Loosen Your Grip!

From Survival To Recovery, page 268:

“Living fully requires enough trust to release our manipulative, tight-fisted control of life, for only then can we accept the guidance of a Power greater than ourselves. For adult children of alcoholics, our damaged, devastated trust has to be healed and nurtured bit by bit until we feel safe enough to truly let go and let God. Trust does not come from reading a book, however inspired, but from experiencing new relationships in which we are trusted and we can learn to trust those around us…If we willingly surrender ourselves to the spiritual discipline of the Twelve Steps, our lives will be transformed…Though we may never be perfect, continued spiritual progress will reveal to us our enormous potential…We will laugh more. Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves…”

“We will laugh more.”  How can I, beset by depression and instability for many of my years, come to revisit my life now from another perspective? How have I learned how to laugh and see the comedy in things? What has enabled me at last to live well and be happy?

Being in the rooms.

But I hasten to add that we can learn the same tools elsewhere: the tools of letting go and accepting what we can’t change; the tool of gratitude; the tool of detachment and understanding our personal boundaries in relation to our substance user. There are many places where we can pick up these life skills: from our family, friends, church, from our own life experiences…

I might have been luckier, like many of you, and learned these tools in a happy, functioning family when I was growing up. But I learned them later.

And it’s never too late to learn how to be happy.

White knuckling it through life is exhausting. Different methods to relax work for different people. Yoga, prayer, knitting, running, reading, listening to music—the list is endless. The best thing for me to relax is the Serenity Prayer. It has become my mantra:

“God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I embrace this prayer in big and little ways every day. Its wisdom keeps me right-sized and humble, while at the same time encouraging me to make changes in my life that are within my reach.

We are all challenged, of course, by the last line. That’s why I keep going back to recovery meetings!


Habits Can Be Unlearned

From Each Day A New Beginning, April 20:

“‘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.

It’s never too late to learn how to be happy.

Who’s Responsible?

From Susan Packer Swafford 

“My mom did not sleep. She felt exhausted. She was irritable, grumpy, and bitter. She was always sick until one day, suddenly, she changed.

One day my dad said to her:

– I’ve been looking for a job for three months and I haven’t found anything, I’m going to have a few beers with friends.

My mom replied:

– It’s okay.

My brother said to her:

– Mom, I’m doing poorly in all subjects at the University.

My mom replied:

– Okay, you will recover, and if you don’t, well, you repeat the semester, but you pay the tuition.

My sister said to her:

– Mom, I smashed the car.

My mom replied:

– Okay daughter, take it to the car shop & find how to pay and while they fix it, get around by bus or subway.

Her daughter-in-law said to her:

– Mother-in-law, I came to spend a few months with you.

My mom replied:

– Okay, settle in the living room couch and look for some blankets in the closet.

All of us gathered worried to see these reactions coming from Mom.

We suspected that she had gone to the doctor and that she was prescribed some pills called “I don’t give a damn”… Perhaps she was overdosing on these!

We then proposed to do an “intervention” w/my mother to remove her from any possible addiction she had towards some anti-tantrum medication.

But then … she gathered us around her and my mom explained:

“It took me a long time to realize that each person is responsible for their life. It took me years to discover that my anguish, anxiety, my depression, my courage, my insomnia & my stress, does not solve your problems, but aggravates mine.

I am not responsible for the actions of anyone & it’s not my job to provide happiness, but I am responsible for the reactions I express to that.

Therefore, I came to the conclusion that my duty to myself is to remain calm and let each one of you solve what corresponds to you.

I have taken courses in yoga, meditation, miracles, human development, mental hygiene, vibration and neurolinguistic programming and in all of them, I found a common denominator in them all…

I can only control myself, you have all the necessary resources to solve your own problems despite how hard they may be. My job is to pray for you, love on you, encourage you but it’s up to YOU to solve them & find your happiness.

I can only give you my advice if you ask me & it depends on you to follow it or not. There are consequences, good or bad, to your decisions and YOU have to live them.

So from now on, I cease to be the receptacle of your responsibilities, the sack of your guilt, the laundress of your remorse, the advocate of your faults, the wall of your lamentations, the depositary of your duties, who should solve your problems or spare a tire every time to fulfill your responsibilities.

From now on, I declare all independent and self-sufficient adults.

Everyone at my mom’s house was speechless.

From that day on, the family began to function better because everyone in the house knew exactly what it is that they needed to do.

For some of us this is hard because we’ve grown up being the caregivers feeling responsible for others. As moms & wives we are fixers off all things. We never want our loved ones to go through difficult things or to struggle. We want everyone to be happy.

But, the sooner we take that responsibility off of our shoulders & on to each loved one, the better we are preparing them to be MEsponsible.

We are not here on earth to be everything to everyone. Stop putting that pressure on yourself.”

As I’ve grown in recovery, I’ve grown in humility, too. My friends, I’m just not that important!!! God Bless all our children as they make their way in life. Whether we want to or not, we must do the same.

Letting Go

This poem addresses the idea of letting go, as opposed to clinging to, much of the negativity in my life—much of what used to weigh on me and drag me down into depression.

Detachment is a skill that allows me to create a safe distance between myself and my daughter. I have learned that if I don’t, I will be swallowed up in her black hole before I know it. As a parent, I’ve often felt that I didn’t deserve the gift of detachment. But I do. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I’ve learned to forgive myself for any mistakes I made with my daughter. It took a long time, but this was an important step in my recovery. Until I did that, I risked being forever enmeshed in her pain and the mess of her life as it is now.

Once I could reach some level of detachment, I was freer to work the steps. In hindsight, I see now why I couldn’t really do the first three steps in a more timely manner. I simply had not let go of my responsibility in her life, my importance in her life, and therefore my need to fix her life.

I needed to be humbled—in the best sense of the word.

I took Step One.

“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.

Surrender

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 9:

‘The Chinese say that water is the most powerful element, because it is perfectly nonresistant. It can wear away a rock and sweep all before it.’ —Florence Skovel Shinn

“Nonresistance, ironically, may be a posture we struggle with. Nonresistance means surrendering the ego absolutely. For many of us, the ego, particularly disguised as false pride, spurred us on to struggle after struggle. ‘Can’t they see I’m right,’ we moaned, and our resistance only created more of itself.

Conversely, flowing with life, ‘bubbling’ with the ripples, giving up our ego, releases us from an energy that heals the situation—that smooths the negative vibrations in our path. Peace comes to us. We will find serenity each time we willingly humble ourselves.”

‘Resistance is more familiar. Nonresistance means growth and peace. I’ll try for serenity today.’

I wrote in my first memoir toward the end: “This is where I was in my recovery as I left San Francisco, at that hard won place I’d fought through years of resistance to find: the end of the battle—acceptance.”  That’s what the above reading is all about, I think. Letting go of my desperate need to save my daughter from her substance use disorder, and coming to accept that I simply don’t have that power. I can only love her.

What could be harder for any parent than to accept our powerlessness over our child’s substance use disorder? Yes, there are many things we can do to help, not the least of which is continue to love our kids unconditionally. My experience has taught me, though, that when I make decisions out of fear, I risk making bad choices. When my actions flow from a place of love, including love of self, all will be well.

Flying High

From Each Day A New Beginning, CAL, November 29:

“’Faith is like the air in a balloon. If you’ve got it you’re filled. If you don’t, you’re empty.’ ~Peggy Cahn

Being faith-filled takes effort, not unlike becoming a good writer, tennis player, or pianist. Faith grows within our hearts, but we must devote time to foster this growth…Like any skill, it gets rusty with lack of use.”

It takes humility to have true and abiding faith in something or someone other than myself. Before I entered the rooms, I thought I had to be in charge of my life. But what a mess that had become, and I finally accepted that my way wasn’t working for me. So I was given “the gift of desperation,” and I reached out.

Working the Steps taught me humility; the word itself, I think, is often misunderstood. It’s not humiliation or shame-filled. It’s right-sizing myself enough so that I see where I am in relation to God. Who is bigger? Who is smarter? My compulsive self-reliance was like a runaway train that got derailed.

I’m grateful now to hand the reins over to my HP and let him to run the show. There’s always lots of room for improvement. When I need help, I ask for it. And God always provides an answer.

“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)

The Enormous Power of Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, October 7:

“’There is a divine plan of good at work in my life. I will let go and let it unfold.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman

…Letting go of the outcome of every experience, focusing instead on our efforts, making them as good as possible, validates our trust in the ultimate goodness of life. Our frustrations diminish when our efforts, only, are our concern. How much easier our days go when we do our work and leave the outcome where it belongs.”

Sometimes it seems like I’m hanging onto my faith by a mere thread. That’s how fragile it is. And that’s why I continually work to banish my fears. They are the basis for a lot of poor judgment and destructive behaviors in my life. Grappling with them is critical.  In my opinion, substance use disorder is a symptom of, among other things, our fears, and when fears dominate me, where is my faith?

I do believe that fear and faith are often at odds with each other. When I am afraid, whether it’s real or imagined, my adrenaline goes into overdrive and I often act rashly without thinking things through. When my daughter is in trouble, my instinct is to rescue and protect her from harmful consequences. Now, after years of recovery, I know that those same consequences might be her best teachers. This is the hard part that many of us parents face: police, jail, loss of family and friends, or deteriorating health. Protecting our kids from the consequences sometimes just delays what’s coming down the road. When my kids were teenagers and didn’t listen to me, I used to mutter under my breath: “Well, okay. I guess life will teach you!” Sad but true.

Maya Angelou has said something like: “When you know better, do better.”

So I do accept that substance use disorder has been a challenge in my family. I have spent many years trying to weather it. I’ve made mistakes, usually when I’ve allowed my fears to hold me hostage. It’s been a slow wheel, my road to recovery. But I’m grateful that my faith has broken down my resistance and given me hope for a happier life. Now that I know better, I will try to do better.

“Life is not always what one wants it to be. But to make the best of it as it is, is the only way to be happy.” ~J.J. Churchill