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 was.
“First Step Prayer:
I admit that I am powerless over my addict.
I admit that my life is unmanageable
When I try to control him/her.
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.
Like most of us here, I raised my family with the best of intentions. I loved my kids to the moon—still do—but I also felt completely responsible for them. That’s understandable when they’re children and young adults. But at some point—and this place is different for all of us—we must relinquish our responsibility and allow our children to be responsible for themselves.
This gets so complicated because mental health issues so often accompany active addiction. There is so much for our children to shoulder, and we want to help.
This understanding is never more critical than when our adult children struggle with addiction. If we are hampered by guilt—a truly crippling emotion—we might allow ourselves to feel overly responsible. This in turn puts us at risk of becoming enablers. And that downward spiral will continue—until we break free of it.
”We didn’t cause it; we can’t control it; we can’t cure it.”
‘Tis the season…yes, it’s the time of giving and thinking of others.
I think of Angie often and even more so during the holiday season when she is so missed in our family. But I have learned over the years that the best gift I can give my daughter is the gift of detachment with love. One of the hardest ways we can love our children struggling with addiction is to let go and encourage them to choose recovery. This is something we cannot do for them.
We can pay their rent, buy them a car—in short, we can make their lives comfortable. But is it always wise to support them financially? I know that every case is different, especially when grandchildren are part of the picture—and my heart goes out to you grandmothers—but in my case, my generosity just gave Angie more money for drugs.
So I’ve learned the hard way to let Angie face the consequences of her choices and take responsibility for herself. It’s the hardest thing…to remove the safety net we want to put under our children. It’s the hardest thing… to watch them flounder in the grips of this cruel disease.
So all I want for Christmas is the serenity to remember that I don’t have the power to save Angie. All I can do is love her. She was raised in a loving family for twenty-one years before she turned to drugs. Wherever she is and whatever she’s doing, I know she knows this.
From Thirty-One Days in Naranon, Day 6:
“It was difficult for me to understand enabling and to realize that instead of helping the addict to get better, I was really helping him to continue to use. Enabling was what I used to do by loaning him the car, covering his bad checks, replacing the things he “lost,” making excuses for the things he did wrong, and hosting his parties. I thought that by being kind and helpful, everything would be okay.
It was the Nar-Anon program and group members who opened my eyes. It felt good to learn that by enabling the addict, I was performing tasks for which he was responsible. It didn’t matter what my reason for enabling him was, I was preventing him from suffering the consequences of his own actions.”
In my memoir, I wrote, “Years later 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 everything place, and one time she was so flummoxed by her son that she lost all her keys! We laughed together at that one, grateful that we could still 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.”
In the rooms I’ve heard many times: “What we allow will continue.” So I don’t allow Angie to abuse our relationship anymore. We are no longer dependent on each other. I’m on my journey and she must follow her own path. At this fork in the road, when parents stop making life easy for their addict, many of them are forced to see themselves more honestly and attempt recovery. Many succeed.
This was a very difficult choice for me, but I was drowning in my codependence. I needed to pay attention to the rest of my life and let go of Angie. As I have found peace on my spiritual path, I pray she will too someday.
From The Forum, October, 2014:
“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 reactions, are born out of fear. When Angie robbed me, I was afraid that if I had her arrested she would be scarred forever, when in fact it might have taught her a valuable lesson about consequences. This is an example of enabling at its worst. My fear governed that very 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.
“Rehab was mostly clear sailing for Angie. But there was one incident at the end of March that was upsetting: she snuck out beyond curfew with a friend and got drunk. She came back eventually, very repentant, and good-naturedly accepted her loss of privileges. The staff felt obligated to call me about the incident. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I joked with Gene that she has acted out more since she was twenty-one than she had in her whole life!
I’ve heard it said that once drug abuse takes hold in someone, they stop growing emotionally and remain stuck. Angie was thirty that year but clearly acted like a rebellious teenager. And up until the present when she found the courage to break away from me, she had been almost completely dependent on her father and me. But we, addicted as we were to her, made that easy for her. From time to time throughout her addiction, she fought to establish her independence from us. Then she would turn around and ask for help. I wanted so much for her to take charge of her own life, but later on it would be crystal clear: Addiction was in control and was happy for any handouts. Drugs cost money.”
I made many mistakes early in Angie’s addiction. Taking over too many of her responsibilities, I should have closed the bank sooner. I often say that deep pockets are dangerous. They allow us to be generous and feel good about it. A friend in Virginia told me that she’s glad she didn’t have the money to bail her son out of jail. He was forced to stay and feel the consequences of his behavior. It taught him a lesson, and he chose to go into recovery when he got out. He’s doing very well today. I see an important lesson in that.
“Years later 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.
Angie was stealing valuables from my home again, just as she had been two years before, 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.
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, 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?”
I just finished reading 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.” I feel strong enough 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.”