Two Songs

For twenty-five dollars my mother bought a beautiful baby grand piano in the mid- 1950s, and my siblings and I took piano lessons. I forget when my brother and sister stopped their lessons, but I kept at it for quite a few years.

My own children took piano lessons on that same piano, but eventually lost interest, just as I did.

Somehow I kept two songs in my fingers for many decades. Edward McDowell’s “Scotch Poem” and “Improvisation and Melody”. What was I holding onto?

Then, out of sheer neglect, not oiling the wood at all, the baby grand quite literally fell apart when I tried to move it.

Maybe that was my Higher Power’s way of telling me to let go of those two songs.

And a lot of other things.

Sailing Lessons

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott

I grew up in Massachusetts on a lake, and we sailed every summer. Boats and water are a part of my narrative because it’s where I started my life. But it was never really smooth sailing.

Eighteen years ago, my world turned upside down. My boat capsized as I started watching my daughter tumble down the rabbit hole of drug addiction. Mind you, I was living a wonderful life, not perfect, but whose is? I was a hardworking single mother with three kids who seemed to be doing well. Just one of millions of women doing their best for their families. And then I got tagged. Annie became another statistic.

I got sucked into a perfect storm of my own shortcomings colliding with my vulnerable daughter and her addictive character. I was utterly guilt-ridden, and that crippled me and my judgment. I enabled Angie far too much, cradling her in one safety net after another. I inadvertently prevented her from facing consequences and learning from her behavior.

In the end, by taking on far too much responsibility for my daughter’s illness, I had such severe PTSD/clinical depression that I felt compelled to retire. That was my bottom, when I knew I had to change my thinking and some behaviors in order to reclaim my life. Annie is a wounded soul split in half—the addict and all that that entails; and my loving daughter. I believe with all my heart that my loving daughter would want me to survive losing her. And my survival is how I choose to honor her.

I got help in the rooms of twelve-step recovery; there are many, many of them, in every city and here on Facebook. The kind of help I received involved a lot of reflection and reframing my life. I learned not to fear looking back on my childhood, that the answers to much of my coping skills lay there. As I moved forward reflecting on my life as a young mother, I understood why I behaved as I did much of the time. And I awarded myself compassion and forgiveness for doing the best I could in difficult times.

Now I feel blessed, if only because the ground under my feet is more solid. The storms in my life have rocked me many times over the years, but I’m learning how to weather them. When we lose something as precious as a child, everyone and everything in our lives loom larger in importance. It’s a terrible irony of life that the intensity of our joy often comes to us at the cost of much pain. I have a snapshot of me and Annie on my aunt’s sailboat twenty years ago just before she started tumbling away from us all. We’re both smiling, and it doesn’t make me sad to look at it. On the contrary, it reminds me of the fragility of life and how more than ever it’s important to live with intention. I think I sleepwalked through much of my early life, entirely unaware of who I was. But now, thanks to my years of work in recovery, I have learned a better way to live. We all pass through storms in the course of our lives. But they don’t have to destroy us. I wish for all my brothers and sisters in recovery that they find peace and hope for better days—by whatever means possible.

What’s On Our Minds?

From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, CAL Literature, April 6:

“’Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light.’ ~Jennie Jerome Churchill

…Each of us is endowed with many qualities, some more enhancing than others; it is our hope, surely, that our lesser qualities will be ignored. We must do likewise for our friends. We can focus on the good, and it will flourish—in them, in ourselves, in all situations. A positive attitude nurtures everyone. Let us look for the good and, in time, it is all that will catch our attention.”

Was there ever a time to be tested better than during these days of health scares and uncertainty? Tested in what?

  1. Discipline and patience
  2. Creativity and resilience
  3. Keeping a positive attitude
  4. Holding onto our faith
  5. Trusting in HP’s plan for us

That’s lot to ask of ourselves all at once. I remember telling myself that losing Angie to substance use disorder was how I got into the rooms of recovery. And, even as I was thinking that, I felt it was a terrible betrayal of my daughter.

But then my tunnel vision got wider, and lighter, and I started to see more of the big picture. It convinced me that there was more to my life than my fight to save Angie from the nightmare of heroin addiction. Instead of letting that define me, I started focusing on other aspects of my life that brought me joy.

Changing my attitude about everything, I pivoted from hopelessness to hopefulness. And I felt my blood pressure returning to healthy levels. I started to understand the saying I had heard: “Thoughts become things; choose them wisely.”

I accepted that staying mired in any state of negativity—whether it’s grief, depression, or anger and resentment—actually made me sick. Not the soul sickness many of us feel from depression, but real physical ailments: chest pains, sleeplessness, migraines, and many stress-related illnesses. And as I made an effort to avoid negativity, fostering a more positive outlook both in myself and in those around me, I started to feel better.

Our thoughts do turn into actions, and I’m learning to monitor mine more carefully. It’s a conscious effort to defeat the unconscious thoughts that can defeat me if I let them.

He Can

“Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

To take this step I had to stop trying so hard to play God. Of course, I never saw myself in those terms. I saw myself as, first of all, self-reliant and proud of myself for that. In addition, I saw myself as a strong parent who would do anything to save her child; I felt proud of that too. I guess you could say that I had a lot of pride.

But after a few years of being so “strong,” I started to feel frustrated and martyred. All my efforts were coming to nothing. Angie was still a sick drug addict, and I was becoming broken. I needed to believe that there was a greater force out there that could help me make wiser decisions and help me take my life back.

At this point I just had to believe.

Looking Ahead

From “The Forum,” August, 2015, p. 19:

“I’m so grateful I found a way out of sadness, a way to take care of myself each day, and a relationship with the God of my understanding, who will never abandon me. The pain I’ve felt in the past is equal to the measure of joy I feel now.”

That’s quite a mouthful. Whoever wrote those words in “The Forum” is saying that somewhere between despair and happiness she or he did some work, and found some answers. For me, anyway, I entered into a state of grace. I quite deliberately let go of my precious wounds, which served no further purpose in my life. The lessons they taught me have been learned. I’ve put my sadness in a back drawer—and replaced it with positive thoughts that keep me motivated to reclaim my life, my remaining loved ones, and keep my heart ticking.

Grief is not a badge I wear anymore. Joyfulness is.

Reaching For Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, May 11:

“Our attitude is crucial. It determines our experiences. A trying situation can be tolerated with relative ease when we have a positive, trusting attitude. We forget, generally, that we have an inner source of strength to meet every situation…I can turn my day around. I can change the flavor of today’s experiences. I can lift my spirits and know all is well.”

All is well. To firmly believe that, when our lives are roiling with chaos and heartache, requires a certain amount of faith. And that’s something that can’t be taught.

Faith came to me when I was on my knees, broken. When I finally realized that, despite all my efforts to help her, my daughter Angie was going to do as she pleased, and I needed to let go of my desperate attempt to save her. It was then that I started to understand the concept of accepting things I could not change.

But acceptance came with heartache, and I wanted some relief from that. So I turned my eyes upward, and prayed for release from my unremitting pain. The harder I prayed, the more faith I was given. The less I relied on myself and the more I relied on (my concept of) God, the more I believed with certainty that all was well.

I completely understand why people all over the world gather together to worship. It breaks our spiritual isolation. It’s hard now, in the time of coronavirus, to physically come together. So creative churchgoers are meeting in drive-in movie theaters, and what a wonderful idea! The point is that faith is a gift that must be regularly nurtured, either in a church or elsewhere. God has graced me with faith that my life is unfolding as it was meant to. And when I remember that, especially in times of trouble, I feel the peace and serenity that is promised to me. A faith-based attitude of acceptance, gratitude and love carries me through every day.

When I remember to adjust my attitude, I know that all is well.

A Brave New World

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, April 12:

“’Make yourself a blessing to someone. Your kind smile or a pat on the back just might pull someone back from the edge.’ ~Carmelia Elliott

We are healed in our healing of others. God speaks to us through our words to others. Our own well-being is enhanced each time we put someone else’s well-being first…We are all on a trip, following different road maps, but to the same destination. I will be ready to lend a helping hand to a troubled traveler today. It will breathe new life into my own trip.”

Easter, 2020, seems to be ushering in a brave new world to us all. I remember hearing the term “globalization” about twenty years ago, and I wasn’t sure what it meant because I wasn’t experiencing it personally. Now, in the throes of a worldwide pandemic that I’m gratified I saw in my lifetime, I am experiencing what it means.

I’m glad I’m living through this crisis because it is unveiling so many unsung heroes. My confidence in the human race is soaring. My grandchildren getting home-schooled by two loving parents tirelessly stepping up to the plate in a game they never planned for. Health care workers risking their lives so that we might live another day. Postal workers, baggers at the grocery stores; the list is endless. But what I’m seeing as a result of all this courage is what Ann Frank saw in that attic in Holland before she died: “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”

It’s not every day that our lives, and how we live them, are brought into such sharp focus, from frequent hand washing to thinking twice before we hug someone. How life has changed for us all! Now it is abundantly more clear to us how what we do in our individual spaces has an impact on the community we live in, and in neighboring communities and so on. I’ve learned a great deal about what happens in a petri dish.

But of much more interest to me now is how the health crisis has brought out the best in millions of people around the world. There are also sad, angry stories of corruption popping up like weeds in my garden. But I don’t focus on them any more than I focus on anything else I can’t control. I am heartened by this Easter’s celebration of humanity and hope in a time of fear and uncertainty. And how creative we are! Drive-in movie theaters have become venues for church services. And long after Easter Sunday this year there may be a revival of drive-in movie watching!

“Revival…” My Latin tells me that word means “live again.” Is that what we’re all doing now? Learning how to live again?

We Have The Power

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 needed. 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, though, admittedly social isolation is necessary for some of us right now because of the health crisis in America. 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 stream 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 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 in the weeks ahead. Stay safe!

Rain Dancing

The road to my spiritual life began when I was a young child growing up in an alcoholic family. But I didn’t start to walk down this road until halfway through my life when my daughter fell ill with substance use disorder.

I was very unhappy growing up. It’s a classic story of family dysfunction that many of us have experienced as children. But back then I didn’t have Alateen to go to. My father was never treated and died prematurely because of his illness. I, too, was untreated for the effects of alcoholism, and grew into an adult child.

Well, many of us know how rocky that road is: low self-esteem, intense self-judgment, inflated sense of responsibility, people pleasing and loss of integrity, and above all, the need to control. I carried all of these defects and more into my role as a mother to my sick daughter, and predictably the situation only got worse.

I was a very hard sell on the first three steps of Al-Anon, and my stubbornness cost me my health and my career. But once I did let go of my self-reliance, my whole life changed for the better.  The Serenity Prayer has been my mantra every day. I’ve learned to let go of what I can’t change. I don’t have the power to free Angie of her disease, but I can work hard to be healed from my own.  This is where I’ve focused my work in the program.

My daughter has gone up and down on this roller coaster for nearly eighteen years, and right now she’s in a very bad place. But that has only tested me more. My faith grows stronger every day when I release my daughter with love to her higher power, and I am able to firmly trust in mine.

Friends of mine ask me, “How do you do that? You make it sound so simple!”  I tell them, “First of all, getting here hasn’t been simple. It’s the result of years of poisoning my most important relationships with the defects I talked about earlier. I knew I had to change in order to be happy. Secondly, I fill my heart with faith-based unconditional acceptance of whatever happens in my life. It’s my choice.

Somewhere in the readings, someone wrote ‘Pain is not in acceptance or surrender; it’s in resistance.’ It’s much more painless to just let go and have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. There’s a reason that HP is running the show the way he is. I just have to get out of the way; I’m not in charge. I also read somewhere the difference between submission and surrender: submission is: I’ll do this if I get XYZ; surrender, on the other hand, is unconditional acceptance of what I get.  Well, the latter is easier because I’m not holding my breath waiting for the outcome. I just let go—and have faith. Again, it’s a very conscious choice.

We all have different stories. What has blessed me about a spiritual life is that I can always look within myself and find peace regardless of the storms raging around me. I’m learning how to dance in the rain.

The Spirit Within

“The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles…only by a spiritual journey…by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.” ~Wendell Berry

Without the gift of spirit in my life, I would be drifting on an island in the middle of the ocean. Spirit can be anything we want it to be: some people say God, or Higher Power; others focus on a statue or a tree in the garden. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it’s not US. “My best thinking got me here.” (into the rooms of recovery)

Here’s another acronym: EGO=Easing God Out.

That floating island in the middle of the ocean can be a dangerous vessel without a steering wheel. Maybe not dangerous; just completely self-reliant and without guidance.

Self-reliance was something I learned as a child because I had to. The adults in  my life were often distracted with their own problems, so I learned to do things by myself. This was a vital survival strategy when I was a child. But as an adult, it became a huge defect.

As an adult, I’ve too often carried that survival tool into situations in my life that required outside guidance. Too proud sometimes, or afraid, to ask for help or advice, I steered my ship into some dangerous waters. Like everyone else, I’ve made mistakes, and some of them were preventable if I’d had the humility to ask for help.

So, again like everyone else, I’m just a child of (God, a tree, the stars), and I’m growing every day, learning (hopefully) from my mistakes and trying to do better. Humility is a great leveler, and it has brought me closer to the one thing I’ve missed all my life: being part of a community of equals. When I’m in touch with the spirit within me, I’m no longer alone or isolated. I’m at one within my fellowship—and it feels good to be alive.