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

Who’s Crazy?

From Hope for Today, May 27:

“Before I came into the program, I struggled with feeling numb and fragmented. Once in Al-Anon and exposed to Step Two, I had to ask the question, “What does it mean to me to be sane or insane?” There were some good indicators in my life of both sanity and insanity. Still I didn’t believe I had anything to do with the presence or absence of either of them; they just happened.

In time I learned that the emotional numbness I had developed to cope with growing up with alcoholism contributed much to my sense of insanity. It forced me to see life as happening totally outside of and unconnected from myself. In Al-Anon, by learning to listen to my feelings, give them a name, and express them. I built a bridge between my broken self, my Higher Power, and my wholeness. Never in my wildest dreams could I have known that my insanity came from my lost relationship with myself and with God.”

I used to think that tragic events around me were what made me feel crazy. But I don’t think so. It’s my reaction to them, my attitude about them, that determine how I will come out on the other side.

Had I not been so broken to begin with, I might have weathered events differently. But I was broken, and that shattered mirror in my head greatly altered my perception of things. I’m happy that I found a recovery fellowship that helped me put the pieces back together. I’m learning to let go of the past and things I have no control over. Little by little, sanity and  harmony are returning to my life. And I know that all will be well. When I share my space with my Higher Power, I feel whole—and at peace in the world.

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.