“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. 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.
“Enough is enough when the hurt inflicted is greater than the lesson learned.”
I felt that, because I was Annie’s mother, I just had to put up with things. But underneath that martyred attitude was a shaky self-esteem that whispered to me, “This is what you deserve. It’s your fault.”
When I recognized the truth of that, I became willing to take up the yoke and start working on myself. After many years of working the steps and arriving at a place of self-love, I no longer hear those voices. I’ve gotten my life back, and concentrate on what I can control in my life.
I give thanks, multitudes of thanks, for what I’ve been given. This year on Mother’s Day, I’m able to celebrate myself. And I’m grateful to Annie for getting me into recovery.
“Love is a gift we’ve been given by our Creator. The fact of our existence guarantees that we deserve it. As our recognition of this grows, so does our self-love and our ability to love others…High self-esteem and stable self-worth were not our legacies before finding this program…Had we understood that we were loved, in all the years of our youth, perhaps we’d not have struggled so in the pain of alienation.”
This vignette, entitled “Grace,” from my award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation, affirms my realization that I am a child of God, worthy of love:
“While working… back in 1972, I spent a lot of time at a particular thrift shop… Making only about six thousand dollars a year, I was grateful to have acquired a taste for secondhand merchandise.
For twenty dollars, I bought a large print of Maxfield Parrish’s most famous painting, Daybreak, mounted in a handsome frame. Something stirred in me as I spotted the alluring blues in an obscure corner of the shop where someone had placed the painting. It has held a prominent place over every bed I’ve slept in since that year.
I am the woman lying on the floor of the temple, one arm casually framing her face, shielding it from the sun. Columns support the temple, and there are leaves, water, rocks, and mountains in the background, painted in tranquil shades of blue.
Bending over me is a young undressed girl. I am in conversation with her. My face feels warm and I’m smiling. The setting in this picture is one of absolute calm, beauty, and serenity.
That has been my ever-present wish: to be as watched over and cared for, as it appears that woman was.
All my life, though I wasn’t always awake and aware of it, I have been.” @2020Marilea C.Rabasa
God, in all His magnificence, has always loved me.
“First become a blessing to yourself so that you may be a blessing to others.” ~Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch
What a Sisyphean task that has been for me. In order to become “a blessing to myself,” I had a lot of work to do. I needed to clear away the debris from my past, clean up my side of the street, make amends to anyone (including myself) necessary, and move forward.
These words, all in a sentence or two, represent a lifetime of attempts at self-improvement, reaching for happiness. And just good clean living. It’s a daunting amount of work. Change is difficult for anyone. But I was determined, when I hit my bottom, to try to be a better version of myself.
It’s been my sincere love of all those around me—both friends and family—that catapulted me into what I hope will be a lasting state of recovery and the peace that goes with it.
And timing is everything in life. I’m ready to adopt an attitude of gratitude and enjoy the years in front of me. Life is good.
When I joined Al-Anon, I was in my Fifties and determined to help my daughter let go of her substance abuse disorder. But, oh, what a relief it’s been to let go of that obsession, which was becoming so shrill and counterproductive.
I was glad to turn the focus back on myself and learn that my faulty attitudes were the source of my pain, not the people around me.
Regarding the amends steps, it’s possible to overuse them, just as we might exaggerate our negative defects in the 4th step. I’ve done both! That’s why it’s so important to understand the purpose of amends: reaching personal freedom.
These are intended to be hopeful steps, not self-flagellation. Making this list and then acting on it is just another way to weed our garden. My partner is always reminding me to weed close to what we’re growing, so that nothing interferes with the growth of the plant.
Making amends is not always pretty, and rather than freedom I sometimes look for forgiveness and closure. With my daughter, Annie, she threw them right back in my face. But my sponsor helped me appreciate my efforts and then let them go.
My real reward has been surviving that loss without the need to punish myself for it. Truth is, I’m really not that important! Things happen in life, and it’s not always my fault.
From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, CAL, August 20:
“’Everything in life that we really accept undergoes change. So suffering must become love. That is the mystery.’ ~Katherine Mansfield
Acceptance of those conditions that at times plague us changes not only the conditions but, in the process, ourselves. Perhaps this latter change is the more crucial. As each changes…life’s struggles ease. When we accept all the circumstances that we can’t control, we are more peaceful. Smiles more easily fill us up. It’s almost as though life’s eternal lesson is acceptance, and with it comes life’s eternal blessings.”
This is a hard one for me. Hard because, like many people, it is hard to accept the pain of loss. Like a recent amputee, I miss what’s not there. I miss my childhood; I miss my daughter; I miss some friends who have passed.
And at times I resist. I go into fighting mode where I refuse to accept. But that place is not peaceful for me. It stirs up feelings, long set aside as harmful: guilt, longing, even at times the wish to punish myself.
Whoa! This is why I need my recovery program, to keep me, first of all, on the road and secondly, charting a healthy course. It will do me no good to dwell on the pain of my losses. But it will help me grow a great deal if I can accept them with grace and try to let go of the pain. It will lead me to love.
There are joys in my life that clamor for my attention. That I still have the heart to embrace them openly, not as a consolation, but as emerging gifts worthy of my full attention, is how my grief leads me to a place of love.
Acceptance is the answer for me. It prevents me from getting stuck, and gives me the freedom to move forward.
From Courage to Change, Al-Anon conferenced approved literature, May 30:
“As a result of living in a household where alcohol was abused, the concept of being gentle with myself was foreign. What was familiar was striving for perfection and hating myself whenever I fell short of my goals…If I am being hard on myself, I can stop and remember that I deserve gentleness and understanding from myself. Being human is not a character defect!
‘The question is not what a man can scorn, or disparage, or find fault with, but what he can love, and value, and appreciate.’ ~John Ruskin”
We pass on what was given to us. And so the three A’s—awareness, acceptance, and action—have helped me see clearly what I’ve needed to change about myself and, by extension, others.
As I have learned in recovery to love myself more and to treat myself with kindness, I have passed that on to family and friends all around me.
So often as adults we appear to be on automatic pilot, behaving in ways that make us cringe afterwards. Our caretakers were often our role models, and we learned how to parent from them. No one’s life is perfect, and few people have perfect parents. But however we fared growing up, the beauty of recovery is that we get to do things over—with more gentleness and compassion for ourselves as well as our caretakers. Especially those we learned from. We can do things differently now if we want to. These are “living amends.”
“We have two lives… the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.” ~Bernard Malamud
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, March 14:
“’The child is an almost universal symbol for the soul’s transformation. The child is whole, not yet divided…When we would heal the mind…we ask this child to speak to us.’ ~Susan Griffin
Perhaps “the child” is a metaphor for a spiritual guide, like our own higher power, that can help us in our journey toward self-acceptance.
‘I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent.’”
I love the freedom in this quote. For so much of my life, I’ve been a slave to appearances, to perfectionism, to measuring up to someone else’s arbitrary standards. But my outside never matched my inside, and what a relief to be able to shed my masks and just be who I am, warts and all.
This journey toward self-acceptance has been a long one, and I’m grateful. The twelve steps, in my mind, are terrific character builders. Once I muster (with difficulty) taking the first three steps, the “God Steps,” my work is cut out for me. This is where many people leave. It’s hard work to look in the mirror and look at my defects. Holding onto resentments, too, one of our biggest Waterloos, and our difficulty with accountability blinds us to what we need to change. But once we get over that hurdle and start clearing out the wreckage of our past, the final steps seem like a welcome refuge from the storms of our lives.
The child in us is kind and forgiving. “When we would heal our minds,” we can listen to the voice of the child in us.
“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott
I grew up in Massachusetts on a lake, and we sailed every summer. Boats and water are a part of my narrative because it’s where I started my life. But it was never really smooth sailing.
Eighteen years ago, my world turned upside down. My boat capsized as I started watching my daughter tumble down the rabbit hole of drug addiction. Mind you, I was living a wonderful life, not perfect, but whose is? I was a hardworking single mother with three kids who seemed to be doing well. Just one of millions of women doing their best for their families. And then I got tagged. Annie became another statistic.
I got sucked into a perfect storm of my own shortcomings colliding with my vulnerable daughter and her addictive character. I was utterly guilt-ridden, and that crippled me and my judgment. I enabled Angie far too much, cradling her in one safety net after another. I inadvertently prevented her from facing consequences and learning from her behavior.
In the end, by taking on far too much responsibility for my daughter’s illness, I had such severe PTSD/clinical depression that I felt compelled to retire. That was my bottom, when I knew I had to change my thinking and some behaviors in order to reclaim my life. Annie is a wounded soul split in half—the addict and all that that entails; and my loving daughter. I believe with all my heart that my loving daughter would want me to survive losing her. And my survival is how I choose to honor her.
I got help in the rooms of twelve-step recovery; there are many, many of them, in every city and here on Facebook. The kind of help I received involved a lot of reflection and reframing my life. I learned not to fear looking back on my childhood, that the answers to much of my coping skills lay there. As I moved forward reflecting on my life as a young mother, I understood why I behaved as I did much of the time. And I awarded myself compassion and forgiveness for doing the best I could in difficult times.
Now I feel blessed, if only because the ground under my feet is more solid. The storms in my life have rocked me many times over the years, but I’m learning how to weather them. When we lose something as precious as a child, everyone and everything in our lives loom larger in importance. It’s a terrible irony of life that the intensity of our joy often comes to us at the cost of much pain. I have a snapshot of me and Annie on my aunt’s sailboat twenty years ago just before she started tumbling away from us all. We’re both smiling, and it doesn’t make me sad to look at it. On the contrary, it reminds me of the fragility of life and how more than ever it’s important to live with intention. I think I sleepwalked through much of my early life, entirely unaware of who I was. But now, thanks to my years of work in recovery, I have learned a better way to live. We all pass through storms in the course of our lives. But they don’t have to destroy us. I wish for all my brothers and sisters in recovery that they find peace and hope for better days—by whatever means possible.
So, I was learning to let go of much of my pride, and I was acquainting myself with the beginnings of humility, something I knew nothing about. Low self-esteem, humiliation, lack of self-worth—none of this language is about humility, though there is often much confusion. I was all of those things, but until I’d accepted that something else in my life was in charge of events as they were unfolding, I couldn’t understand humility. As long as I was playing God, it was a foreign concept.
With great relief I accepted in the second step that there was a force out there that could help me think and live better. So the third step was to allow Him to do so. This is where I started to understand what it meant to be humble: it’s understanding my place in the stream of things next to God’s, which is very small. That’s not thinking little of myself; but it is thinking a lot about God, and letting Him take over the burden of my pain.
And the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders.