The Challenge Of Change

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 8:

“’When people make changes in their lives in a certain area, they may start by changing the way they talk about that subject, how they act about it, their attitude toward it, or an underlying decision concerning it.’ ~Jean Illsley Clark

Acting “as if” is powerful. It leads the way to a changed attitude, a changed woman…Each positive change we make builds our self-esteem. Realizing that through our own actions we are becoming the kind of women we admire gives us the strength, in fact, encourages the excitement in us that’s needed to keep changing…Each gain makes the next one easier to attempt.

I will accept an opportunity today to act as if I can handle a situation I used to run from.”

I think, as  any of us grow older but not always wiser, that it becomes easy to descend into a passive state of “Oh well, what’s the use? I’ve tried everything I can think of to make this problem go away, and nothing works. So I guess I’m stuck with it.”

I’ve certainly been there, but eventually I got lucky. I got so tired of my misery that I became willing to try something else. That was the key. Willingness to change and do something else. It worked.

Now I’m happy, joyous and free of the demons and obsession that were destroying my life. I had to work hard for this. But it was time well-spent in recovery.

I’m in two 12-step programs, and they all have one thing in common: helping those of us who suffer to recognize our own part in our misery, to work through all those demons, and hopefully learn to be accountable and free of guilt. The freedom that follows is indescribable. And though I still carry the sorrows that brought me to the rooms, I’ve learned to view them through a new and different lens.

Life can be a glorious adventure. I’m so grateful for my recovery.

The Spirit Coming Alive

“The idea of God is different in every person. The joy of my recovery was to find God within me. “ ~Angela Wozniak

One of the promises of 12-Step recovery is that we shall learn to be “happy, joyous and free.” I like the free part best. For too many years I’ve been chained to my own human failings. I never understood with such clarity my own defects and limitations until I started to work this Program. I was so lonely and isolated. But when I came to believe after much trial and error that I was in fact powerless over substance use disorder—mine, my daughter’s, and anyone else’s—I fell to my knees and turned this struggle over. And I felt so much lighter. Now, at last, I was off the hook. I’ve turned over all the lost years with my daughter and turned my attention to things I can control now. And that has given me the freedom to focus on other things.

My spirituality is based on three factors: far less EGO (Easing God Out), humble acceptance of whatever my lot is in life, and the vision to appreciate every day for all the good that I can see and experience. In this way, the principles of this Program have changed my life. It’s really great to be alive, and for so many years my life was utterly joyless. That’s the power of the spirit coming alive in me through my spiritual Program.

Holiday Thoughts

They come every year, this time from Thanksgiving to Christmas. I have many, many years of memories around my children at this time of year. Most of them were so happy and full of excitement. Then about twenty years ago the curtain fell down. My middle child fell into the rabbit hole we all know so well—substance use disorder—and a shadow was cast over my once carefree holidays.

So I, along with many of my fellow travelers on this journey, began to live with the reality of our families under a terrible strain, felt even more keenly at this time of year. And my journey has been a long one, with many bumps in the road. But the lessons I have learned about living with substance use disorder are invaluable and have filled three books!

No one would choose to learn about life and the power of letting go of some things in this way. It’s not like planting a flower in the garden, watching it flounder, and saying, “Oh well, we’ll plant another one next year.” These are our children who are floundering and they cannot be replaced by anything—not next year, not ever. And because of the heartbreaking truth of that, I clung to my grief, as though letting go of it would be disloyal to my daughter. I was forgetting for the moment other sources of joy that are equally important and help to balance my sense of loss.

And therein lies the key to my recovery: gratitude for what remains. My sense of well-being and serenity has been hard won, that’s for sure. Early on in my grief I made myself sick with exhaustion and worry. But I see now that it was a necessary bottom from which I could recover if I kept an open mind. I would be able to recover if I saw that I was powerless over my daughter’s disease, which reflected her bad choices. If I could believe in a power above me that could remove me from this burden, and carry it for me, then I would feel lighter and open my eyes to all the blessings life still affords me. I am blessed, and I have the good sense to see that now.

Joyfulness is a song of the angels. And I have learned to sing again, surrounded by other children, grandchildren, my partner of thirty years and a multitude of friends. “Life doesn’t always give us everything we want. But to make the best of things as they are is the only way to be happy.’ ~Jenny Jerome Churchill

Happy Holidays!

A New Kind Of Freedom

From Each Day A New Beginning, November 25:

“’Change occurs when one becomes what she is, not when she tries to become what she is not.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman

Learning self-acceptance, and then loving the selves we are, present perhaps our two biggest hurdles to the attainment of emotional and spiritual health. Fortunately, they are not insurmountable hurdles. The program offers ready assistance.”

Well, learning to be comfortable in my own skin has been a lifelong process for me. But not until I found 12-step recovery did I discover such a well-conceived plan to achieve that. Before I found a way to recover from substance use disorder—my own and my daughter’s—I wore masks to conceal how unhappy I was. It all started with me in an unhappy childhood. But I don’t dwell on any of that anymore because it represents the beginning of my problems, not the solution to them. I think it can be self-defeating to remain stuck in the past because I can’t do anything to change it. But I can, with effort, keep laser-focused on the present and paying attention to what I can do something about.

“Learning to love all our parts, the qualities we like and the traits that discouragingly hang on, offers a new freedom. A freedom that invites change. A freedom that safeguards the emotional and spiritual well-being that we strive for.”

The Yin and Yang Of Living

From Each Day Is A New Beginning, November 19:

“’Experience is a good teacher, but she sends in terrific bills.’ ~Minna Antrim

Our longing for only life’s joys is human—also folly. Joy would become insipid if it were our steady diet. Joyful times serve us well as respites from the trying situations that push our growth and development as women…Joy and woe are analogous to the ebb and flow of the ocean tide. They are natural rhythms. And we are mellowed by their presence when we accept them as necessary to our very existence.”

Recovery has mellowed me. My growing faith has taken the sting out of the loss of my daughter. I was angry, self-destructive, heartbroken, and guilt-ridden…the list goes on. But that path was leading me nowhere.

One day I woke up with a bright light shining in my face. It was warm and melted away my rough, icy edges. A voice was calling to me; I think it was one of my grandchildren and she said, “I’m right here now, Bela. Look at me! See, I’m wearing the dress you gave me. Please come to my recital!”

I went to her recital and many others afterwards. And I learned that my mother’s heart could be filled up over and over again by these children and so many others. The heart has a great capacity to renew itself and heal. Acceptance of that which I cannot change has helped. And listening to the voices of others—long silenced in me—ring loud and true now as hope for the future.

All will be well.

An Important Distinction

A few years ago, I was reading about one of my favorites, Naomi Judd, and how she sadly died by suicide. This is what her daughter, Ashley, said about her death:

“When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s very important to be clear and to make the distinction between our loved one and the disease,” she continued. “It’s very real … it lies, it’s savage.”

Hmmm…

I believe that. We all know how substance use disorder can change our kids: change their minds, change their lifestyle, change the values we taught them. In my daughter’s case, as long as drugs were flooding her system, she ceased to be the daughter I raised. So yes, I make the distinction Ashley has called for. And I pray that someday the general public will have as much compassion for our lost children.

I remember my daughter before this disease took her away from me. And I take comfort in those memories—because I can separate her from her disease. It’s a surreal exercise, I know. But remembering our children as they were—and as they can be again—is profoundly comforting to me. It doesn’t change the present, but it puts things into perspective. Smile about the birthday parties and the piñatas. They happened. I did my best with who I was at the time.

We all did.

“Freedom From The Bondage Of Self”

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 6:

“Wanting to control other people, to make them live as we’d have them live, makes the attainment of serenity impossible. And serenity is the goal we are seeking in this serenity program. In this life.

We are each powerless over others, which relieves us of a great burden. Controlling our own behavior is a big enough job…”

When I took the Third Step, and turned my concerns about my daughter over to the God of my understanding, I felt a freedom that I’d never felt before. I stopped trying to control everything so much, stopped trying to play God when that’s not my job. With this freedom comes the faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to, without any help from me. Acceptance of life on life’s terms gives me peace—and the energy to open my eyes and keep moving.

“My Glass Is Half Full

From Hope For Today, January 23:

“One of the gifts I have received from Al-Anon is learning how to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Before the program I didn’t really understand the true nature of gratitude. I thought it was the happiness I felt when life happened according to my needs and wants. I thought it was the high I felt when my desire for instant gratification was fulfilled.

Today…I know better. Gratitude is an integral part of my serenity. In fact, it is usually the means of restoring my serenity whenever I notice I’m straying from it.

Gratitude opens the doors of my heart to the healing touch of my Higher Power. It isn’t always easy to feel grateful when the strident voice of my disease demands unhealthy behavior. However, when I work my program harder, it is possible.

‘Just for today I will smile…I will be grateful for what I have instead of concentrating on what I don’t have.’”

Accepting life on life’s terms is hard. My daughter has been a substance abuser for twenty-two years, and I grieve the loss of her in my life every day. The five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—I know them all, and not always in that order.

My path to recovery involved a lot of denial in the beginning and, as it said in the reading, “the voice of my disease demanded unhealthy behavior.”

So I’m grateful now for the serenity and peace that I have in my life. Acceptance is the gift I give myself every day when I let go and give her to God. When I remember that my glass is half full, it dulls the ache from losing my precious daughter. She’s still alive, but I haven’t seen her in more than eleven years. When they say that there’s always hope, I agree: as long as she’s alive there’s hope for her to recover. But more importantly, there’s hope for me to move on with my life and focus on my blessings. I deserve to be happy, and that’s the only thing that I can control.

Staying In The Solution

The Problem: Someone we love is sick with substance use disorder.

The Solution: Acceptance of my powerlessness over someone else’s disease; Faith in God’s plan; Gratitude (for ice cream and sunsets…and rainbows).

Every day when I wake up I do my best to live in the solution; my life works better when I do.

How Shall I Spend My Energy?

How Shall I Spend My Energy?

From Each Day A New Beginning, June 12:

“’If people only knew the healing power of laughter and joy, many of our fine doctors would be out of business. Joy is one of nature’s greatest medicines. Joy is always healthy. A pleasant state of mind tends to bring abnormal conditions back to normal.’ ~Catherine Ponder

Greeting life with joy alters every experience for us and for those we share it with.”

It’s a choice for me, a very conscious one. Before the enlightenment of recovery, my sorrows buried me. For years. And then I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The tools of my recovery program offered me some healthy alternatives to the way I had been living. And most importantly, these tools helped me change the way I was thinking. My attitudes changed. But not overnight. It took time for me to go through the process of change. And I discovered that in embracing gratitude I felt happier. I started looking for things to be grateful for and this brought me joy.

I started thanking God for pretty sunsets, and notes from my grandchildren, and my good health. I could go on and on. If I fill my consciousness with positive thoughts and really lean into them, it crowds out the negativity that has the power to sadden me.

I still have sorrows. But I don’t dwell on them. I do what I can about them and then I put them away. I try to use my energy for good, positive activities and thoughts that elevate me. It’s not perfect, this discipline of mine. But it’s something I strive for every day.

And—as we all know—it’s the journey, not the destination, that defines us and our character. I want to leave something good behind for those who come after me. This is how I make living amends to my family and friends. The rewards are as great as the energy I put into it.