“‘One has to grow up with good talk in order to form the habit of it.’ ~Helen Hayes
Our habits, whatever they may be, were greatly influenced, if not wholly formed, during childhood. We learned our behavior through imitation, imitation of our parents, our siblings, our peer group. But we need not be stuck in habits that are unhealthy. The choice to create new patterns of behavior is ours to make…We can find strength from the program and one another to let go of the behavior that stands in the way of today’s happiness. And we can find in one another a better, healthier behavior to imitate…I am growing up again amidst the good habits of others, and myself.”
I often say that I grew up in the rooms as well. I’m over seventy years old, so that’s a lot of years to look at and take inventory. But I’ve learned to “look back without staring.” Not to obsess about things that are over, that I can’t change now. To let go of what’s past and focus on what’s right in front of me.
The tools I’ve picked up in my recovery program have been essential for guiding me into new ways of behaving—“acting my way into right thinking.” And doing things differently now—whether it’s eating right, power walking, not drinking alcohol, or remembering to tell people I love them every day—are changing the way I think. And this, in turn, has the effect of elevating me—moving me away from old negative patterns that kept getting in my way.
I like to end my shares at meetings with these words. Why am I thanking the people there for my recovery? Because they and so many others are the mirrors I need to see myself as I really am. And grow from it.
Before my recovery in the rooms, I was depressed and very isolated. I still saw people, I worked, I had friends. But on what level was I operating a lot of the time? I was often very dishonest, with myself most of all. So I shuffled through life, bewildered, often feeling like a victim, sad, and unaware of the tools out there that, if utilized, gave me the power to be happy.
The 12-Steps and other tools I’ve picked up in the rooms are my guideposts for living. They encourage me to review my life, but not to stay stuck in the past. They ask me to look at my imperfections, ways I may have hurt others, make amends for them, and move on. This is where the mirrors I mentioned are especially critical, why it’s helpful to have a sponsor and other friends who can give me honest feedback about myself. Help me to be accountable. To grow. Up. Shed any illusions about myself that may have been getting in my way.
I got my life back in the rooms. Regardless of the storms whirling around me, and we all know what that’s like, if I have myself and my health and wellbeing to anchor me, I’m much stronger to weather any difficulties.
“They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.” ~Dorothy Parker
Do I see myself here? Somewhat, if I’m honest, as cynical as that quote is. Maybe in the beginning I was addicted to the drama of Annie’s substance use disorder. That—and all the martyrdom I subjected myself to. But this did not bring me happiness. There are a number of ways, I have learned, to stay involved with an addicted child—ways that might have helped us both navigate this illness better. But for a long time I was stuck and didn’t know how to free myself of the downward spiral.
Over time, my obsession broke me down and wore me out. I do enjoy the peace in my life now, though I still experience some PTSD. So many years, it seems, of struggling to help her, and then for both our sakes, letting go of the struggle to save her. Addressing once and for all my own substance use—so that my presence could benefit my other loved ones. Don’t think for a moment that I don’t feel the pain of losing Annie. I do. The trauma of losing a child, to whatever illness, never goes away. But, in my experience, it isn’t so heavy to carry. It feels lighter now. Hang in there, Moms. Many things are resolved with better education and the passage of time. Keep loving yourselves and the world around you. Love is the great healer of all things!
“Loving, like prayer, is a power as well as a process. It’s curative. It is creative.” ~Zona Gale
Before I went into recovery, I was pretty lost. On the outside, my life seemed to be rolling along well. But on the inside, I was insecure and sad. I dealt with these feelings in unhealthy ways, but didn’t feel much pressure to change them. I never missed a day of work, and I appeared to be fine. But appearances can be deceiving. Nothing had yet occurred to call my choices into question. Nothing had happened yet to push me out of my complacency.
But when my middle child fell ill with substance use disorder, after I had tried and failed over and over again to save her, I broke. The carefully manicured life I had been living was a treasured glass from my cupboard, smashed onto the kitchen floor. Many little shards, and some big ones. I cut my fingers cleaning it up.
My recovery fellowship comes with a philosophy that teaches me many different things. And one of those things is to forgive myself and others for transgressions inevitably committed in our lives. Our common humanity dovetails at every meeting I go to, where we encourage ourselves to face our defects, let them go, and move on.
For years, I held on to mine to punish myself for my part in Annie’s disease, and most importantly, for failing to “save” her. I have learned, gratefully, that my daughter suffers from substance use disorder, as do I, and I could no more save her from it than if she’d had diabetes. I simply don’t have that power.
So I try to stay away from martyrdom and self-pity, because neither of those feelings will help Annie get well, and they hurt me a great deal. That’s where the weeds are. They muddy the waters; they keep me angry and sad. When I steer clear of them, it takes some of the sting out of losing my daughter. I can more easily open my heart to what remains in my life.
Staying in the weeds prevents me from changing and growing. My recovery fellowship provides the tools to accomplish those two things—with gentleness and kindness. It’s hard, hard work. But when I see positive results in real time, I’m encouraged to keep at it. There’s no graduation from this school of life.
The miracle of my recovery is that, like a gentle breeze blowing away the clutter of remorse, my eyes can see my life through another lens now, one full of gratitude, humor and love. The fruits of my recovery rest on these three things.
“Never underestimate the power of self-awareness to put past experience into a new perspective…Until we take the time to look at ourselves honestly. we may never be free of the bondage in which alcoholism holds us captive.”
As the mother of a substance user, I was focused completely on my daughter Annie and her problems. In the beginning of her illness, I failed to see that how I handled the chaos in my home might have more to do with me than with her. I didn’t realize what a powder keg my past was bringing to an already explosive situation.
My own history of substance use played a big role in my reactions. Whoever said “Blame is for God and small children” forgot about me. I thought Annie’s illness was my fault. I burdened myself with guilt and an inflated sense of responsibility, and that burden crippled me when dealing with the consequences of her bad choices. I often lost my own moral compass, the one I raised her to follow. That guilt put at risk all the healthy boundaries I had set in place with all of my children. I became lost.
Much of my behavior was a misguided attempt to protect my daughter. I became overprotective, and shielded her from the logical consequences of many choices that might have taught her some valuable life lessons.
I did step up and put her through four rehabs. I was happy to do that and so hopeful. But after she got out and relapsed every time, I fell back into old patterns. I didn’t see how I might be part of the problem.
My enabling just kept her stuck, and I became stuck too in a vicious cycle that wasn’t helping either one of us. I needed to distance myself just enough to learn how to detach from my daughter. To do it lovingly and without any judgment.
It’s a fine line we mothers walk between protecting our children and letting them go to learn how to live well. Since so many substance users stop growing emotionally when they start using, it’s easy to step in and do too much for them. There’s nothing easy about what we face with our children.
But the more I learn about myself, the more armed I am to avoid the pitfalls along the way. As I find the need to change much of my behavior, so do those around me. My recovery has affected all those I come into contact with. And it has “freed me of the bondage that had held me captive” all of my life, so that I can let go of the past, and more effectively deal with the challenges that face me now.
Spending too much time regretting my past mistakes and/or fearing what may happen in the future keep me from looking at what’s right in front of me. But the present moment is all that’s real and something I can hold onto. So I will try to be present and attentive to what’s going on right now. That’s how I can relish what’s good in my life and enjoy the ride.
I’m not sure why “Just for Today” has always been difficult for me. I was either weighed down with guilt and regret about past mistakes, or else I was frantic with worry about the future. No wonder I was miserable! I do have so many things to feel grateful for. But before recovery, I barely recognized them. It’s like I was living in a dark hole of my own making, and this went on for years without the proper intervention.
To be honest, I went through some “survivor guilt.” How could I be reaching for recovery while my daughter was in such a bad place? But after much step work and learning to forgive myself and treat myself with compassion, I accepted that it would serve no one if I lost myself in substance use disorder as well. There are other people in my life who need me whole and healthy.
And so, I make a choice every day to move forward and do the best I can with what I’ve got. The loss of a loved one doesn’t have to bury me. It can be my teacher. God works in mysterious ways, and I’ll never understand his reasons. But I don’t have to.
That’s where my faith comes in. I believe that something good can come out of pain and suffering. Today I live soberly, with the grace of God, and happily.
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.
“’The bottom line is that I am responsible for my own well-being, my own happiness. The choices and decisions I make regarding my life directly influence the quality of my days.’ ~Kathleen Andrus
There is no provision for blaming others in our lives. Who we are is a composite of the actions, attitudes, choices, decisions we’ve made up to now. For many of us, predicaments may have resulted from our decisions to not act when the opportunity arose. But these were decisions, no less, and we must take responsibility for making them.
We need not feel utterly powerless and helpless about the events of our lives. True, we cannot control others, and we cannot curb the momentum of a situation, but we can choose our own responses to both; these choices will heighten our sense of self and well-being and my well positively influence the quality of the day.”
My long journey to wellness has involved learning many new things, and letting go of old ideas that weren’t working for me anymore. That is the key for me: letting go of stubbornly held-onto ideas that perpetuated my downward spiral. I received the “gift of desperation,” and far from turning away from it, I embraced it.
Positive self-governance is the key to living well and in harmony with others, and most recovery programs teach us how to do this. It’s not automatic, especially if we’re carrying a lot of baggage from the past. As long as I remain teachable, the rewards are endless.
Guilt has been a huge stumbling block for some of us in recovery. This is true because it keeps us stuck in the problem rather than in the solution.
I, too, have struggled with multiple addictions. So when my daughter mirrored my behavior, I was stunned to see her becoming a worse version of myself. The heartache was so real, and so deep, that I carried the responsibility for it. And that miscalculation crippled my judgment in numerous ways, ways in which I knew better. But I was still stuck in the problem.
Gratefully, I’ve become more educated about substance use disorder. It’s a brain disease with many moving parts, both physical and emotional, and with the cooperation of the user, it is highly treatable. But full recovery rests there, in the hands of the suffering addict. There is much we in the family can do to help and encourage, ways to show love and support without drowning ourselves. But we do not have the power to cure our loved one.
I am so heartened by what I’m learning about SUD recovery. More family involvement, love and support can make all the difference to a struggling family member. It encourages me a great deal to see substance use awareness moving in a more positive direction. Someday shame and stigma will be relics of the past, and SUD sufferers will be treated more effectively, with intelligence and compassion.
And guilt, one of the most useless and harmful emotions there is, will be kicked to the curb.