“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.
“The serenity I am offered in Al-Anon is not an escape from life. Rather it is the power to find peacefulness within life.
Al-Anon does not promise me freedom from pain, sorrow, or difficult situations. It does, however, give me the opportunity to learn from others how to develop the necessary skills for maintaining peace of mind, even when life seems most unbearable…
Serenity is not about the end of pain. It’s about my ability to flourish peacefully no matter what life brings my way.”
In the movie, “The Shack,” Mac has a dream and in it he meets God. Mac had recently lost his young daughter, and in his anger and bitterness he lashed out at God. Who else to blame? God (a woman in the movie) came right back at Mac with Her own defense: She didn’t orchestrate all the misery on earth: Aleppo, slaughter in Ukraine, children starving in Nigeria. “Don’t blame me for all that,” She said.” My purpose is to help you rise above it.”
Al-Anon has the same purpose in my life. God doesn’t have the power to return my daughter to me. But if I continue my daily practice of gratitude, accept what I don’t have the ability to change, and have faith that God’s plan is unfolding for a greater good than I may ever see, I can live peacefully and even joyfully, savoring all the goodness that is in my life. It’s my choice.
Self-Care demands discipline from us. And I haven’t always had a lot of that! But people can change. That’s the beauty of 12-step recovery. It helps me be the best human being I can be.
Physical Self-Care has many faces. For some of us it’s making sure we get enough sleep. Or trying to eat healthy foods. Taking enough vitamins. I do all of those things, and I try to walk a mile a day. Sometimes I do that just running up and down stairs in my own home. Gardening and putting plants in the earth is life-enhancing and gives me hope.
Spiritual Self-Care is equally important to me. I start the day with an entry in my gratitude journal. The old me, before recovery, would dwell on the sadness of losing Annie in my life. Next month it will be ten long years since I’ve seen her! But the new me takes joy in my other children and grandchildren. And my many friends. It’s where I put my focus now, if only because I have some control over these relationships. Prayer and talking to God is critical, too, because I don’t have power over some things, and I need His guidance in choosing my battles. And on a bad day, helping me feel the sunshine.
“Deal from strength:” I heard this many years ago, and I understand it now. I’m not in a good position to help others if I’m too sick myself. I will continue to care for myself so that my presence can be of benefit to others. The people in my life now will thank me for it.
“All we are asked to bear we can bear. That is the law of the spiritual life. The only hindrance to the working of this law, as of all benign laws, is fear.” ~Elizabeth Goudge
I’ve read that fear and anxiety are at the basis for many substance use disorders. I can’t speak for all of them, or for everyone, but I can speak for myself. Fear precipitated much of my self-destructive behavior. Fear of being “less than,” fear of criticism and disapproval, fear of not belonging, fear of failure, and fear of retribution.
And it was fear that kept me obsessed with my daughter’s choices. Fear for her well-being—and for mine. That fear kept me enmeshed in her life and her choices, thinking I was always riding to her rescue when I was doing nothing of the kind; shielding her from consequences just kept her from learning and growing. I needed to think that I had the power to save her.
Letting go of my obsession and fear—replacing them both with faith—has brought peace into my life. Now I’m better educated about the disease of substance use disorder; I’m learning what I can do and what I can’t do. How can I be helpful? And what must I surrender? All good questions and the answers are coming to me through my 12-Step work.
There are many paths to peace, and I respect them all. I’m just grateful that the path I have chosen has delivered me from a lifetime of fear and isolation and closer to the God of my understanding. No matter what happens in my life, I believe all will be well, according to God’s plan.
Relying on God, however we understand God’s presence, is foreign to many of us. I was encouraged from early childhood to be self-reliant. Even when I desperately needed another’s help, I feared asking for it. When confidence wavered, as it so often did, I hid the fear—sometimes with alcohol, sometimes with pills or too much food. Sometimes I simply hid at home. My fears never fully abated…Slowly and with practice it became easier to turn within, to be God-reliant rather than self-reliant.”
There’s a saying in the Program that “our best thinking got us here (into the rooms of recovery).” And it’s so true! I joke at meetings that I’ve always been “CSR,” compulsively self-reliant.” I have been for much of my life, afraid to ask for help and even more afraid to accept it. As a child I had to rely on myself for so many things, and that became a survival strategy. But as an adult, that very façade of strength can become a terrible defect. Appearing to be a formidable wall of arrogance, it only served to isolate me and separate me from my peers. I had to tear down that wall.
And when I did, when I found the ability to bare my fears and vulnerabilities and ask for help when I needed it, I found my humanity. My faith in a power greater than myself enabled me to let go of my self-reliance and join hands with others as we reached out and helped one another.
It hasn’t removed the problems from my life. But it has made facing and living with them so much easier.
This poem addresses the idea of letting go, as opposed to clinging to, much of the negativity in my life—much of what used to weigh on me and drag me down into depression.
Detachment is a skill that allows me to create a safe distance between myself and my daughter. I have learned that if I don’t, I will be swallowed up in her black hole before I know it. As a parent, I’ve often felt that I didn’t deserve the gift of detachment. But I do. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I’ve learned to forgive myself for any mistakes I made with my daughter. It took a long time, but this was an important step in my recovery. Until I did that, I risked being forever enmeshed in her pain and the mess of her life as it is now.
Once I could reach some level of detachment, I was freer to work the steps. In hindsight, I see now why I couldn’t really do the first three steps in a more timely manner. I simply had not let go of my responsibility in her life, my importance in her life, and therefore my need to fix her life.
I needed to be humbled—in the best sense of the word.
“’There are as many ways to live and grow as there are people. Our own ways are the only ways that should matter to us.’ ~Evelyn Mandel
Wanting to control other people, to make them live as we’d have them live, makes the attainment of serenity impossible. And serenity is the goal we are seeking in this recovery program, in this life. We are each powerless over others, which relieves us of a great burden. Controlling our own behavior is a big enough job.”
I justified my behavior for years. I wanted to control my daughter’s life. No, I wanted to change it. What mother wouldn’t, when she saw her child heading towards a cliff? Annie was a runaway train.
But the more I tried, the sicker I got with anguish and frustration as I saw her careening toward disaster. I knew that if I didn’t get off that fast-moving train, I would go down with her.
I was at a crossroads. I had to dry my tears and wake up to the reality that my grown daughter was in charge of her own life. Well, truthfully, substance use disorder was in charge, but either way, I wasn’t part of the equation anymore. I had to step back and accept the unacceptable: that she might become another sad statistic.
This journey that so many parents are on is short for some: either in death or an enlightenment that brings their kids to recovery. Others of us have been on this road a long time: loving our broken children just as we did when they were little with a broken finger. We wanted to take their pain away. We still want to, hoping and praying that they will find enlightenment and grace.
But the longer I’m on this seemingly endless journey, the stronger I grow in my faith that all things happen for a reason, and that I must put my faith in my Higher Power. As I wrote in A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, “How I’ve been able to even think about my own recovery, much less reach for it—on the bones of my daughter—is a testimony to the power of transformation through spiritual recovery. And only as my recovery deepens have I been able to withstand this struggle with any serenity or grace.”