Getting Out Of The Way

I’m a mother. When my kids were little, it was my job to keep them safe from harm. If they ran across the street with a car coming, I might have spanked them a little so they’d remember to look both ways next time. Yes: pain; yes: consequences. Yes: both good teachers.

But when Annie was twenty-one and started making terrible choices, I still thought it was my job to protect her from harm, self-inflicted or otherwise. And I still treated her like a two-year-old.

When she first stole from me early on, I went into a long period of denial and guilt, minimizing my feelings and believing her incredible explanations. My inaction only emboldened her, and she went on to steal in other ways. Several times, she stole my identity, with no explanations. So even when it was clear to me that her behavior was unacceptable, I still behaved inappropriately: I did nothing. Even when the credit card company told me to do something—that it would be a lesson for her—I still did nothing.

Where was the smack on the rear she would have gotten from running across the street? Where were the consequences that would have reminded her to be careful? I presented Annie with no consequences in the beginning of her illness and so she learned nothing. Her progressive illness got much worse. My guilt was crippling me as an effective parent.

Not until I started working my own program of recovery was I able to release myself from the hold that was strangling us both. I needed to get out of my daughter’s way. She wasn’t two anymore.

I’ve made a lot of progress since those early days. I’ve learned to let go and leave Annie to the life she has chosen. Four rehabs helped her turn her life around for a while, but she always slipped back into her substance use disorder and the life that goes with it. But staying out of the way has given me the freedom to take back my life and learn to live well by focusing on something else. It has also given Annie the freedom to take responsibility for her own life and hopefully her own recovery. If she reaches for it again, and I pray she will, how much more rewarding it will be for her to find her own way!

Loving and Letting Go

Heroin and all dangerous drugs are the scourge of the 21st century.

My daughter always hated needles as a child. She hated going to the doctor. Now she has hepatitis C from sharing needles with other IV substance users.

I have no idea how to stop this epidemic, which I have no control over. And Annie is caught up in it. I don’t know how it will turn out for her.

But I do know that the only thing I can control is my own life and how I choose to live it.

I’ve spent twenty years obsessing, suffering, denying, covering, enabling, excusing, and manipulating my daughter. I’ve hurt my health and ended my career.

This is not love. This is martyrdom.

The best way to love my child now is to let go, release her to her disease, and pray she chooses recovery. If she reaches out to me in a healthy way, I will happily respond.

I will be forever grateful to the wisdom in the simple 12-Step programs that have helped me reclaim my life, even as I felt I felt I was losing it.

All the self-reflection in the step work helped me face myself with honesty—warts and all—and own both my mistakes and my successes. It doesn’t stop there, though. This is a gentle program, gentle and kind. We learn to forgive ourselves because we did the best we could with what we had. Then, and only after I could let go of my remorse, did I feel worthy to move on, away from all the disappointment and pain.

That sense of worthiness has been the key for me. I spent most of my life not feeling good about myself on the inside. Grappling with all those negative feelings and behaviors took up most of my energy. Now I’m free to take care of myself without feeling selfish. And I’m learning to love Annie in a different way.

My heart is with you, Moms. God Bless.

“We are all broken; that’s how the light gets in.”

“This journey of mine, this parenting journey, would involve going two steps forward sometimes and then three steps backward. It was not vertical progress I was making, but it was progress. And strangely, the more I kept the focus on myself and striving to be happy, the easier it was to let go of my child. I knew I had paid my dues, and I feared no one’s judgment, least of all God’s.

I’ve railed at God many, many times during all these years of joy and pain, this God they speak of at Twelve-Step meetings. How many times had I sinned in my life? Many, more than I want to remember. And so the child in me had been sure, earlier on, that I was being punished for all of them. It was my karmic payback. “What goes around comes around,” etc. Indeed, for all of my life, before my breakdown, I had no faith in any thing or any one other than myself. I grew up very lonely and isolated, and if there was a god, he wasn’t paying any attention to me. So I learned to be very independent and self-reliant. 

But when I finally found myself on my knees, I felt broken and whole at the same time: broken because my MO for dealing with my problems hadn’t been working; and whole because I finally let myself believe in something outside of myself to strengthen me, to fill in the gaps that were missing in me, and to help me cope. I was starting to develop and cling to a faith that assured me that I was not being punished and that I would be OK in the end, no matter what happened to my daughter.  And I realized that fighting Angie’s battles for her was not only a waste of time; it was also useless and of questionable value.

            My energies, spent though they were, would be better directed toward reclaiming my own life, which had been sorely compromised in the fight to save my daughter. And in reclaiming my own life, I was bidding for my redemption, long overdue, but just within my reach. This was my journey now, I knew it; I sadly accepted it. I wanted us to be connected but we weren’t. I wanted her struggle to be our struggle, but it wasn’t. I wanted to save her life but I couldn’t. I could only save my own. And I’d keep working at it—or this relentless disease would claim two more victims instead of one.”

From A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pen name)

Boundaries and Self-Regard

“If you bring me peace then you get more of my time. Simple.”

I read this online a few months ago and I’m so struck by the message, the tone, the unapologetic boundary setting. How many of us can say this to our loved one, whether it’s our child or our third cousin? This is a hard one for me. It puts my own needs first. And good self-care is something I’ve learned late in my life.

Early on in Annie’s disease, I allowed myself to be a battering ram. She was very abusive to me. Now I know that it was the drugs talking. (“What we allow will continue.”) But I was stunned, ashamed and feeling overly responsible at the time. I thought I deserved her wish to punish me (#martyrdom).

What a relief to finally reach a place where I feel worthy of some peace and joy. This has come after several years of working on myself and changing some self-defeating attitudes. Going into reverse, I’m no longer ashamed, and I know I’m not responsible. May we all reach a place where we can deal effectively and intelligently with this baffling disease. And not be destroyed by it. God Bless!

Enough

“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.

God Bless Us, Mamas. We do the best we can!

The Big Crippler

This is a newsletter blurb that I picked up where I used to work:

“Regardless of cause, history or contributing factors, feeling guilty about your past role in the development of your child’s problem behavior will risk sabotaging your parenting roles.  For a more focused relationship with your child: 1) Recognize guilt as negative, self-talk that is normal, but that can be managed or stopped, 2) Acknowledge that a desire for relief from guilt places you at risk for changing the rules, boundaries, and standards that you want followed. 3) Try to act more consistently and proactively, feel better about tough choices, so that you can be less encumbered by what happened in the past.”

What is negative self-talk? It’s when your son gets arrested for burglary and you say you just didn’t raise him right. You blame yourself, so you bail him out.

My guilt around Annie was very great, and in seeking to relieve myself of it I have too often spoiled her, not followed through on adherence to consequences, and cushioned the falls that might have taught her valuable life lessons.

I’m learning to consider tough choices now instead of easy ones. And I’m letting go of my guilt around my past behavior. But it’s a well-worn groove in my character, and I’ll need to work very hard to let go of it completely.

Steps Eight and Nine—the apology steps—provide an opportunity to learn the difference between what is and is not our responsibility and to take a more realistic look at the effects of our actions.  In my case, my sense of responsibility was inflated. So when I crossed the line and tried to fix her, to relieve my anxiety, I messed up. In my desperation to be feel better, I became the consummate enabler. I felt I had to punish myself because my daughter’s substance use disorder must have been my fault. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I’ve learned to let go. It’s a journey to freedom that parents will make in their own way and at their own pace.

God Bless us All!

Personal Freedom

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.

“Let Go And Let God”

From Courage to Change, Conference Approved Literature, December 8:

“The image of an avalanche helps me to give the drinking alcoholic (or addict) in my life the dignity to make her own decisions. It is as though her actions are forming a mountain of alcohol-related troubles. A mound of snow cannot indefinitely grow taller without tumbling down; neither can the alcoholic’s mountain of problems.

Al-Anon has helped me to refrain from throwing myself in front of the alcoholic to protect her, or from working feverishly to add to the mountain in order to speed its downward slide. I am powerless over her drinking and her pain. The most helpful course of action is for me to stay out of the way!

If the avalanche hits the alcoholic, it must be the result of her own actions. I’ll do my best to allow God to care for her, even when painful consequences of her choices hit full force. That way I won’t get in the way of her chance to want a better life.

Today’s reminder: I will take care to avoid building an avalanche of my own. Am I heaping up resentments, excuses, and regrets that have the potential to destroy me? I don’t have to be buried under them before I address my own problems. I can begin today.”

‘The suffering you are trying to ease…may be the very thing needed to bring the alcoholic to a realization of the seriousness of the situation—literally a blessing in disguise.’ (From “So You Love An Alcoholic”)

I wish I had been able to do this fifteen years ago. But we get there when we get there. It’s never too late to start over, whether we’re a using addict or the enabler of one. I say this with kindness and a deep compassion for myself. I truly believe that we all do the best we can with what we’ve got at any given moment.

Two-Stepping The Twelve-Step

Excerpted from my memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation:

 “’Marilea, why don’t you try a recovery meeting?’ my counselor gently advised me. She had heard me week after week moan about Annie turning into a monster I didn’t recognize anymore. It was terrifying; sleep eluded me.

‘Oh no, that’s not for me,’ I responded, echoing my mother from thirty years before when my sister tried to get her to do the same thing.

‘Well, I think it will help you to be around people going through the same thing.’

Thinking about it for a few weeks, though, I took her advice and started going to a meeting on Saturday mornings. Gene also felt it was a good idea.

And so began a long period of faithfully going to several twelve-step meetings, but essentially paying lip service much of the time, particularly to the first three steps, because I was nothing if not the biggest control freak around.

Step One: Admit my powerlessness? Never! I brought her into the world. It was my job to protect and save her.

Step Two: Believe that God could restore me to sanity? What’s insane about trying to save my child?

Step Three: Turn my will over to God? No way! I had to stay in control.

As a child, I took care of my own needs. I’d asked for company, hollered for attention, hoped for forgiveness, but was often ignored. So I became compulsively self-reliant: CSR, I humorously say at meetings. And much of that self-reliance, attempting to appear competent, looked like arrogance.

It took me a long time before I found the humility to get a sponsor. Part of me didn’t want to ask for help; an even bigger part thought I didn’t need help.It was Annie, I argued, who needed help.

Humility, I discovered, was a tremendous leveler, and it would bring me closer to what I’d been missing my whole life: being part of a community of equals.

But without being honest with myself and others, I remained isolated on the outside, looking in.”

The Domino Effect

From Each Day a New Beginning, Conference Approved Literature, May 22:

“’The change of one simple behavior can change other behaviors and thus change many things.’ ~Jean Baer

Our behavior tells others, and ourselves, who we are. Frequently, we find ourselves behaving in ways that keep us stuck. Or we may feel deep shame for our behavior in a certain instance. Our behavior will never totally please us. But deciding we want to change some behavior and using the program to help us, is a first step.”

Change is hard. The older we get, perhaps, the harder it gets. Our years—our habits—can trap us. I’ve been trapped by my own worst defects: “I’m gonna be fine;” “I can handle it on my own;” “I don’t need any help, thank you very much.”

Trying to figure out the why’s of things over the years didn’t help me. That question just kept me stuck. And it kept me from taking responsibility for my own problems. So the suffering continued. Until I learned how to put out fires.

When I’m in the middle of a fire in the woods, I don’t wonder who started it. If I am to survive, I just need to learn how to douse it.

I’ve been challenged by depression for much of my life, but nothing could have prepared me for losing my daughter Annie to the living death of heroin addiction. That was the major conflagration in my life, and I wasn’t fighting it effectively. I made it so much about me and my misplaced guilt that I often used poor judgment in an effort to help her. When I saw that nothing was working, I felt broken. And at my bottom, that’s when I found the courage to change.

Letting go of my feverish attempts to motivate Annie to seek recovery, and my wish to control events, freed me of the painful circumstances that were claiming my peace of mind. Letting go—so counterintuitive when it’s your child—was one of the first steps I needed to take—and accept what I could not change. That was the hardest: knowing that I had no power to change her. But I did and do have the power to change myself, my reactions, and my attitudes.

At some point along the way, we might find ourselves in a fire we need to put out. I learned that I needed to change before I could be truly happy with my life. I needed to pay attention to what was happening in my own hula hoop. Looking outside of myself for answers only distracted me; it did not help me put out the fire.

“One small change today, a smile at the first person I meet, will help me chart a new course.”