A simple message, but not easy to execute. I do this, not because it comes naturally to me (it doesn’t), but because my experience has shown me over and over again that self-flagellation just keeps me down and out—stuck in a bad place and unable to reach higher. So many years of that negativity and I started to feel that it was my destiny.
Then I was introduced to a recovery movement that changed my life. And it began with what was between my ears.
At what point do we feel restored and able to get up and join the living with confidence and hope for a better life? We are all different and reach that point at different times. I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. The student was finally ready for the teacher. May we all rise up and reclaim our own wellness.
Pat yourself on the back often. Because you’re worth it!
From Hope for Today, Al-Anon approved literature, January 7:
“One of the first Al-Anon sayings I remember hearing, known as the three C’s, embodies the concept of powerlessness over alcoholism: ‘I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.’…
’I didn’t cause it’ relieves me of any lingering guilt I may feel: ‘If only I had been a better (fill in the blank), (fill in the blank) would not have become (fill in the blank).’…
’I can’t control it’ gives me permission to live my life and take care of myself…
’I can’t cure it’ reminds me that I don’t have to repeat my insane behavior over and over again, hoping for different results.
I don’t have to search for the magic cure that isn’t there. Instead I can use my energy for my recovery.”
When we love someone caught in the trap of substance use disorder, we want to do everything possible to help. That’s only natural. In the beginning of my daughter’s illness, she enjoyed periods of sobriety, and I gave myself a lot of the credit because I was so supportive. Then, over time, her life went south and she went out again. And I was left to feel “What did I do wrong? I’ve been so supportive!” Again, over time, I learned in MY recovery group that her illness had nothing to do with me. And her facing down her demons and reclaiming her life was even less of my responsibility.
That’s where the rubber hit the road for me. That’s where I had to do the most difficult: lean into acceptance, let go of my own daughter and pray she finds her way back home. A friend who’s not walking in my shoes used to chide me, “Don’t just sit there; DO something!”
Well, I’ve done all I can. Maybe the seed of recovery will sprout in her. But for now, I choose to let go and let God. And I realize there’s a lot of strength in surrender.
From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, October 1:
“’Women are often caught between conforming to existing standards or role definitions and exploring the promise of new alternatives.’ ~Stanlee Phelps and Nancy Austin
…Recovery means change in habits, change in behavior, change in attitudes. And change is seldom easy. But change we must, if we want to recover successfully.”
This applies to both substance users and to those who love them, for we all need recovery.
At first, many years ago, I had no idea that loving a substance user had the potential to make me sick: denial, guilt, obsession, depression and anxiety; it would be hard for a parent to not experience one of those things.
But over time, I realized that I was doing things I never would have done under normal circumstances. These were not normal circumstances, and I let myself justify a number of things, the most damaging being not making my daughter accountable for her actions. I enabled and overprotected, which stood in the way of her growing, changing, and recovering.
Fortunately for me, I have adopted many new attitudes from sitting in the rooms and enjoying the support of many other parents. My knee-jerk habit of rescuing has stopped, and my behavior has changed toward everyone in my life. I believe that it has a lot to do with my inventory work in Al-Anon, but others find the ability to change through other means. It doesn’t matter where we gain our strength. The important thing is to make the necessary changes that will enable us to live well and be happy—because we all deserve to have a good life.
Deborah Meier said in her book, The Power of Their Ideas, “Teaching is mostly listening, and learning is mostly telling.”
I love this because as a former teacher I used to have it turned all around. I got better, fortunately, but then I retired. Now I’m an author and what I’ve learned about myself by writing has filled three books.
I speak a lot, telling my story, mostly at recovery meetings. And when I’m not speaking to other people, I’m speaking to a piece of paper—many pieces of paper. It’s my therapy. It’s how I learn about myself.
It’s a constant practice of self-discovery, this discipline of pen to paper. I cross out, revise, change my mind, rephrase things. All this writing and rewriting helps me clarify my thoughts, my understanding of what’s real to me: what’s authentic. It’s how I learn about myself.
How I’m learning.
It’s an ongoing process.
I find that as I keep growing and changing my writing reflects that as well. There’s nothing static about me or about my writing.
And just as the words flow out of my pen onto paper, my recovery continues to flow from my heart to those around me. It’s a real symbiosis, this relationship I have with my pen. It eases the words out of me so that I can share what I’ve learned with others.
The rare epiphany I experience is like a volcanic eruption. I had one recently, and writing and rewriting about that has taught me so much about its meaning. But mostly I’m just going with the flow of life, trying to pay attention with what’s going on with me.
So I continue to do public speaking, which is a tremendous learning experience. And the more I write—the more I speak on paper—the more I learn about who I am and who I’m becoming.
“’Let me tell thee, time is a very precious gift of God, so precious that it’s only given to us moment by moment.’ ~Viola Spolin
Being in tune with now, this moment, guarantees a direct line of communication to God. It also guarantees a full, yet simple life. Our purpose becomes clear as we trust our steps to God’s guidance. How terribly complicated we make life by living in the past, the present, and many future times, all at once…One step, one moment, and then the next step, and its moment. How the simple life bring me freedom!”
It takes a lot of discipline to clear out the clutter in our minds: the clutter littering our past; and the clutter of fear, projection and worry about the future. Before I got into recovery, one foot was in the past, while I massaged my wounds and was full of regret. The other foot was in the future, making dire projections and rendering myself sick with worry.
Stuck in one of those two realities, or both, was punishing and painful. It really was a form of self-flagellation. And doing so prevented me from focusing on what was right in front of me. But as I grew in my recovery, I found a new and higher regard for myself. It was like putting on a new dress, a little stiff and uncomfortable at first. But it had a positive effect on all my relationships, so I kept it in the closet.
That new dress reflected an increased self of self-worth, and the more I wore it the less I needed to punish myself. Guilt had been an old nemesis for many years, but as I grew to love myself, I felt no need to punish myself with it any more. It’s a very destructive, crippling emotion, but it no longer holds me hostage.
Well, now I have a lot of free time! So I keep my eyes on today. My life is full of many wonderful people and moments. I want to stay focused on it today, to appreciate my blessings. It’s a happier way to live—this simple life—and I’m grateful to have the good sense to live in the now. There’s so much freedom in that!
For mothers of substance users, 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 substance use disorder, 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 my daughter 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 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.
“’I came for a quick fix and found a way of life.’ ~Bertie P., Florida
As I look back, when I walked through the doors of Al-Anon, I had planned to stay long enough to find out how to get the miracle of sobriety in my home. I’m still there!
I was broken spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I had given up on everything and everyone. A friend dragged me to Al-Anon, but I was sure it was hopeless.
After my first meeting, I was still very angry. How could all those people be happy and smiling? Their homes could not be as bad as mine. Fortunately, I wanted to laugh and smile too. A member, who later became my sponsor, took an interest in me as a newcomer, and I kept coming back.
The slogans and all the tools annoyed me, and I didn’t share. Did I ever have a closed mind! But…I kept going…
I started taking care of myself and gave the alcoholic a choice to get help or go his own way. Five years later, the real miracle was finding me…I learned how to change my life and really live.”
Wishing/hoping/praying that my daughter will tire of her life and seek recovery is holding myself hostage to something I have no control over. And I don’t want to be a hostage. I want to be free. My recovery program has given me the tools to live my life unencumbered by other people’s choices.
“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.”
“‘It is only when people begin to shake loose from their preconceptions, from the ideas that have dominated them, that we begin to receive a sense of opening, a sense of vision.’ ~Barbara Ward
…The past that we hang onto stands in our way. Many of us needlessly spend much of our lives fighting a poor self-image. But we can overcome that. We can choose to believe that we are capable and confident. We can be spontaneous, and our vision of all that life can offer will change—will excite us, will cultivate our confidence…We can respond to life wholly. We can trust our instincts. And we will become all that we dare to become…Each day is a new beginning. Each moment is a new opportunity to let go of all that has trapped me in the past. I am free. In the present, I am free.”
I’m not on automatic pilot anymore. My step work has helped me know myself better, be accountable for my actions, make amends when necessary, and move on. That last one is critical. When I get stuck on something, my sponsor in the program helps me shake free of it. Get unglued. Life is too short to bury myself in the past that I can’t do anything about. And tomorrow? Well, we’ll see what happens.
If I make an effort to stay in today, I have an opportunity to make “cleaner” choices and live better. At my age, that matters a lot to me. The three A’s are an important tool: Awareness, Acceptance and Action. I choose to act differently now. I have the freedom to choose.
I’m not in a coma…I’m an actor in my own script—not someone else’s. I feel tremendously empowered by this, taking control of my own life. Awareness has been a key in maintaining my emotional sobriety. And that awareness is reinforced all the time by the mirrors that surround me.
I like to end my shares at meetings with these words. Why am I thanking the people there for my recovery? Because they and so many others are the mirrors I need to see myself as I really am. And grow from it.
Before my recovery in the rooms, I was depressed and very isolated. I still saw people, I worked, I had friends. But on what level was I operating a lot of the time? I was often very dishonest, with myself most of all. So I shuffled through life, bewildered, often feeling like a victim, sad, and unaware of the tools out there that, if utilized, gave me the power to be happy.
The 12-Steps and other tools I’ve picked up in the rooms are my guideposts for living. They encourage me to review my life, but not to stay stuck in the past. They ask me to look at my imperfections, ways I may have hurt others, make amends for them, and move on. This is where the mirrors I mentioned are especially critical, why it’s helpful to have a sponsor and other friends who can give me honest feedback about myself. Help me to be accountable. To grow. Up. Shed any illusions about myself that may have been getting in my way.
I got my life back in the rooms. Regardless of the storms whirling around me, and we all know what that’s like, if I have myself and my health and wellbeing to anchor me, I’m much stronger to weather any difficulties.
“My mom did not sleep. She felt exhausted. She was irritable, grumpy, and bitter. She was always sick until one day, suddenly, she changed.
One day my dad said to her:
– I’ve been looking for a job for three months and I haven’t found anything, I’m going to have a few beers with friends.
My mom replied:
– It’s okay.
My brother said to her:
– Mom, I’m doing poorly in all subjects at the University.
My mom replied:
– Okay, you will recover, and if you don’t, well, you repeat the semester, but you pay the tuition.
My sister said to her:
– Mom, I smashed the car.
My mom replied:
– Okay daughter, take it to the car shop & find how to pay and while they fix it, get around by bus or subway.
Her daughter-in-law said to her:
– Mother-in-law, I came to spend a few months with you.
My mom replied:
– Okay, settle in the living room couch and look for some blankets in the closet.
All of us gathered worried to see these reactions coming from Mom.
We suspected that she had gone to the doctor and that she was prescribed some pills called “I don’t give a damn”… Perhaps she was overdosing on these!
We then proposed to do an “intervention” w/my mother to remove her from any possible addiction she had towards some anti-tantrum medication.
But then … she gathered us around her and my mom explained:
“It took me a long time to realize that each person is responsible for their life. It took me years to discover that my anguish, anxiety, my depression, my courage, my insomnia & my stress, does not solve your problems, but aggravates mine.
I am not responsible for the actions of anyone & it’s not my job to provide happiness, but I am responsible for the reactions I express to that.
Therefore, I came to the conclusion that my duty to myself is to remain calm and let each one of you solve what corresponds to you.
I have taken courses in yoga, meditation, miracles, human development, mental hygiene, vibration and neurolinguistic programming and in all of them, I found a common denominator in them all…
I can only control myself, you have all the necessary resources to solve your own problems despite how hard they may be. My job is to pray for you, love on you, encourage you but it’s up to YOU to solve them & find your happiness.
I can only give you my advice if you ask me & it depends on you to follow it or not. There are consequences, good or bad, to your decisions and YOU have to live them.
So from now on, I cease to be the receptacle of your responsibilities, the sack of your guilt, the laundress of your remorse, the advocate of your faults, the wall of your lamentations, the depositary of your duties, who should solve your problems or spare a tire every time to fulfill your responsibilities.
From now on, I declare all independent and self-sufficient adults.
Everyone at my mom’s house was speechless.
From that day on, the family began to function better because everyone in the house knew exactly what it is that they needed to do.
For some of us this is hard because we’ve grown up being the caregivers feeling responsible for others. As moms & wives we are fixers off all things. We never want our loved ones to go through difficult things or to struggle. We want everyone to be happy.
But, the sooner we take that responsibility off of our shoulders & on to each loved one, the better we are preparing them to be MEsponsible.
We are not here on earth to be everything to everyone. Stop putting that pressure on yourself.”
As I’ve grown in recovery, I’ve grown in humility, too. My friends, I’m just not that important!!! God Bless all our children as they make their way in life. Whether we want to or not, we must do the same.