This is a hard slogan to practice. When our loved ones are thriving and living good lives, it’s easy to let go of them and concentrate on our own, sometimes messy, lives. But when we love someone who is hurting him/herself, how can we look the other way? Short of burying our child, the next hardest thing is standing by while he/she self-destructs, knowing we lack the ultimate power to control the disease.
We have learned in recovery that there are many things we can do to help. We can try to remain a positive force for them, offering love and encouragement. Drug rehabs work as a recovery tool for many troubled young people, and if parents can make that happen then that’s a good thing. But without the cooperation of our loved ones to follow through on what they learned in those rehabilitation rooms, our efforts are sometimes ineffective. That’s when I have to look the other way. I give myself and my child credit for trying, and then I let go and leave the responsibility for follow-through with the substance user. This is hard. I want to fix everything, make it easier for him/her, protect; it’s intuitive for me. Oh, how hard it is to let go, knowing they could die without our vigilance. Even with it, they could die. Substance use disorder is a cruel taskmaster.
And so, as I keep saying over and over, I must leave my daughter to the life she is bound to if she doesn’t choose recovery from this relentless disease. If I want to have any peace in my life, any joy in what’s still here for me to cherish, then I must do this. I hope for all my brothers and sisters in recovery that they may find peace in their lives, by whatever means possible.
From my forthcoming memoir, Gene and Toots: A Love Story, to be released this summer:
The lessons I’ve learned in life have brought me closer to an understanding of the mysteries of love. And it has everything to do with one of the Greek words for it: agápe. The Greeks certainly understood the difference between different kinds of love—eros, or sexual love, for example—but agápe is the word for humanity’s love for each other. My understanding of the word further leads me to an English word derived from it: agape, or open-mouthed.
Loving between two people almost always involves an openness of mind and heart. Gene and I were hoping—this second time around—to embrace some of the lessons from our past for a greater purpose. We’d hoped to find a way to be happy together while still honoring our differences, even our whims at times.
We haven’t always agreed on things, but we either found a way around disagreements or lay them aside to look at later, without losing our individual integrity. There were times when these disagreements were costly. But we’ve learned to look at these problems with cooler heads, figure out who is responsible for what, and try to resolve them favorably. That’s the most any couple can do when conflict arises.And because we love each other, we are determined to work things through amicably—always hoping for the win-win.
Loving can be expansive. It has the capacity to make us bigger than we were before. I was thoroughly against gardening with Gene, much less running an orchard. But over time, seeing all the blood, sweat and tears he put into it, and with such rich fruits of his labor, I began to feel swayed. By the time we moved to Camano Island, I’d opened my mind enough to work our garden with him. And I’ve learned to love it. Loving Gene transformed me into a novice but enthusiastic gardener.
Gene has showed that same openness to me and my needs. When we moved to Camano Island putting us near my son and his family, Gene left part of his family behind in New Mexico. Bridget still lives there and is happy with her life in community theater. That was no small sacrifice for Gene. But we do spend money and time to go back and visit, reconnecting with Bridget, just as we do with Patrick in Virginia and Caroline in San Francisco.
“And the learning process must be coordinated so that the actor learns as the other actors are learning and develops his character as they are developing theirs. For the smallest social unit is not the single person but two people. In life too we develop one another.” ~Bertolt Brecht
When I met Gene, I was at a point in my life where I craved independence. And Gene also enjoyed the freedom I encouraged him to explore. This is where we were when we met, and we found the ability to remain open to the challenges we faced. Rather than running from them, we let them shape us.
We worked hard to meet each other where we were—in our work lives, in our wilderness adventures, in our living arrangements, and in supporting our families. We learned early on that those families—whom we loved without exception—would have the ability to test us. We have walked with them through their trials—they, in turn, have helped me and Gene through ours. We can look at each other now with the certainty that we did our best for our children. And that—sincerely loving that part of each other that is separate—brought us closer together as a couple.
Gene and I developed each other’s capacity to love well. We did our best to feed each other’s good wolf. I blossomed, in midlife, by uniting with a man who loves me the way I am, and I him. And from that foundation we both grew in our willingness to try new things, secure in our faith about the mystery of love.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, November 28:
“The idea of God is different with every person. The joy of my recovery was to find God within me.” ~Angela L. Wozniak
Well, 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 craved in the moment. All the more reason to maintain a wellspring within ourselves—one of faith and hope for better days.
Isolation is not the answer for us who are in recovery. 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.
My recovery has taught me how to manage my ego and remember how small I am in the scheme 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 in 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!
Excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, Gene and Toots: A Love Story
“When my daughter was in trouble, my instinct was to rescue and protect her from harmful consequences. It was losing my child to the torture of substance use disorder that led me, quite accidentally, into confronting myself and the landscape of all my own inner conflict. And in so doing, ironically, it was I who came away more healed, less broken, and more able to accept—with grace—the disappointments in my life. Now, after years of recovery, I know that those same consequences might have been her best teachers. This is precisely where faith might have helped me; I didn’t have any when I most needed it.”
Happy New Year! Regardless of the storms swirling around us, I will try to remember what’s most important in life. I ask myself, “How important is it?” before I work myself up into a lather! I’ll try to slow down and not overreact to events. I’ll try to keep things in perspective and maintain a healthy attitude.
Let us all try to live well and hope for the best in our world.
From Hope for Today, Al-Anon approved literature, January 5:
“During each Al-Anon meeting…I hear ‘In Al-Anon we discover that no situation is really hopeless.’ At first I had a hard time comprehending that idea in my mind and heart. I felt anchored in a place so dark and full of despair…Even if Al-Anon folks could stop my mother from drinking, they certainly couldn’t go back in time and give me a happy childhood. I felt doomed. Yet as I looked around me at meetings, I saw many smiling faces. Maybe there was hope after all.”
When I first went into recovery, I always challenged the word “hope.” I said to everyone at the meetings, “Hope for whom?” For my daughter—or for me? In time, though with tremendous difficulty, I accepted that I had no power over my daughter’s choices and I learned to let go. Then I put the focus back on Marilea and started to feel an unfamiliar brand of hope: for myself.
As it says in the reading, “Situations don’t lose hope; people do. What is lost can be found, restored, replaced, or recovered. Even though the members of Al-Anon didn’t change my mother or my childhood, they did help me change my attitude.”
I realized with stunning clarity that my “poor-me” attitude was getting me nowhere, and I’d better make an effort to be more positive if I wanted to be happy. I’m not unique; I’m no different from millions of other parents out there who have lost children. We are an army of men and women who are facing one of our society’s cruelest challenges.
But if we can let go of our substance user at his worst, we find that what’s left in our lives looms larger. My other children are more precious to me now precisely because of the sister they have lost. I would prefer to have all three of my babies healthy and happy. But we don’t always get what we want. Accepting that with all the grace I can muster, I’m able to move forward in my life and enjoy the years left to me.
Hope for whom? Hope for me—because I’m worth it. Believe it with all your heart, my friends, believe it until it comes true.
“Life holds so much—so much to be happy about always. Most people ask for happiness on conditions. Happiness can only be felt if you don’t set conditions.” ~Arthur Rubenstein
All of us in these rooms have experienced substance use disorder in one form or another: in ourselves or in a loved one. Many serious illnesses are incurable, but SUD is often conquered by the sufferer. Many substance users recognize that they have the power to change if they are committed to recovery. Different people have different ways of dealing with it: some use 12-Step recovery, some use prayer, or yoga, or running, or writing things down. No one way is better than another. Whatever works for you.
Substance use disorder is painful and messy. My life was derailed because of it. But I found a way to recover—from my own substance use as well as my obsession with saving my daughter, and I got my life back.
I’m filled with gratitude every day for that. And I wish us all the same peace and joy for that freedom. I’ve learned to be happy and to make the best of things as they are. And that’s quite a lot. Gratitude keeps me grounded in recovery, and not just on Thanksgiving!
“Living fully requires enough trust to release our manipulative, tight-fisted control of life, for only then can we accept the guidance of a Power greater than ourselves. For adult children of alcoholics, our damaged, devastated trust has to be healed and nurtured bit by bit until we feel safe enough to truly let go and let God. Trust does not come from reading a book, however inspired, but from experiencing new relationships in which we are trusted and we can learn to trust those around us…If we willingly surrender ourselves to the spiritual discipline of the Twelve Steps, our lives will be transformed…Though we may never be perfect, continued spiritual progress will reveal to us our enormous potential…We will laugh more. Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves…”
“We will laugh more.” How can I, beset by depression and instability for many of my years, come to revisit my life now from another perspective? How have I learned how to laugh and see the comedy in things? What has enabled me at last to live well and be happy?
Being in the rooms.
But I hasten to add that we can learn the same tools elsewhere: the tools of letting go and accepting what we can’t change; the tool of gratitude; the tool of detachment and understanding our personal boundaries in relation to our substance user. There are many places where we can pick up these life skills: from our family, friends, church, from our own life experiences…
I might have been luckier, like many of you, and learned these tools in a happy, functioning family when I was growing up. But I learned them later.
And it’s never too late to learn how to be happy.
White knuckling it through life is exhausting. Different methods to relax work for different people. Yoga, prayer, knitting, running, reading, listening to music—the list is endless. The best thing for me to relax is the Serenity Prayer. It has become my mantra:
“God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
I embrace this prayer in big and little ways every day. Its wisdom keeps me right-sized and humble, while at the same time encouraging me to make changes in my life that are within my reach.
We are all challenged, of course, by the last line. That’s why I keep going back to recovery meetings!
“Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment.“ ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
From Courage to Change, September 4:
“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 time on our hands and we wondered how to fill it.”
Over time, I’ve learned how to “be still in the stream.” It took a long time for me to accept my powerlessness. But obsessing over my daughter 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 couldn’t control.
So, I finally 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, Annie 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.
But my daughter, not the addict that lives in her body, would want me to reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.