“Recovering From Fear”

From The Forum, November, 2022:

“When I came into Al-Anon at the suggestion of a friend, my life was unmanageable in so many ways. I was unaware that living with alcoholism was involved in my broken relationships, divorce(s), several addictions, inability to be honest with myself, people pleasing, and other things I had not uncovered yet, either because of denial of lack of discovery.”

“lack of discovery…” Bingo! I feel as though I’d been living in a fog for most of my early life, only I didn’t know it. I didn’t know anything about the family disease that (I now know) was interfering with my well-being.

Where was this article—this enlightenment—when I needed it? As a younger woman I blamed myself for everything that was wrong in my life. I understood nothing about the complicated disease of substance use disorder. But twenty years of work in Al-Anon have opened my eyes. The fog has lifted and now I see more clearly. I understand why I internalized so much of the dysfunction that was happening in my family and carried the guilt myself from which there was no relief.

Not until I entered this compassionate fellowship. It is in these rooms that I found forgiveness for my parents and myself, along with critical tools to continue the healing work I was doing. The 12-Steps and the slogans, when practiced, have helped me navigate through my life. And life, itself, is a mixed bag. I’ve had joys, but also incredible sorrows. Using the teaching of Al-Anon as a guide, I’ve learned to be grateful for my blessings. And I’ve learned to accept my sorrows with grace without being destroyed by them. Learning how to put things into healthier perspective has been a gift of the program.

I have been given hope for a better life, and I’ll always be grateful that I opened my mind to some good advice: “Go to a meeting, Marilea. It might be the answer for you.”

It was. And my fears have been replaced by the certainty that all will be well, in God’s plan.

Mirrors

From Each Day A New Beginning, February 11:

 “’It’s odd that you can get so anesthetized by your own pain or your own problem that you don’t quite fully share the hell of someone close to you.’ ~Lady Bird Johnson

Preoccupation with self can be the bane of our existence. It prevents all but the narrowest perspective on any problem. It cuts off any guidance…that may be offered through a friend…When we open our minds to fresh input from others, insights emerge. We need the messages others are trying to give us.”

 An end to my isolation. Opening my mind and heart to what others offer me.

For many years, I closed myself off from these offerings. I was busy with my life, self-sufficient…but unhappy. I was pretty bewildered about that—yet resigned to it.

Then—for the worst possible reason—I joined a recovery program that provided tools to help me climb out of my self-imposed misery. There are many new attitudes that I have adopted over time. But the most critical, I think, has been taking the risk to open myself to others and learn about myself using others’ perspectives to add balance to my own.

I’m not afraid of mirrors anymore.

I’ve had to let go of years of denial and preconceived notions about myself. I’ve had to learn how to be honest. And in doing that, I have discovered my own humanity. I am not unique, but part of a fellowship of equals who share a common bond.

No longer alone or lonely, I’m learning how to accept life on life’s terms…and be happy.

Sunrises And Sunsets

“Taint worthwhile to wear a day all out before it comes.”

 Worry.

We all do it. It’s normal to think about those we love, and when they’re in trouble, think about what we can do to help.

But it’s when that worry extends beyond a day—as well as to matters we have no control over—that WE get worn out, not the day.

And when we’re worn out, our life is in danger of becoming unmanageable: we’re tired; we make bad decisions; we lose all healthy perspective; we lose our sense of humor, and without that, we’re whipped.

So how do we not worry? By remembering that tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. It’s wasteful to put our mental energy into it.

I try to focus on today, on what’s right in front of me. Like the laundry.

Yes, it’s a distraction from bigger things. But sometimes getting a nasty spot out of my favorite jeans, or watching the colors of the sky change as the sun goes down—or anything positive that’s happening in the moment—might just take the sting out of all the worrisome tomorrows that will still be there when I wake up.

But at least I had the good sense to enjoy that sunset.

Fear vs. Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, April 4:

“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.

Our Common Humanity

From Each Day A New Beginning, February 10:

“’God knows no distance.’ ~Charleszetta Waddles

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.

Surrender

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 9:

‘The Chinese say that water is the most powerful element, because it is perfectly nonresistant. It can wear away a rock and sweep all before it.’ —Florence Skovel Shinn

“Nonresistance, ironically, may be a posture we struggle with. Nonresistance means surrendering the ego absolutely. For many of us, the ego, particularly disguised as false pride, spurred us on to struggle after struggle. ‘Can’t they see I’m right,’ we moaned, and our resistance only created more of itself.

Conversely, flowing with life, ‘bubbling’ with the ripples, giving up our ego, releases us from an energy that heals the situation—that smooths the negative vibrations in our path. Peace comes to us. We will find serenity each time we willingly humble ourselves.”

‘Resistance is more familiar. Nonresistance means growth and peace. I’ll try for serenity today.’

I wrote in my first memoir toward the end: “This is where I was in my recovery as I left San Francisco, at that hard won place I’d fought through years of resistance to find: the end of the battle—acceptance.”  That’s what the above reading is all about, I think. Letting go of my desperate need to save my daughter from her substance use disorder, and coming to accept that I simply don’t have that power. I can only love her.

What could be harder for any parent than to accept our powerlessness over our child’s substance use disorder? Yes, there are many things we can do to help, not the least of which is continue to love our kids unconditionally. My experience has taught me, though, that when I make decisions out of fear, I risk making bad choices. When my actions flow from a place of love, including love of self, all will be well.

The Enormous Power of Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, October 7:

“’There is a divine plan of good at work in my life. I will let go and let it unfold.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman

…Letting go of the outcome of every experience, focusing instead on our efforts, making them as good as possible, validates our trust in the ultimate goodness of life. Our frustrations diminish when our efforts, only, are our concern. How much easier our days go when we do our work and leave the outcome where it belongs.”

Sometimes it seems like I’m hanging onto my faith by a mere thread. That’s how fragile it is. And that’s why I continually work to banish my fears. They are the basis for a lot of poor judgment and destructive behaviors in my life. Grappling with them is critical.  In my opinion, substance use disorder is a symptom of, among other things, our fears, and when fears dominate me, where is my faith?

I do believe that fear and faith are often at odds with each other. When I am afraid, whether it’s real or imagined, my adrenaline goes into overdrive and I often act rashly without thinking things through. When my daughter is in trouble, my instinct is to rescue and protect her from harmful consequences. Now, after years of recovery, I know that those same consequences might be her best teachers. This is the hard part that many of us parents face: police, jail, loss of family and friends, or deteriorating health. Protecting our kids from the consequences sometimes just delays what’s coming down the road. When my kids were teenagers and didn’t listen to me, I used to mutter under my breath: “Well, okay. I guess life will teach you!” Sad but true.

Maya Angelou has said something like: “When you know better, do better.”

So I do accept that substance use disorder has been a challenge in my family. I have spent many years trying to weather it. I’ve made mistakes, usually when I’ve allowed my fears to hold me hostage. It’s been a slow wheel, my road to recovery. But I’m grateful that my faith has broken down my resistance and given me hope for a happier life. Now that I know better, I will try to do better.

“Life is not always what one wants it to be. But to make the best of it as it is, is the only way to be happy.” ~J.J. Churchill

Who’s Crazy?

From Hope for Today, May 27:

“Before I came into the program, I struggled with feeling numb and fragmented. Once in Al-Anon and exposed to Step Two, I had to ask the question, “What does it mean to me to be sane or insane?” There were some good indicators in my life of both sanity and insanity. Still I didn’t believe I had anything to do with the presence or absence of either of them; they just happened.

In time I learned that the emotional numbness I had developed to cope with growing up with alcoholism contributed much to my sense of insanity. It forced me to see life as happening totally outside of and unconnected from myself. In Al-Anon, by learning to listen to my feelings, give them a name, and express them. I built a bridge between my broken self, my Higher Power, and my wholeness. Never in my wildest dreams could I have known that my insanity came from my lost relationship with myself and with God.”

I used to think that tragic events around me were what made me feel crazy. But I don’t think so. It’s my reaction to them, my attitude about them, that determine how I will come out on the other side.

Had I not been so broken to begin with, I might have weathered events differently. But I was broken, and that shattered mirror in my head greatly altered my perception of things. I’m happy that I found a recovery fellowship that helped me put the pieces back together. I’m learning to let go of the past and things I have no control over. Little by little, sanity and  harmony are returning to my life. And I know that all will be well. When I share my space with my Higher Power, I feel whole—and at peace in the world.

A Huge Leap Of Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, Conference Approved Literature, 9/27:

“’As we think, so we are.’ We are gifted with the personal power to make thoughtful choices and thus decide who we are. Our actions and choices combine to create our character, and our character influences the circumstances of our lives…Our minds work powerfully for our good. And just as powerfully to our detriment, when fears intrude on all our thoughts.”

Giving in to fear is an abandonment of my faith. And without faith I wouldn’t have a program.

Fear is the basis for many of my problems which can lead to crazy behaviors: panic, and all the irrational choices I make because of it; self-pity, which has led into my own challenges with substance use; guilt and shame, which have led me to lie and dissemble.

I was given the gift of desperation when I entered the rooms, desperate to be happier than I felt at the time. I have accepted now, despite much resistance, that I can’t control the choices of my forty-one-year-old daughter. But I can control my own.

As I continue in my recovery, I am keenly aware of what powerful character builders the twelve steps are. I can work on myself, and be the best me I can be. I can try to improve myself. And whether or not it has an effect on my estranged daughter, it is noticeably affecting the family and friends I interact with today. For that I am very grateful.

When I put my fears to rest, I let God take over.

Finding My Comfort Zone

From Hope for Today, Al-Anon CAL, July 10:

“…I feel comfortable participating in…meetings because in them I find an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. However, I wasn’t always so open. There have been times in my life when I didn’t trust and I didn’t receive respect, so I withdrew. I didn’t allow myself to stay and work through the challenges offered to me. Now that I’m in recovery, I don’t want to limit my opportunities to grow by restricting my involvement with others, whether or not they are in the program. As always, (my program) teaches me to pray, look at myself and my attitudes, and then take action. For me, this action means detaching from people’s behavior and giving them the same acceptance, consideration, and respect for which I long…When I don’t expect perfection from others or from myself, I am free to participate and be a part of life.”

This quote really resonates with me. As I said in my new book: “Humility, I discovered, is a tremendous leveler, and it would bring me closer to what I’ve been missing my whole life: being part of a community of equals.” I’m so happy to be in a fellowship where we’re all on a level playing field. We try not to compare, just to support.

I’ve heard it said that “expectations are premeditated resentments.”  So I try to keep my expectations of others in check, aware of my tendency to control and manipulate. It takes a lot of discipline to remain detached, especially from a loved one. But I can’t control the behavior of (my adult daughter), and so I’ve learned to let go and keep the focus on myself and consider how I might be the author of my own discomfort. When I offer “acceptance, consideration, and respect to others,” the same gifts return to me ten-fold.