“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.
“Hello, Bob. And Bob. And Bob. And Bob. And Bob.” Gene named them all ‘Bob’—easier that way.
Even before quarantine, Gene was a little nutty about this group of eight or nine giant starfish living under seal rock. That’s the rock we paddled past a few years ago with a fat seal sunning itself and sitting right on top. Got a nice picture, too, as we paddled on by.
Gene tries to walk on the beach every day during low tide. Winter or spring. Rain or shine. It’s about a mile to seal rock, and that’s where he found these giant sea stars, clinging to their home at the base of the rock. They can live without water from 8-24 hours while they wait for the tide to come in.
What a life for these starfish. Clinging to their rock. Do they ever venture off of it? Do they ever swim around like sea anemones or jellyfish? Or do they stay on their rock in their isolation, avoiding the company of other sea creatures?
Oh Covid! You’ve turned us into a couple of hermits, me and Gene. We venture out to the store when we have to. And a couple of people even came over recently, six feet apart, no hugs.
“This is surreal, Gene,” I whine after they leave. “I miss hugging people. And I miss a closer connection with my grandchildren. I feel like I’m losing time with them.”
Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob don’t care about the coronavirus. Or isolation. Or losing time with anyone.
What a simple life they enjoy. It’s only humans that make it complicated.
From Living Sober, AA World Services, Inc., p. 49:
“Many of us, when drinking, were deeply sure for years that our own drinking was harmless. We were not necessarily smart-alecky about it, but when we heard a clergyman, a psychiatrist, or an A.A. member talk about alcoholism, we were quick to observe that our drinking was different, that we did not need to do any of the things those people suggested. Or even if we could admit that we were having a bit of trouble with our drinking, we were sure we could lick it on our own. Thus we shut the door against new information and help. And behind that door, our drinking went on, of course.
Our troubles had to be pretty dire, and we had to begin to feel pretty hopeless before we could open up a little bit and let in some fresh light and help.”
Not all of us reach the same bottom, of course, before we decide not to drink. For many, it’s that first (or third) DUI. It could be lost employment for others. I’ve seen a couple of people with late-stage alcoholism awaiting liver transplants. Hopefully more and more alcoholics will decide to quit long before that happens.
My bottom cut me to the core and maybe that’s why I haven’t wanted to drink since. My son and his wife had an intervention with me. They called me out on my habit of drinking alone in their basement, something that I thought I was getting away with. Didn’t I think they’d notice all the empty vodka bottles? That and the fact that I was being secretive about it were red flags. Shame and secrecy all play into the denial that enables us to keep up bad habits.
I was stunned and deeply ashamed. And only because I’d had many years of work in another 12-Step group did I have enough recovery to stay in my chair and listen to their concerns. They were concerned about their children, my grandchildren, and the danger of drinking and driving. But most of all they were concerned about me, keeping me safe and alive long enough to enjoy watching them grow up.
I am so grateful to my son for stepping in. He saved my life. My own father was just a couple years older than I am when he died prematurely from alcoholism and smoking. History does not have to repeat itself.
When my children were young, I was not always emotionally present for them. To feel my son’s forgiveness now and to see his concern for my welfare is incredibly gratifying to me. I’ve been given a second chance and I want to take advantage of it. How many people get do-overs like that?
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, January 1:
“Acceptance of our past, acceptance of the conditions presently in our lives that we cannot change, brings relief. It brings the peacefulness we so often, so frantically, seek.”
The drama that filled my life when my daughter, Angie, first got sick was overwhelming. Eventually, it broke me. And I needed to step back and take a look at my behavior. The first thing I did was remove “frantically” from my vocabulary. Next, because I realized that my guilt and inflated sense of responsibility were actually harming her and preventing her from learning, I needed to step way back and detach, but always with love. Loving detachment need not be a slap in the face to our loved one, but rather it gives him/her the freedom and opportunity to be accountable for choices they made, often under the influence. If I continually step in and try to fix everything for my daughter, she will have little or no opportunity to accept life on life’s terms. And isn’t that, without resorting to substance use disorder, what we all need to do?
Life on life’s terms. Substance use disorder around the world is a deeply disturbing reflection of how people respond to loneliness and alienation. When emotional longing collides with the easy availability of substances—dangerous drugs, too much food, alcohol sold at gas stations—that’s a recipe for problems which might end with physical illness, but they didn’t begin that way. Emotional pain, Dr. Edwin Shneidman calls it “psychache,” came first.
There isn’t a nation on earth that doesn’t have people with some form of emotional pain that he writes about, and their solutions vary. In America, though, there has been a growing epidemic of substance use disorder for many years. The experts can figure out what this means, but as a substance user myself, I’m observing my world, and the world of all my friends in recovery, from that perspective. Only time will tell how the pandemic will affect those of us who used various substances to lessen our “psychache.” But I’m grateful, one day at a time, to continue the work on my emotional sobriety and enjoy the positive effect it has on those closest to me. My world may be turning slower than it used to, but it’s still turning!
day is a beautiful room that’s never been seen before. Let me cherish the
seconds, minutes, and hours I spend here. Help me to THINK before I speak and pray
before I act. ‘The program helps me gain the freedom to make wise choices that
are good for me. I choose to put that freedom in my life today.’”
used to be on automatic pilot, prone to old actions and reactions that were
familiar to me. But I wasn’t happy. So when I began my recovery program
eighteen years ago, I learned that I can switch that autopilot off. I learned
that I have choices about how I want to live.
Angie to the hellish world of substance use disorder helped bring some things
into focus for me. But not until I spent a lot of time grieving for her. I
tried to help her, made many mistakes in the process, but ultimately as a
matter of survival, I had to let go and practice acceptance of what I couldn’t
did so without shame or guilt. I started to hear, faintly at first, the voices
of other people in my life calling out for attention. Ten years ago my first
grandchild was born, and that changed me forever. I was no longer just a mother
who had struggled to raise her children. With the birth of both of my
grandchildren, I could now start over with a clean slate. I’m not the same
troubled young woman who raised my children. Now I’m a recovering grandmother
with better health and a happier spirit to help raise this new generation. This
is God’s gift to me, a second chance to try and live well without the demons
that plagued me when I was younger.
the beneficiaries of this second chance? Everyone who is in my life today: my
remaining family, of course. But even without family, the world is a big place:
neighbors, co-workers, the delivery man, the man I pass when I walk in the
morning, my friends in and out of recovery, the people I sing to in the nursing
home (on hold for the foreseeable future! L)—the list is endless.
me open my eyes and appreciate this beautiful room that I’ve never seen before.
I believe that if I look for joy, I will find it.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, December 1:
“’And it isn’t the thing you do,
dear, it’s the thing you leave undone which gives you a bit of a heartache at
the setting of the sun.’ ~Margaret Sangster”
A quality many of us share, a very
human quality, is to expect near perfection
from ourselves, to expect the impossible in all tasks done. I must rejoice for
the good I do. Each time I pat myself on the back for a job well done, my
confidence grows a little bit more. Recovery is best measured by my emotional
and spiritual health, expressed in my apparent confidence and trust in “the
process.” This is especially true now, in the middle of our national health
crisis, as we learn to put aside our egos, sometimes staying at home, in the
interest of protecting others.
Creeping perfectionism is a strange
form of self-sabotage. At first it seems like such a good and healthy attitude.
But setting realistic goals and doing my best to achieve them is very different
from placing unyielding demands on myself and feeling “less-than” if I fail to
It all boils down to being honest
and knowing myself as I am, not as I think I should be. Knowing myself and
coming away liking myself—well, for many of us that’s a process that takes a
long time. Holding onto realistic aspirations can be a healthy thing. But
demanding perfection of myself and worse, punishing myself when I fall short,
is not healthy. It’s a bitter tyrant holding a whip at my back.
Strong language, yes. But not as strong as the sting of that whip on my back. I’m happy to be free of it. I love my recovery fellowship where I’m just one in a community of equals, where I can mess up and they love me anyway. I’ve grown up in the rooms all these years and I’ve learned to love myself, warts and all. This is where I found my humanity. I am truly blessed and happy to be alive, now more than ever as we join elbows 🙂 to strengthen our communities. Thank you, HP!
“Today’s reminder: At the start of each day I can make
the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God. This way I
begin my day with a strong assertion that I choose to accept the reality of my
life. I am growing in a healthy direction, growing ever more able to live a
good life and to love those I meet along the way.
‘Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being
My will(fullness) has gotten me into trouble often. I’ve
exercised bad judgment and made questionable decisions, especially around my
daughter Angie. I wanted to help her beat her addiction—as if I had any power
When I was finally, after much trial and error, able to
accept my powerlessness, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Nothing changed
in our situation except the way I began reacting (or not) to it.
Taking my attention away from Angie and the struggle that
is hers alone, what was I going to do with all my energy?
Focus on myself and all the blessings God has given me.
When I turn my burdens over to Him, I am free.
“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 times on our hands and we
wondered how to fill it.”
I’ve learned how to “be still in the
stream.” Obsessing over Angie 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
So, I 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, Angie 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.
my daughter Angie, not the addict that lives in her body, would want me to
reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.
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 addiction, we
want to do everything possible to help. That’s only natural. In the beginning
of my daughter Angie’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 Angie’s illness had nothing to do with me. And her facing down her
demons and reclaiming her life had even less to do with me.
That’s where the rubber hit the road for me. That’s where I had to do the difficult: lean into acceptance, let go of my own daughter and pray she finds her way back home. A friend used to chide me, “Don’t just sit there; DO something!”
But I’ve done all I can. And I realize that there’s a lot of
strength in surrender.
From Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature, p. 216:
important to understand where we’ve come from, what was done to us and what we
did to others. There might be many lessons for us in the past. But the time to
apply them is now.
If I can
learn from my mistakes and try not to repeat them, then they have value. Making
amends is a good thing; but they’re words. Of far greater value, to me, is the
practice of living amends. We can’t do anything to change the past, but we can
try to do things differently now.
particular importance is my ability to let go of resentments when they crop up.
Sometimes I find myself holding onto my anger, even clinging to it. But such behavior
is a big threat to my serenity. An oft-heard saying in the rooms of recovery: “Having
resentments is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Holding
onto resentments hurts me the most.
grudges toward people or over events from the past is a heavy undertaking. It’s
that knapsack full of stones (boulders for some) that is burdensome to carry.
When I set it down and free myself of its weight, there’s a lightness in my
steps, and my days flow more easily.
This is another
example of how I’m striving to live well. For all of us familiar with the living death of drug
addiction, the value of life comes into sharper focus. How I live mine, today,
will bring me the peace and serenity I work hard for.