a volcanic eruption. I had one recently, and writing and rewriting about that has taught me so much about its meaning. But mostly I’m just going with the flow of life, trying to pay attention with what’s going on with me.
So I continue to do public speaking, which is a tremendous learning experience. ”Learning is mostly telling.” And the more I write—the more I speak on paper—the more I learn about who I am and who I’m becoming.
“Before I came to Al-Anon, when I was figuring out if I was okay, I had a mental checklist: is my daughter okay, is my son okay, and is my husband okay? If I could answer yes to all of those, then I knew I was okay. When I could no longer deny that my teenage son had a big problem with alcohol and drugs, I was no longer able to feel okay, because he wasn’t okay. I had it backwards.
In Al-Anon, I’m learning how to be okay without first checking in with my loved ones to see if they are okay, If they aren’t, maybe I can say or do something helpful; maybe not. I will still be okay. The action I take is much more likely to be effective if I am acting or speaking from a place of serenity. And with serenity I can begin to let go of the outcome, knowing I have done all I can and that I am powerless over the rest.”
All I can add to these wise words is another saying I’ve picked up along the way:
“Deal From Strength.”
So often in life our actions, and more often our reactions, are born out of fear. When my daughter robbed me, I ran around like a scared rabbit, listening to her denials. If I had been stronger, I might have taught her a valuable lesson about logical consequences. This is an example of my getting in her way. My fear governed that poor decision. Now, through the wisdom I have learned in the rooms, I do things differently. I can let go of outcomes and be at peace with myself.
Sometimes dealing from strength means doing nothing for the moment, taking a deep breath, and trusting in God’s will.
“’If people only knew the healing power of laughter and joy, many of our fine doctors would be out of business. Joy is one of nature’s greatest medicines. Joy is always healthy. A pleasant state of mind tends to bring abnormal conditions back to normal.’ ~Catherine Ponder
Greeting life with joy alters every experience for us and for those we share it with.”
It’s a choice for me, a very conscious one. Before the enlightenment of recovery, my sorrows buried me. For years. And then I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.
The tools of my recovery program offered me some healthy alternatives to the way I had been living. And most importantly, these tools helped me change the way I was thinking. My attitudes changed. But not overnight. It took time for me to go through the process of change. And I discovered that in embracing gratitude I felt happier. I started looking for things to be grateful for and this brought me joy.
I started thanking God for pretty sunsets, and notes from my grandchildren, and my good health. I could go on and on. If I fill my consciousness with positive thoughts and really lean into them, it crowds out the negativity that has the power to sadden me.
I still have sorrows. But I don’t dwell on them. I do what I can about them and then I put them away. I try to use my energy for good, positive activities and thoughts that elevate me. It’s not perfect, this discipline of mine. But it’s something I strive for every day.
And—as we all know—it’s the journey, not the destination, that defines us and our character. I want to leave something good behind for those who come after me. This is how I make living amends to my family and friends. The rewards are as great as the energy I put into it.
Sometimes I may forget to give thanks for one of my greatest gifts—freedom. I am free to believe what I wish and worship where I want. I am free to travel and free to express myself. Most important, I am free to choose my thoughts and responses.
In the Silence, I let go of fear worry and pain. I release any limiting opinions or views of myself and claim my divine potential. My heart expands with gratitude as I connect with the part of me that know no limits—my spirit self.
I affirm: I am free to choose my thoughts and responses and align my dreams with the highest good. I rejoice in the presence of unbounded Spirit in me and claim my infinite potential.”
For much of my life I suffered from depression, and I didn’t know how to be free of it. I just resigned myself to feeling sad much of the time and filled in the hollowness with food and drugs and alcohol. Working the Steps in several 12-Step fellowships has given me the tools to look at myself, work on things that were getting in my way, and point me in a positive direction. I can choose to do this work or I can choose to be the unhappy person I was for so long.
“Amid chaos, when I most need to find relief and serenity, it can be difficult to slow down and use the tools of prayer and meditation. Even when I can’t still my mind, meditation can help me steer it in the right direction…Meditation helps me to be mindful instead of mindless in all aspects of my life…Mindfulness isn’t limited to techniques like sitting cross-legged, reciting a mantra or focusing on my breathing. It’s about noticing my default mode and realizing that I have choices. It’s a slowing down that grounds me and gives me a sense of opening and expanding, of pushing back against the walls and gaining space. It’s the opposite of pressure and fear.”
My default mode: fear and panic. Slowing down and recognizing the source of my fear helps me get a handle on it. Then mindfulness: I draw on my program and examine my choices about handling that fear. What can I do? Do I have any control over the source of it?
My 44-year-old daughter is in the clutches of substance use disorder. She has been in and out of recovery for twenty-two years. She is not in recovery now. That might make me fearful without my recovery program. What can I do about her? She’s in charge of her own life. I wish I had the power to change it. I don’t. Believe me, I’ve tried. After years of managing my fear and anxiety through enmeshment, helicoptering, and people-pleasing, I’ve learned that those means are unhealthy. They give me the illusion of being close to her and “helping,” which has always backfired. It just kept her learning from her mistakes and growing. So now I have let go. I know that I can only love her. And staying in that positive space removes my fear and makes my life more enjoyable.
Fear has the potential to bury me. Loving sets me free.
“My Twelve-Step recovery, so far, has brought me a great deal of gratitude and serenity, mostly when I remember that voice from God telling me to let go of control and resistance. Yet there’s another part of me that hurts terribly when I witness the destruction of my daughter at the hands of substance use disorder. How can I be well while Angie is so sick? I’ve spent all these years searching for an answer.
Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye, in an interview discussing her own grief about losing her mother, says this: ‘I’m changed by it, the way a tree is changed by having to grow around an obstacle.’
It’s the subliminal mother force in me. Grief and loss—they change us. I keep getting beamed onto Planet X, then back again, my molecules getting rearranged every time. Just as Angie has changed, so have I. I’ve loved my daughter as best I could for half of my life. How can losing her to this living death not change me?”
Annie was 21 when she surrendered to drug abuse. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. I was in denial, totally blindsided. I frantically sought answers, heaping much of the blame on myself, trying at times to be a firm and responsible parent, but always slipping back into my worst defects. My self-will was running riot, and I was making myself sick with PTSD, anxiety and clinical depression.
My obsession with saving her—my constant worrying—contributed bigtime to my downfall. I couldn’t let go of it. And it was so easy to justify it to myself: I love my daughter so much and I want to save her from herself. I won’t give up on her. I’ll do whatever it takes.
We are parents who love our children without exception. But our dilemma is not about love. It’s about the many stresses on that love that, in my case anyway, made me very sick. One of those stresses is worry. Too much of it can make us feel martyred, which is so passive. I was in a constant state of anxiety. And for what? It changed nothing.
These past many years striving toward recovery have slowly helped me feel worthy of being a better me and therefore worthy of having a better life. For me, that includes grieving in my own way around my daughter, while at the same time embracing all the love and joy in family members and good friends who stand by me always. It doesn’t include putting one foot in a future that hasn’t happened, weakening my footing in the present.
It’s a waste of time. And couldn’t I be doing something better for myself?