From Courage to Change, Conference Approved Literature, December 8:
“The image of an avalanche helps me to give the drinking alcoholic (or addict) in my life the dignity to make her own decisions. It is as though her actions are forming a mountain of alcohol-related troubles. A mound of snow cannot indefinitely grow taller without tumbling down; neither can the alcoholic’s mountain of problems.
Al-Anon has helped me to refrain from throwing myself in front of the alcoholic to protect her, or from working feverishly to add to the mountain in order to speed its downward slide. I am powerless over her drinking and her pain. The most helpful course of action is for me to stay out of the way!
If the avalanche hits the alcoholic, it must be the result of her own actions. I’ll do my best to allow God to care for her, even when painful consequences of her choices hit full force. That way I won’t get in the way of her chance to want a better life.
Today’s reminder: I will take care to avoid building an avalanche of my own. Am I heaping up resentments, excuses, and regrets that have the potential to destroy me? I don’t have to be buried under them before I address my own problems. I can begin today.”
‘The suffering you are trying to ease…may be the very thing needed to bring the alcoholic to a realization of the seriousness of the situation—literally a blessing in disguise.’ (From “So You Love An Alcoholic”)
I wish I had been able to do this fifteen years ago. But we get there when we get there. It’s never too late to start over, whether we’re a using addict or the enabler of one. I say this with kindness and a deep compassion for myself. I truly believe that we all do the best we can with what we’ve got at any given moment.
The following is an excerpt from my new memoir, Stepping Stones.
“…Her first year of living independently seemed uneventful at first. Frequently visiting her in the apartment she shared, I took her furniture from her old bedroom so she would feel at home in her new digs. But there were signs that she was changing. She had never had many boyfriends in high school. Then one Sunday morning I arrived to find a friend of hers on the sofa, clearly feeling at home. Later I learned he was a bartender at a watering hole and drug hotspot in Adams Morgan. Well, she was on her own. And by now she was twenty-one; I felt I didn’t have much leverage.
In the spring, though two courses short of her graduation requirements at George Mason University, Annie was allowed to walk with her class, cap and gown and all.
Angel, his wife and I all dressed up for our second child’s college graduation in the spring of 2001, and we all viewed this ceremony as a symbol of hope that Annie was willing and anxious to embrace her adulthood and take on more responsibilities, like other young people.
“Hey, Mom, I want you to meet my friend Shelly. She got me through statistics sophomore year.”
“Hi, Shelly, nice to meet you. Thanks for helping Annie. Is your family here
“No. They had to work. No big deal for them anyway.”
“Oh. Well I think it’s a big deal, so congratulations from me! It was nice to meet you, Shelly, and good luck.”
Annie’s graduation distracted us from being curious about what she was doing in the evenings. Again, she went to a lot of trouble to cover up behavior that she knew would alarm us and might threaten an intervention.
Just like her mother.
At the end of the summer, she asked if she could move into my basement. Her roommate was buying a condo, she said, and their lease was up anyway. Later on, when I watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded in my own house, I wondered about the truth of that. I thought maybe the roommate saw where Annie was going and asked her to leave. No matter. She was in my house now. The circle was about to close.
Then a shocking discovery—a bowl of homemade methamphetamine on top of my dryer! I had been wondering about the stuff she’d left in my basement laundry room. I read the label: muriatic acid. I looked it up on my computer. So that’s what she used it for!
I moved the bowl up to the kitchen and put it next to the sink, where recessed lighting bore down on it. She couldn’t miss it when she came in the front door. I thought I’d be ready for the confrontation.
At 4:30 in the morning, she exploded into my bedroom while Gene and I were sleeping. I’m glad he was with me that night.
“How dare you mess with my things downstairs! Don’t you ever touch my stuff again, you fucking bitch!” she roared. I thought I was dreaming when I saw her there, animal-like, with wild, blood-shot eyes.
Gene held onto me as I sobbed into my pillow. “Oh God, this isn’t happening, Gene, please tell me this isn’t happening!”
A half hour later, pulling myself together, I went downstairs to make coffee. I still had to go to work.
Annie stomped upstairs from the basement with a garbage bag full of her clothes and brushed by me without a word or a look. After she slammed the door behind her, I ran to the kitchen window and saw her get into her car.
My daughter went from crystal meth, to cocaine, to heroin, as though it were a smorgasbord of terrible choices. Despite four rehabs and family love, her addictive disease continued. There were periods of remission, but they were short-lived. My daughter lived in one pigsty after another, her boyfriends all drug addicts. I would spend a decade trying to reconcile two feelings: complete hatred for the stranger who was living in my daughter’s body and total surrender to my love for her.
Because of our superficial differences, I didn’t realize right away how alike we were.
We’ve both suffered from depression since we were young. The adults in our lives didn’t always acknowledge our screams. We turned to substance abuse for relief: food, cigarettes, and drugs. I added alcohol to my list, but I’m not aware that she ever drank alcoholically. My daughter moved on to heroin.
At least I cleaned up well.
Though Annie was no longer living with me at that point, I tried to continue embracing her, accepting her, so she’d know she was still loved. But I couldn’t yet distinguish between helping and enabling.
I did unwise, misguided, things: I gave her money; I paid her debts; I shielded her from jail when she broke the law.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to contact the authorities about this, Mrs. Rabasa?” the rep asked me when she stole my identity to get a credit card.
“Oh no,” terrified of her going to jail, “I’ll handle it.”
And I did, badly.
This was enabling at its worst. Convinced her addiction came from me, that guilt crippled me and my judgment.
Placing a safety net beneath her only served to ease my anxiety. It did nothing to teach her the consequences of her behavior. I kept getting in her way.
It felt like I was in the twilight zone whenever I visited her. My daughter was buried somewhere deep inside, but the addict was in charge. One body, split down the middle: my daughter, Annalise; and a hard-core drug addict. A surreal nightmare.
Her apartment smelled of incense and dirty laundry. The soles of her shoes flopped until she could get some duct tape around them. She didn’t offer me anything to eat because there was no food in the refrigerator.
Twice while I was there she ran to the bathroom to vomit.
Heroin. Dope sick.
Annie was hijacked by a cruel disease—cruel because it robs you of yourself while you’re still alive. While destroying your mind, it keeps your body alive long enough to do a lot of damage before it actually kills you. For many drug addicts, it’s an agonizingly slow death.
It was like looking at a movie of my life in reverse, erasing all the good fortune that brought me to where I was, leaving only the pain and ugliness—and hopelessness—of a wasted life. How I might have ended up.
For better or worse, my life had been unfolding as many do with addictive personalities. But to see the same disease taking over the life of my child—to see that mirror up close in front of me—was threatening to be my undoing.
Trying to hold it together, I was imploding. Like all addicts and families of addicts, survival can be reached from many places, but often from the bottom.
Help me this day to understand the true
meaning of powerlessness.
Remove from me all denial of my loved one’s
The first step is probably the most important
one in assuring our recovery from the effects of another’s addiction. And it’s because I refused to take it that it
took me so long to start to recover. I simply wouldn’t accept my powerlessness
over my daughter’s disease. I felt as though I would be dropping the ball, appearing as though I didn’t care about her. I
felt that I had to do everything in my power to save her, not realizing that I
had no such power.
So, deep pockets helped me to put Angie
through four rehabs. They also had me paying her rent, paying off her loans, and
paying back the creditors. All my “help” simply gave her more money for drugs.
In short, deep pockets can be dangerous if they allow us to enable our
children. She might have learned something from the consequences of her actions
if I hadn’t kept getting in the way.
So yes, my life had become unmanageable. I
love Angie very much. And I kept making things easy for her. But we can enable
our children to death. Now I’ve let go of all my attempts to control her and
And I feel as though the weight of the world
has been lifted from my shoulders.
“I find the lessons of Al-Anon appearing in the most unexpected places—for example, in pre-flight safety instructions. Along with the details of how to fasten the seat belt and where to find the nearest emergency exit, the instructions always advise how to deal with the loss of cabin pressure. The suggestion is that I apply my own oxygen mask, thus ensuring my survival, before attempting to help others…Only then, when I have taken care of these responsibilities to myself, am I strong and stable enough to help others.”
It seems like a no-brainer, the above advice. But for a long time I ignored my own needs, not taking care of myself, close to throwing myself under the bus, because of my obsession with my daughter Angie and saving her from her addiction.
I loved my child to distraction, and I felt that self-sacrifice was a way to demonstrate my love.
But I found after years of it that it just wasn’t working. All the “help” I gave my daughter, all the protection I provided, shielding her from the logical consequences of her drug-induced behavior, just kept her in her disease. What motivation did she have to change her behavior when I kept getting in the way?
And as if that weren’t bad enough, my enabling behavior just made me sicker than I already was. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing when I was over-protective. I felt guilty, torn, sleepless, and eventually the signs of PTSD were clear. I broke down.
That’s when I put my oxygen mask on. I started to get well, and not just for Angie but for the other people in my life. I realized that until I healed myself I was no good to anyone else.
I’m grateful for the gifts of recovery that keep on giving.
“Detachment is not isolation, nor should it remain focused on not enabling the sick behavior of the past. Detachment is not a wall; it is a bridge across which (we) may begin a new approach to life and relationships generally.”
I had a hard time at first understanding what detachment was. I thought it was an uncaring way to behave. How could I detach? I was so enmeshed with my daughter Angie and intent on saving her from herself that I couldn’t think straight. I was just being a warrior mom, and I had a lot of company.
It was only when I faced my (misplaced) guilt and recognized it as a stumbling block that I was able to get some emotional distance and see what I was doing.
I needed to get out of the way.
Walls vs. bridges. I used to think that detaching from another person’s problem was like putting up a wall: separating myself emotionally and physically. But I needed to establish healthy boundaries in my relationship with Angie. That’s what was missing.
I realized that it’s not okay to be overprotective; she would learn nothing otherwise. Instead of erecting a wall, I built this bridge, stone by stone, rail by rail, reinforcing it with the boundaries I needed to honor my own needs.
One of those needs was to try and be a responsible parent. I needed to stop enabling Angie to continue her behavior without consequences. I know she’ll do what she wants with or without me. But I have torn down the wall of shame and anger that separated us before.
As long as she’s alive, I have hope that she’ll walk across that bridge and face what’s ahead of her with the love and support of her family.
“A Open Letter to My Family (from the drug addict)
I am a drug user. I need help.
Don’t solve my problems for me. This only makes me lose respect for you.
Don’t lecture, moralize, scold, blame, or argue, whether I’m loaded or sober. It may make you feel better, but it will make the situation worse.
Don’t accept my promises. The nature of my illness prevents my keeping them, even though I mean them at the time. Promising is only my way of postponing pain. Don’t keep switching agreements; if an agreement is made, stick to it.
Don’t lose your temper with me. It will destroy you and any possibility of helping me.
Don’t allow your anxiety for me to make you do what I should do for myself.
Don’t cover up or spare me the consequences of my using. It may reduce the crisis, but it will make my illness worse.
Above all, don’t run away from reality as I do.Drug dependence, my illness, gets worse as my using continues. Start now to learn, to understand, to plan for recovery. Find NAR-ANON, whose groups exist to help the families of drug abusers.
I need help: from a doctor, a psychologist, a counselor, from an addict who found recovery in NA, and from God.
Enmeshment can be crippling: we don’t have enough emotional distance, often, to deal intelligently and effectively with the addict. Stepping back, detaching, takes discipline and restraint. Such a hard thing to do when we’re in this emotional minefield. It has taken me years in my recovery program to act more and react less. As I said in my last post, I need to deal from strength to be any help to my daughter. The oxygen mask goes on me first.
A while back I read Libby Cataldi’s book, Stay Close. In my book, I say that I try to stay in communication with Angie, but reading Libby convinced me to “stay closer.”
Now, after years of recovery work, I feel strong enough to try to keep up communication without feeling drawn into the orbit of her manipulation and insanity. Whatever happens, I want her to know that I’ve always loved my daughter inside the addict—and I always will.
In the Afterword in Libby’s book, Dr. Patrick MacAfee has these words to say: “I believe that ‘stagli vicino’—staying close but out of the way of the insanity—is best. If you are dealing with addiction, offer the addict roads to recovery, not more money or bailouts. Excuses keep people sick…The fear of watching a loved one failing is frightening, but don’t let it cloud your realization that the natural extension of love and caring may only enable the addict’s condition.”
That’s a very fine line. We want to help our loved ones, of course. But often giving cash to an addict is like oxygen to a fire. It just feeds the addiction. There are so many other ways to offer help, and when they are ready hopefully we’ll be stronger to give it.
A few years ago in one of my support groups in New Mexico, a friend shared how she had to lock everything up in her house. She’d lock the jewelry here, the silver there. She had a different key for every place, and one time she was so flummoxed by her son that she lost all the keys! We laughed together at that one, grateful that we still could laugh.
This is what it comes to for many of us parents. We erect walls to protect ourselves, keeping the addicts out. And then, of course, we feel guilty about doing that.
My daughter Angie used to steal valuables from my home in order to sell them for drug money. It was safer, she thought, to steal from me than from a store. She already knew what an enabler I was; but she was still a thief. And even though her addiction pushed her onto the wrong path, she still should have paid the consequences if she was going to learn and mature. But I let her get away with it.I deeply regret that.
They will work us, manipulate us, and use every tool in their arsenal to get what they want if they’re still using. Parents are so vulnerable, and they’re walking a fine line between helping their child recover, and enabling them to continue using. We learn eventually to sit frozen in inaction, to do nothing.We learn to let our addicts be accountable for their own actions, and hopefully learn from the consequences: eviction, jail, or death.
But it’s that last consequence that holds us hostage, keeps us doing for our addict all that he should be doing for himself. We say to ourselves, ‘As long as he’s alive, he can recover.’True, but when will we ever get rid of our God-like parental power, thinking that his recovery is all up to us?
Ernest Hemingway famously said: “We are all broken; that’s how the light gets in.” This speaks to me, and to many of us.
In my search to be free of my emotional pain, I have found en”light”enment in a recovery program with tools to help me live better. It hasn’t been an overnight cure for my misery. I will always mourn the loss of my daughter Angie to this cruel disease. But, over time, I’ve learned to let go of some bad habits that weren’t serving me anymore—and contributed to me serving her even less. What didn’t serve me? Guilt. Untreated, that led to enabling, which served her not at all.
Working this miraculous program has helped me see that I’m just another child of God—and that I’m worth something. My years in various 12-Step fellowships have saved my life. Back in 2001 when a school counselor told me to go to an Al-Anon meeting, I told her, “No, that’s not for me.”
Help me this day to understand the true meaning of powerlessness.
Remove from me all denial of my loved one’s addiction.”
The first step is probably the most important one in assuring our recovery from the effects of another’s addiction.And it’s because I refused to take it that it took me so long to start to recover. I simply wouldn’t accept my powerlessness over my daughter’s disease. I felt as though I would be dropping the ball and appearing not to care about her. I felt that I had to do everything in my power to save her.
So, deep pockets enabled me to put Angie through four rehabs. Deep pockets also had me paying her rent, paying off her loans, paying back the creditors she got into trouble with. All my “help” simply gave her more money for drugs. In short, deep pockets are dangerous. She might have learned something from the consequences of her actions if I hadn’t kept getting in the way.
So yes, my life had become unmanageable. I love Angie very much. So I kept making things easy for her. But we can enable our children to death. Now I’ve let go of all my attempts to control her and her disease.
And I feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.