“I’m so grateful I found a way out of sadness, a way to take care of myself each day, and a relationship with the God of my understanding, who will never abandon me. The pain I’ve felt in the past is equal to the measure of joy I feel now.”
That’s quite a mouthful. Whoever wrote those words in “The Forum” is saying that somewhere between despair and happiness she or he did some work, and found some answers. For me, anyway, I entered into a state of grace. I quite deliberately let go of my precious wounds, which served no further purpose in my life. The lessons they taught me have been learned. I’ve put my sadness in a back drawer—and replaced it with positive thoughts that keep me motivated to reclaim my life, my remaining loved ones, and keep my heart ticking.
Grief is not a badge I wear anymore. Joyfulness is.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, January 1:
“Acceptance of our past, acceptance of the conditions presently in our lives that we cannot change, brings relief. It brings the peacefulness we so often, so frantically, seek.”
The drama that filled my life when my daughter, Angie, first got sick was overwhelming. Eventually, it broke me. And I needed to step back and take a look at my behavior. The first thing I did was remove “frantically” from my vocabulary. Next, because I realized that my guilt and inflated sense of responsibility were actually harming her and preventing her from learning, I needed to step way back and detach, but always with love. Loving detachment need not be a slap in the face to our loved one, but rather it gives him/her the freedom and opportunity to be accountable for choices they made, often under the influence. If I continually step in and try to fix everything for my daughter, she will have little or no opportunity to accept life on life’s terms. And isn’t that, without resorting to substance use disorder, what we all need to do?
Life on life’s terms. Substance use disorder around the world is a deeply disturbing reflection of how people respond to loneliness and alienation. When emotional longing collides with the easy availability of substances—dangerous drugs, too much food, alcohol sold at gas stations—that’s a recipe for problems which might end with physical illness, but they didn’t begin that way. Emotional pain, Dr. Edwin Shneidman calls it “psychache,” came first.
There isn’t a nation on earth that doesn’t have people with some form of emotional pain that he writes about, and their solutions vary. In America, though, there has been a growing epidemic of substance use disorder for many years. The experts can figure out what this means, but as a substance user myself, I’m observing my world, and the world of all my friends in recovery, from that perspective. Only time will tell how the pandemic will affect those of us who used various substances to lessen our “psychache.” But I’m grateful, one day at a time, to continue the work on my emotional sobriety and enjoy the positive effect it has on those closest to me. My world may be turning slower than it used to, but it’s still turning!
I am a
blogger for The Addict’s Parents United. The sequel to my award-winning first
memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t
Live Here Anymore, will be released by She Writes Press on 6/16/20. This is
an excerpt from Stepping Stones: A Memoir
of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation:
“Several years before I attempted to
make amends to Angie, she was in her last rehab in California. It was 2009, and
I flew across the country for Parents’ Weekend. After excitedly showing me
around the grounds, she bumped into a couple of new friends.
“Hey, Angela, show us more of those
My daughter still enjoyed showing people what she had been able to do as
a gymnast in Greece.
“Sure.” Proud of her agility, she
showed us, among other things, a backward twist that must have been difficult
then. She wasn’t ten anymore.
As she leaned backward
toward the floor, her hair fell back; I saw the scar again and wondered how
she’d gotten it. She must have had an accident to have sustained such a deep
gash around her hairline in the middle of her forehead.
Angie was a child, she looked like a beautiful mandarin doll. She’d always had
a thick pile of bangs to frame her oval face. But her hair didn’t fall that way
anymore because of the scar, and she hadn’t been wearing bangs for several
years. I remembered the picture of my children from J. C. Penney’s one
Christmas in Miami, her pretty brown eyes accented by her thick bangs.
her then in rehab, I focused on her bangs. How much I missed seeing them on her!
What mother doesn’t mourn her child’s innocence and wish a painless life for
last time I saw her, for Mother’s Day in 2012, I was
in a San Francisco motel near the hostel in the Tenderloin where she was
staying. She was to spend a night with me and had a key to the room. It was
five in the morning when I heard her unlocking the door, and I jumped up to
“Hi, Mom. This is Pontus.”
“Hi there,” the much older man said as he offered to shake
“Hello, Pontus. Angie, please come in now so I can go back
“Sure, Mom. See you later, Buddy.”
have a picture of her sitting on my bed the next morning, her terrier, Loki, on
her lap; she was never without him. Her hair was pulled to the side and held
with a clip, exposing the scar.
looked so strange—like someone else—without those
lustrous bangs. But of course she was . . . someone
Eight years. Some digital contact in all that time—most of it unpleasant. I’ve often said in my commentary over the years that an addict, after long periods of using, seems split down the middle: the child we raised, and what remains after years of substance abuse.
I’ve hoped for the happy ending so
many of my fellow mothers are blessed with. I’m so genuinely happy for them,
and I hold a fervent wish in my heart that their addicts continue to enjoy
sobriety. But many of us have not been so fortunate. And many mothers have
buried their children. So how do we move forward with our grief and loss?
Together, for one thing. Together we are stronger. Talking openly about it, putting an end to the shame and isolation. There is strength and empowerment in our ability to stand tall and add our voices to the others out there. Substance use disorder—this is hard to believe—is even more on the rise now. As a result of all the forced isolation in the time of coronavirus—isolation which is a substance user’s worst enemy—a few mothers I know have found themselves frustrated and saddened to watch their children falling back into the rabbit hole. I pray their relapses are short-lived and they are able to get back to living their lives without using substances to cope.
I think of my Angie on this Mother’s
Day, 2020. I don’t know how she is. I sent her an email, telling her how much I
love her and I hope she’s well enough to survive another day. The email didn’t
bounce back. If she’s still with us in San Francisco, that’s good, because
where there’s life there’s hope.
We all have different stories with our children; some are happy and some are sad. This is just my story. But I know that I was the best mom that I could be, and I believe that most mothers are. Because of that stirring belief, I’m proud to celebrate myself and all of you on Mother’s Day, this year and every year. We have more than earned a place in that fellowship.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, December 1:
“’And it isn’t the thing you do,
dear, it’s the thing you leave undone which gives you a bit of a heartache at
the setting of the sun.’ ~Margaret Sangster”
A quality many of us share, a very
human quality, is to expect near perfection
from ourselves, to expect the impossible in all tasks done. I must rejoice for
the good I do. Each time I pat myself on the back for a job well done, my
confidence grows a little bit more. Recovery is best measured by my emotional
and spiritual health, expressed in my apparent confidence and trust in “the
process.” This is especially true now, in the middle of our national health
crisis, as we learn to put aside our egos, sometimes staying at home, in the
interest of protecting others.
Creeping perfectionism is a strange
form of self-sabotage. At first it seems like such a good and healthy attitude.
But setting realistic goals and doing my best to achieve them is very different
from placing unyielding demands on myself and feeling “less-than” if I fail to
It all boils down to being honest
and knowing myself as I am, not as I think I should be. Knowing myself and
coming away liking myself—well, for many of us that’s a process that takes a
long time. Holding onto realistic aspirations can be a healthy thing. But
demanding perfection of myself and worse, punishing myself when I fall short,
is not healthy. It’s a bitter tyrant holding a whip at my back.
Strong language, yes. But not as strong as the sting of that whip on my back. I’m happy to be free of it. I love my recovery fellowship where I’m just one in a community of equals, where I can mess up and they love me anyway. I’ve grown up in the rooms all these years and I’ve learned to love myself, warts and all. This is where I found my humanity. I am truly blessed and happy to be alive, now more than ever as we join elbows 🙂 to strengthen our communities. Thank you, HP!
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen
Casey, November 28:
of God is different with every person. The joy of my recovery was to find God
within me.” ~Angela L. Wozniak
there’s a thought…and how empowering! Too much do I rely on the outside world
for kindness and goodness and strength. When I don’t always get those things, I
feel vulnerable. We’re all flawed human beings, and we don’t always give or
receive what’s needed. All the more reason to maintain a wellspring within
ourselves—one of faith and hope for better days.
is not the answer for us who are in recovery, though, admittedly social
isolation is necessary for some of us right now because of the health crisis in
America. But neither is too much dependence on how we interact with others. We
have to face life’s inevitable disappointments. I try hard to keep my
expectations in check, do what I can to make a positive difference in the
world, and then let go. I can’t control other people, places or things. But I
can try to remain a steady force in my own life and those closest to me.
recovery has taught me how to manage my ego and remember how small I am in the
stream of things. I have to muster humility in order to take the first three
steps (the “God” steps), and humility is knowing my place in relation to God’s:
a very small one, like the grains of sand on my beach. Every day I have the ability to marshal my
thoughts and inner resources so that I’m not thrown off balance by what’s
happening in my small world or the world at large. All I can do is use the
tools of the program as best I can. And, for me, that means keeping God close
in my heart and relying on His strength as I watch what’s happening in the
world. We all have the power to find peace amid the storms swirling around us.
Blessings to all my sisters and brothers in the weeks ahead. Stay safe!
“As we let go of obsession, worry, and
focusing on everyone but ourselves, many of us were bewildered by the
increasing calmness of our minds. We knew how to live in a state of crisis, but
it often took a bit of adjustment to become comfortable with stillness. The
price of serenity was the quieting of the constant mental chatter that had
taken up so much time; suddenly we had lots of times on our hands and we
wondered how to fill it.”
I’ve learned how to “be still in the
stream.” Obsessing over Angie and living in all her drama was threatening my
health. I was suffering from severe PTSD and endured many other negative
consequences in my life as a result of my constant worry over something I
So, I took
the first three steps in my recovery program. It was hard to do that because I
felt that letting go was giving up on my daughter, not loving her anymore. But
that’s not how I feel now.
Once, not so
long ago, Angie was a loving daughter to me, a college graduate with her whole
life ahead of her. Then, like the great cosmic crapshoot that afflicts millions
of families, she fell out of her life and into substance use disorder. She’s
been lost to us all for a long time now.
my daughter Angie, not the addict that lives in her body, would want me to
reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.
“Learn to love someone even when
they are unlovable.”
use disorder is commonly accepted now as a brain disease. This pronouncement by
the American Medical Association causes some confusion because the overuse of
substances can cause such unacceptable behavior. It’s difficult to recognize,
much less accept, that our loved ones aren’t always making conscious choices.
They are under the influence of a bewildering array of drugs which influence
them. My daughter, Angie, when she is on drugs, has not even resembled the
daughter I raised. She has been angry, combative, and much worse. Her moral
compass has flown out the window. I have often felt the need to distance myself
from her for my own protection. This is just terrible and so counterintuitive.
We want to protect our children from their disastrous choices. But I paid a
heavy price by putting myself in the line of her fire. I learned the hard way
that I don’t have the power to save Angie from the life she is living. But I do
have the power to save myself.
recovery is not for everyone; I get that. But it has worked for me. One of the
reasons it has worked for me is because an important part of the step work
involves self-reflection. It involves looking at myself in the mirror and
getting to know myself, warts and all. It involves self-forgiveness,
forgiveness of others and letting go of resentments. These are just words, but
in fact, they are difficult actions to take. Some resentments that we’ve been
nursing our whole lives are nearly impossible to let go of. But I have learned
that they will eat away at me, like acid, if I don’t. So it’s worth the effort
to let them go. As I have learned to shed much of the negativity in my life,
I’m learning to like myself better and be comfortable in my own skin. It’s a
slow process—I’ve been at it for eighteen years!—but it has worked to help me
love myself more and feel worthy of happiness.
So how has
that improved relationship with myself affected my relationship with my
daughter? To be honest, not much at all. She’s on her own path, one that I
cannot support or enable. But what it HAS done is allow me to endure the
distance created between us WITHOUT guilt or obsession. What it has done is
convince me that I did the best I could with what I had to raise her, and pat
myself on the back for that. The sad reality is that she got tagged with an
illness that is destroying millions out there. It’s a cruel illness because it
often kills our children (their minds, their spirit, their morality) before it
actually kills them. Knowing now what I know about substance use disorder, I
don’t beat myself up with remorse and an overinflated sense of responsibility.
I continue to tell Angie that I love her because I do. I will always love her
unconditionally, no matter what. The door is not closed; it remains open for
her to embrace recovery and come back to her family. That will never change. As
unlovable as she is when she’s using drugs, I will continue to love her while
there’s breath in my body.
meantime, my recovery is enabling me to bridge the gap between what I’ve lost
and what’s left. I have two other children, beautiful grandchildren, a loving
partner, siblings and many friends who remind me what a gift it is just to be
alive. Jenny Jerome Churchill said it
best: “Life is not always what one wants it to be. But to make the best of it
as it is, is the only way of being happy.”
years ago, my talented Vietnamese student cut out most of the letters for this poem
I wrote and he fashioned it into the shape of a tree:
The Christmas tree is a sight to
All decorated up ornamentally.
The bulbs all colored, the lights
I love to watch it late at night.
The gathering of gifts and family
As a child of five in my memory.
And now the gifts have come back
Hanging here on this Christmas
aren’t enough branches on the tree for all the gifts in my life. How about you?
I haven’t forgotten about the daughter I miss. But I’m happier when I count my
blessings. Happy Holidays to all my dear friends!
The miracles of recovery just keep flooding into my life, like a welcome storm after a long dry spell. The world around me, and the people in it, remain the same in many ways. The world still turns. But I’m not the same. My perceptions are different, and I see people and events through a different lens.
I used to
feel intimidated and defensive around my husband’s family. But we recently had
a wonderful visit together. I enjoyed their company thoroughly. It is with
great relief that I realize the problem was never with them; it was with me.
And to be able to own that now, and move on comfortably, is but one of the
gifts of my growth in recovery.
it said that ours is a disease of relationships, and I agree. How substance use
disorder of all forms tears through relationships—mother and child, husband and
wife, father and son—and gets in the way of healthy communication. The twelve
steps of recovery, when practiced diligently, offer so much hope for change.
And that change is reflected in how we relate to those around us. Not every day
and not completely. But it’s progress I’m making, not perfection I’m seeking.
The willingness to grow along spiritual lines is enough for me. And it brings
me closer to the peace and serenity I strive for.
“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.
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.