“Look Back Without Staring”

From Hope for Today, September 13:

“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.

Today, In Fact, Is All We Have

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.

That’s something.

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.

My Life, My Choice

From Each Day is a New Beginning, August 5:

“’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.

My (Old) Achilles Heel

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.

A Huge Leap Of Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, Conference Approved Literature, 9/27:

“’As we think, so we are.’ We are gifted with the personal power to make thoughtful choices and thus decide who we are. Our actions and choices combine to create our character, and our character influences the circumstances of our lives…Our minds work powerfully for our good. And just as powerfully to our detriment, when fears intrude on all our thoughts.”

Giving in to fear is an abandonment of my faith. And without faith I wouldn’t have a program.

Fear is the basis for many of my problems which can lead to crazy behaviors: panic, and all the irrational choices I make because of it; self-pity, which has led into my own challenges with substance use; guilt and shame, which have led me to lie and dissemble.

I was given the gift of desperation when I entered the rooms, desperate to be happier than I felt at the time. I have accepted now, despite much resistance, that I can’t control the choices of my forty-one-year-old daughter. But I can control my own.

As I continue in my recovery, I am keenly aware of what powerful character builders the twelve steps are. I can work on myself, and be the best me I can be. I can try to improve myself. And whether or not it has an effect on my estranged daughter, it is noticeably affecting the family and friends I interact with today. For that I am very grateful.

When I put my fears to rest, I let God take over.

Mindfulness

From SESH, June 27: T.H.I.N.K.

Am I thoughtful?

Am I honest?

Are my words intelligent?

Are they necessary?

Am I kind?

I love this acronym because it shows how emotions can collide with rational thinking. It also shows that even when we are being rational, we sometimes say the wrong thing. As a writer, I’m aware of the power of words—how they can persuade, or repel, how they can win friends, or lose them. I’ve done them all! When I get too emotional, I’m sure to say the wrong thing. Experience has taught me to use this acronym to weigh carefully what comes out of my mouth. To ask myself if what I say is necessary, or am I just spouting off, releasing steam like Old Faithful in Yellowstone? Am I being honest, or are my words brutal and tactless? Do I care how my words might affect the other person? Am I so emotional, in the moment, that my words might appear unintelligible? And most of all, do my words demonstrate kindness towards the other person?

Of all those terms, kindness for me is the most far-reaching and important. No matter what happens to us in our lives, no matter how deeply we are humbled by our circumstances and shortcomings, if we can remain kind in the face of everything, then that says a lot about our character.

“Thoughts become words. Choose the good ones!”

Finding My Comfort Zone

From Hope for Today, Al-Anon CAL, July 10:

“…I feel comfortable participating in…meetings because in them I find an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. However, I wasn’t always so open. There have been times in my life when I didn’t trust and I didn’t receive respect, so I withdrew. I didn’t allow myself to stay and work through the challenges offered to me. Now that I’m in recovery, I don’t want to limit my opportunities to grow by restricting my involvement with others, whether or not they are in the program. As always, (my program) teaches me to pray, look at myself and my attitudes, and then take action. For me, this action means detaching from people’s behavior and giving them the same acceptance, consideration, and respect for which I long…When I don’t expect perfection from others or from myself, I am free to participate and be a part of life.”

This quote really resonates with me. As I said in my new book: “Humility, I discovered, is a tremendous leveler, and it would bring me closer to what I’ve been missing my whole life: being part of a community of equals.” I’m so happy to be in a fellowship where we’re all on a level playing field. We try not to compare, just to support.

I’ve heard it said that “expectations are premeditated resentments.”  So I try to keep my expectations of others in check, aware of my tendency to control and manipulate. It takes a lot of discipline to remain detached, especially from a loved one. But I can’t control the behavior of (my adult daughter), and so I’ve learned to let go and keep the focus on myself and consider how I might be the author of my own discomfort. When I offer “acceptance, consideration, and respect to others,” the same gifts return to me ten-fold.

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.”

Little Heroes

From Courage to Change, Al-Anon approved literature, May 31:

“Legends have often told of spiritual journeys in which the hero must face great challenges before gaining treasure at the journey’s end. As the heroes of our own stories, we…have also embarked upon a spiritual journey—one of self-discovery.”

I never thought of myself as a hero. What I am is a recovering addict/alcoholic with an AD who I haven’t seen in eight years. Those are the facts. Have I been challenged by the reality in my life? Of course! But I’m still here. I sleep at night. In spite of my struggle with Annie, I manage my life and relationships better than I ever have.

Before recovery, there were two Marilea’s: the outside one and the inside one; and they didn’t match. Like many people, I wore masks to keep up appearances. But I am learning in the rooms to face myself with more honesty, to let go of habits that weren’t working for me anymore, and in the process I discovered new things about myself, things that give me hope for the future.

People fear change, so it takes courage to do things differently. The biggest and most fundamental change in my life has been my ability to embrace an entity outside of myself (call it God, HP, or a tree) to guide me through the inevitable difficulties in my life.

Before I took the first three steps—the “God” steps—I was entirely self-reliant, feeling and appearing competent, but always frightened on the inside. My “solution” had always been excessive use of various substances—from food to alcohol—to deal with my fears. But that stopped working for me, and I needed help to implement the change I needed. I was desperate enough to accept that my best thinking got me into the rooms of recovery. I was probably my own worst enemy, and I needed help. I had tried so many things, from yoga to many self-help books.

But the one thing missing in all of my solutions was a healthy dose of humility. I still needed to think I was in charge, which, of course, is what got me into so much trouble. I was delighted, finally, to let go of my ego just enough to trust in God to help me manage my life. This was the piece of the puzzle I had been yearning for. My Spirit now fills in the holes that substances used to cover up, and I’m grateful.