An Attitude Of Gratitude

From Courage to Change, August 30:

“Normally my sponsor would recommend a gratitude list when I felt low, but one day, when I complained about a family situation, he suggested that I list all the things I was unhappy about. Several days later my depression had passed, and when I told my sponsor about the terrific day I was having, he suggested a gratitude list. He thought it might help me to refer to it the next time I felt blue. That made sense to me, so I complied.

When I went to put this new list in the drawer where I keep my papers, I noticed the earlier list and read it once more. To my surprise, my list of grievances was almost identical to my gratitude list—the same people, same house, same life. Nothing about my circumstances had changed except the way I felt about them. For the first time I truly understood how much my attitude dictates the way I experience the world.

Today’s Reminder:

Today I recognize how powerful my mind can be. I can’t always feel good, and I have no interest in whitewashing my difficulties by pasting a smile on my face. But I recognize that I am constantly making choices about how how I perceive my world. With the help of Al-Anon and my friends in the fellowship, I can make these choices more consciously and more actively than ever before.”

‘Change your thoughts and you change your world.’ Norman Vincent Peale

I can make an effort to be grateful instead of sad. It’s a conscious choice—because I want to be happy.

Darkness And Light

From “The Forum,” August, 2015, p. 19:

“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, found some answers. For me, anyway, I entered into a state of grace. I quite deliberately let go of my pain, which served no further purpose in my life. The lessons it 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.

Taking Ownership Of My Own Recovery

Many people are not strong enough to battle the terrible force of substance use disorder on their own. Application of the Twelve Steps had proven successful over and over again since they were put together by a couple of alcoholics and their friends back in the late 1930’s. Substance abusers need help; some say they need spiritual help. Our society is full of naysayers—skeptics who eschew these programs that are found in every major city across the country, and in big cities, in many of the churches, meeting three or four times a day. There’s a reason for the popularity of Twelve-Step programs: they work for many people. So I promised myself I would try harder now. My daughter was worth it. My daughter was worth it?

There is no one place on this journey to pinpoint where I discovered that I was worth it. I knew what a flawed human being I was. I was aware of my mistakes along the way—big ones and little ones.

But as I was starting to embrace the principles found in these Twelve Steps I was reacquainting myself over and over again with my own humanity and feeling my self-worth solidify with roots into the earth. None of this growth in me would have occurred if my daughter’s illness hadn’t pushed me onto this path. And I would always—still—reckon with the survivor guilt that has challenged my right to be happy while my daughter still struggles with this cruel disease.

There are many who view Twelve-Step groups as cultish and unattractive. There’s such a powerful stigma in our society against substance use disorder in all its forms that, I suppose, families of substance abusers suffer from guilt by association. Early on in my recovery my sister once said that it must be nice to have “those people” to talk to. But as she’s watched me grow and change these past few years I think she’s developed a healthy respect for the Program.

To this day, though, she has never discussed with me the dark side of our father, the alcoholic. Maybe she never saw his dark side, as I did. To her, he was the best father in the world, and I have no need to invade that sacred place where she holds him in her heart. In fact, I agree with her. He was a very loving man who passed on many gifts to his children and grandchildren. Yes, he was sick, and he died too young because of it. But just as I have forgiven my mother for any ways she may have hurt me so have I lovingly accepted my father’s illness. And in learning to forgive my parents and others who have wounded me in my life, it has become easier for me to forgive myself for my own shortcomings and the part they played in hurting my own children.

I, being a substance abuser, a daughter of one and a parent of one, have found myself quite at home among these seekers of peace and serenity. I’ve been in the right place for twenty-three years now, and I cannot begin to tell you the gratitude I feel for the wisdom in this simple program that has helped me to look forward to the sun coming up every day—and to embrace my life in its entirety.

Grateful To Be Growing Within

from Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope, June 16:

“I remember feeling my anger and resentment lessen at my first meeting when I learned that addiction is a disease, like cancer or diabetes. I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it.

Today I am grateful that I am married to an addict because I have been given the opportunity to explore my spiritual nature and move out of my comfort zones. I have taken a good look at who I am, what I want and where I’m going. I am facing my past, my faults and my fears. I am becoming a better person, a happier person, and a more serene person. I am slowly but surely learning not to suppress my emotions and fears, but to release them and grow.”

‘No longer forward nor behind I look in hope or fear. But, grateful, take the good I find, the best of now and here.’  John Greenleaf Whittier

Just for today, I will pay attention to my blessings. I have so much to be grateful for, and I guard against complacency. It can all be snatched away in a heartbeat, so I take nothing for granted. This is a good way to live, savoring every good moment.

Find Something To Smile About

Silver linings are everywhere in our lives. I try to appreciate them when I see them. My family has lived through four generations of alcoholism, but it wasn’t until my daughter was stricken with substance use disorder that I was motivated to go into serious recovery for myself. Losing her all these years to this cruel disease has been heartbreaking, and my serenity has come at a very high price. But though I’ll never get over these lost years with her, I like to think that she would be glad that I’ve survived and am learning to live well. This is how I honor her memory. She’s left a few flowers along the way, and I’m grateful.

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.