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.
Before I went into recovery, I was pretty lost. On the outside, my life seemed to be rolling along well. But on the inside, I was insecure and sad. I dealt with these feelings in unhealthy ways, but didn’t feel much pressure to change them. I never missed a day of work, and I appeared to be fine. But appearances can be deceiving. Nothing had yet occurred to call my choices into question. Nothing had happened yet to push me out of my complacency.
But when my middle child fell ill with substance use disorder, after I had tried and failed over and over again to save her, I broke. The carefully manicured life I had been living was a treasured glass from my cupboard, smashed onto the kitchen floor. Many little shards, and some big ones. I cut my fingers cleaning it up.
My recovery fellowship comes with a philosophy that teaches me many different things. And one of those things is to forgive myself and others for transgressions inevitably committed in our lives. Our common humanity dovetails at every meeting I go to, where we encourage ourselves to face our defects, let them go, and move on.
For years, I held on to mine to punish myself for my part in Annie’s disease, and most importantly, for failing to “save” her. I have learned, gratefully, that my daughter suffers from substance use disorder, as do I, and I could no more save her from it than if she’d had diabetes. I simply don’t have that power.
So I try to stay away from martyrdom and self-pity, because neither of those feelings will help Annie get well, and they hurt me a great deal. That’s where the weeds are. They muddy the waters; they keep me angry and sad. When I steer clear of them, it takes some of the sting out of losing my daughter. I can more easily open my heart to what remains in my life.
Staying in the weeds prevents me from changing and growing. My recovery fellowship provides the tools to accomplish those two things—with gentleness and kindness. It’s hard, hard work. But when I see positive results in real time, I’m encouraged to keep at it. There’s no graduation from this school of life.
The miracle of my recovery is that, like a gentle breeze blowing away the clutter of remorse, my eyes can see my life through another lens now, one full of gratitude, humor and love. The fruits of my recovery rest on these three things.
“Unless recovery is found, blame, guilt, anger, depression, and many other negative attitudes can go on for generations in a family affected by alcoholism…Focusing on ourselves actually allows us to release other people to solve their own problems and frees us to find contentment and even happiness for ourselves.”
We all have different stories of how substance use disorder has touched our lives. In my life, guilt was a constant theme from very early in my childhood, and, as I said in my memoir, “Guilt is a terrible crippler.” It crippled me, especially, when my own child mirrored the user in me and morphed into a worse and more dysfunctional user than I ever was. Guilt and self-blame put me at risk in setting and enforcing boundaries, in becoming an enabler, in shielding Annie from the logical consequences of her behavior. In short, guilt kept me from parenting my daughter intelligently and kept me stuck in a hole. Fortunately I found recovery and release from my own remorse, much of it misplaced, which in turn is freeing Annie to live her own life and solve her own problems.
Whatever happens in the days ahead, I won’t be burdened under a cloud of shame that isn’t mine to carry.
Unlocking the key to this is the key to 12-Step recovery, because with it I become empowered to intelligently deal with the substance use disorder of a loved one (and/or myself). In a letter to another parent I said, “ I love my daughter with all my heart and soul. And I deeply grieve the loss of her. But it’s been learning how to love and value myself that has elevated me from the reality I live with”—“elevate,” as in rise above, detach from, avoid becoming enmeshed in and manipulated by my child. Oh, it’s a sad, sorry catechism we mothers of substance users must learn in order to survive the illness of our children, which changes some of them into people we don’t even recognize.
How I think about myself is conveyed to others. If I put myself down, or have self-deprecating humor, what will others think of me? I will try to guide my thoughts better and guard my tongue more.
But if I can create even a little bit of distance and objectivity from the problem that is consuming me, I might be given some freedom: to look around me and appreciate other blessings in my life, whether it’s a good job, good health, other healthy children, grandchildren, or a sunny day. Life goes on, relentlessly, with or without me. I choose to live well in my golden years. And I’ll do what’s necessary to insure that. My recovery has taught me that I deserve to.