“Growing up in an alcoholic home gave me ample preparation
to become a perfectionist. Almost nothing I did as a youth was ever right.
Inside I felt rage at never meeting my parents’ expectations. I promised myself
I would do things differently. By the time I reached my thirties, however, I
could hear my parents’ critical voices speaking through me. I knew I was using
the same words spoken to me.”
I could have written that myself. And I’m so grateful for
the awareness I’ve picked up from my years of recovery. In the early years of
my daughter Angie’s addiction, I was oppressive in my attempts to get her to
“buckle under and shape up.” What? Would I use those words if she had cancer or
any other disease?
I got quite an education in the rooms of recovery, first of
all in accepting that drug addiction is a brain disease. The American Medical
Association has been saying that since the 1950’s, but who was listening? With that awareness, there was no room in my
heart for judgment or criticism. Only
compassion, understanding, and love.
Now, if I have any interaction with Angie, all that I say or
do springs from the heart of a mother. I love my child. Some things are
beautiful in their simplicity.
“Angie told me once that that’s why she hated NA meetings: often in attendance were drug addicts not in recovery, people she needed to avoid. But in her case I don’t think that’s true. I think she didn’t go to meetings because she needed to deal with her addiction her way, and not be told by anyone else what to do: CSR—compulsively self-reliant—just like her mother.
Or maybe she just wasn’t ready to
embrace recovery at all, a painful possibility I had not yet considered. I was
still determined, at that point, to believe that she was going to beat her
addiction and that I, of course, would be the glorious savior she would spend
the rest of her life thanking, handing me my redemption on a silver platter.
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. My mother unconsciously did the same thing with her
children: she was a demanding perfectionist, beating back the pain of
self-doubt and unworthiness by raising “successful” children. I’m very glad to
have found recovery from my dysfunctional upbringing. It has helped to “relieve me of the bondage of self” (Anonymous
Press 63). And most importantly, most importantly of all, my recovery has
freed my children.”
You can find my book, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here
Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pseudonym) on Amazon.
circumstances of our lives seldom live up to our expectations or desires.
However, in each circumstance we are offered an opportunity for growth or
change, a chance for greater understanding of life’s heights and pitfalls. Each
time we choose to lament what isn’t, we close the door on the invitation to a
experiences we are offered will fail to satisfy our expectations because we
expect so much less than God has planned for us in the days ahead…
breathe deeply and relax. At this moment my every need is being attended to. My
life is unfolding exactly as it should.”
wrestled with my faith most of my life, always too self-reliant for my own
good. But as I’ve watched my daughter succumb to heroin addiction, it has been
a great comfort to me to learn how to harness a newfound belief in the power of
something outside of myself, something I can turn to in my despair and know
that something beautiful will come out of it. And it has: my whole life, and
how I choose to live it now, is a miracle.
“When I read a step
and think about it deeply, I find it opens the door to new insights. When I
read that same step again, it reveals new spiritual ideas. They seem to dig
into our consciousness and unearth for us the wonderful potential for good in
all our relationships with life.” ~One
Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.141
I’ve heard it said
that Al-Anon offers answers to heal many troubled relationships. Those of us in
the recovery program share many of the same qualities: being affected by
another person’s addiction. So how have I been affected?
By having a strong
desire to control those around me. Growing up in emotional chaos, I needed to
maintain the illusion of control to survive. But carrying that desire with me
into adulthood too often became a defect. Examining my motives in some
situations has helped me let go of the powerful need I had to be in charge. I’ve
learned to let go of things that are not mine to hold onto.
Just loosen them in my
hands as though they were the reins on my horse. And keep moving forward.
along the line of development we discover what we really are, and then we make
our real decision for which we are responsible. Make that decision primarily
for yourself because you can never really live anyone else’s life, not even
your own child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life and what you
become yourself.’ ~Eleanor Roosevelt”
recovery work, I’m learning to take better care of myself. I’m making wiser
choices, living better, and embracing my life. Firm boundaries, healthy
perspectives, daily gratitude are just a few of the tools that help me live
well. In this way I’m trying to be a good example to those who come after me.
leave footprints somewhere. We have stories to tell. We all leave a legacy.
“How can I best help the alcoholic? By not interfering when he gets into difficulties. I must detach myself from his shortcomings, neither making up for them nor criticizing them. Let me learn to play my own role, and leave his to him. If he fails in it, the failure is not mine, no matter what others may think or say about it.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.29)
For mothers of addicts, detachment is one of the hardest tools to use. We are inevitably joined through years of raising, nurturing and loving our children as best we could. And when things go so horribly wrong as they do with drug addiction, it’s only natural to question ourselves and how we raised them. Self-blame is common, as we take on too much responsibility for our child’s illness. I myself overcompensated where I shouldn’t have. I felt guilty and that guilt crippled my judgment. I became an enabler, and that prevented Angie from learning from the consequences of her (drug-induced) behavior.
Thankfully, I’ve had years of recovery work to learn how to detach from the pain of watching my daughter self-destruct. I did send her to several rehabs and hoped that a sound upbringing and family love would turn her life around. But ultimately the choice to recover (or not) is hers alone.
I wish I had the power to change her. I wish things were different. But I have two other children who were raised the same way, and they are blessings in my life. I’ve stopped blaming myself, and I’ve learned to accept a situation I don’t have the power to change.
I detach. I move away from obsessing about the pain of losing her. And I focus on the many good things that remain. When I try to keep my attitude positive, my life works better for me.
“When the guilt of the alcoholic explodes, I must realize that it is always aimed at those nearest, and often dearest. I want to remind myself that such outbursts only reveal the drinker’s own unhappiness. I will not make the situation worse by taking seriously what the alcoholic says at such times.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.55)
I can think of two run-ins I had with loved ones recently because they were in a bad mood and I was handy. Instead of internalizing it as though it were my fault—and overreacting badly—I might have brushed it off and tried to brighten their mood a little.
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
~Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
My sponsor often tells me that whatever I decide to do in my relationships with people, let it come—not out of anger or spite, jealousy or resentment—but out of love. And if I truly love someone, I need to just let them be.
This is VERY hard when a loved one is addicted.
But I don’t have the power to change other people or their choices.
When I make the effort to let go, things usually turn out better.
“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 andHope 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.’
Weeks were passing by and I was growing suspicious that I wasn’t hearing more regularly from Angie. I knew in my gut that they had moved to Richmond hurriedly for a reason, and if they were running away from something, they were probably using drugs too. I called this hotel chain later in the spring where she was supposed to be working, and of course they had never heard of her. This was another kick in the gut, another knowing what was right in front of me, and I could do nothing to stop it. She was a runaway train in the grips of her addiction, just like her mother had been many times before her.” Excerpt from my award-winning memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie c. Romero