marilea.rabasa@gmail.com

Breathing Lessons

From Hope for Today, June 10: “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....

Walls and Bridges

From Courage To Change, January 22: “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...

Another Perspective

“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. Your User”   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...

Love And Enabling

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...

The Boomerang Of Enabling

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,...

En”light”enment

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.” Yes, it...