“One weekend before we left the country, telling Angel he was on his own with the kids, I drove East to be by the sea. In Ocean City, I got a cheap hotel room, a cheap bottle of vodka, and spent my time numbing myself. Instead of walking on the beach at the ocean I love so well, instead of grabbing a bag and adding more souvenirs to my beautiful collection, I lay on my bed, drank vodka straight out of the bottle, and passed out.
I might as well have stayed in a cheap motel near my own house.
In a fog most of the time, eating junk food from the boardwalk, I ran away from my life. I left my “shell” for the weekend, ventured off by myself, as empty coming out of a bottle as I was going into it.
I learned nothing, gained nothing from escaping for a few days other than missing my children terribly. I was still as hollow as the bleached whelks waiting to be snatched up by grateful collectors.
I would discover, many years down the road, the sneaky and devastating nature of addictive disease: how it stalks you, dupes you into thinking you’re okay “if it’s just once in a while.” It’s like any virus: it needs a host to take root. And grow.
To flourish. And continue.
Addiction, like any cancer, wants to survive. It filled my empty shell, opportunistic disease that it is, with false-confidence, false promises, false hopes.
Maybe I’ll be happier in Greece…”
Excerpted from my recently released, award-winning 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.”
Excerpted from my recently released and award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation.
“Hello, Bob. And Bob. And Bob. And Bob. And Bob.” Gene named them all ‘Bob’—easier that way.
Even before quarantine, Gene was a little nutty about this group of eight or nine giant starfish living under seal rock. That’s the rock we paddled past a few years ago with a fat seal sunning itself and sitting right on top. Got a nice picture, too, as we paddled on by.
Gene tries to walk on the beach every day during low tide. Winter or spring. Rain or shine. It’s about a mile to seal rock, and that’s where he found these giant sea stars, clinging to their home at the base of the rock. They can live without water from 8-24 hours while they wait for the tide to come in.
What a life for these starfish. Clinging to their rock. Do they ever venture off of it? Do they ever swim around like sea anemones or jellyfish? Or do they stay on their rock in their isolation, avoiding the company of other sea creatures?
Oh Covid! You’ve turned us into a couple of hermits, me and Gene. We venture out to the store when we have to. And a couple of people even came over recently, six feet apart, no hugs.
“This is surreal, Gene,” I whine after they leave. “I miss hugging people. And I miss a closer connection with my grandchildren. I feel like I’m losing time with them.”
Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob don’t care about the coronavirus. Or isolation. Or losing time with anyone.
What a simple life they enjoy. It’s only humans that make it complicated.
I am a
blogger for The Addict’s Parents United. The sequel to my award-winning first
memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t
Live Here Anymore, will be released by She Writes Press on 6/16/20. This is
an excerpt from Stepping Stones: A Memoir
of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation:
“Several years before I attempted to
make amends to Angie, she was in her last rehab in California. It was 2009, and
I flew across the country for Parents’ Weekend. After excitedly showing me
around the grounds, she bumped into a couple of new friends.
“Hey, Angela, show us more of those
My daughter still enjoyed showing people what she had been able to do as
a gymnast in Greece.
“Sure.” Proud of her agility, she
showed us, among other things, a backward twist that must have been difficult
then. She wasn’t ten anymore.
As she leaned backward
toward the floor, her hair fell back; I saw the scar again and wondered how
she’d gotten it. She must have had an accident to have sustained such a deep
gash around her hairline in the middle of her forehead.
Angie was a child, she looked like a beautiful mandarin doll. She’d always had
a thick pile of bangs to frame her oval face. But her hair didn’t fall that way
anymore because of the scar, and she hadn’t been wearing bangs for several
years. I remembered the picture of my children from J. C. Penney’s one
Christmas in Miami, her pretty brown eyes accented by her thick bangs.
her then in rehab, I focused on her bangs. How much I missed seeing them on her!
What mother doesn’t mourn her child’s innocence and wish a painless life for
last time I saw her, for Mother’s Day in 2012, I was
in a San Francisco motel near the hostel in the Tenderloin where she was
staying. She was to spend a night with me and had a key to the room. It was
five in the morning when I heard her unlocking the door, and I jumped up to
“Hi, Mom. This is Pontus.”
“Hi there,” the much older man said as he offered to shake
“Hello, Pontus. Angie, please come in now so I can go back
“Sure, Mom. See you later, Buddy.”
have a picture of her sitting on my bed the next morning, her terrier, Loki, on
her lap; she was never without him. Her hair was pulled to the side and held
with a clip, exposing the scar.
looked so strange—like someone else—without those
lustrous bangs. But of course she was . . . someone
Eight years. Some digital contact in all that time—most of it unpleasant. I’ve often said in my commentary over the years that an addict, after long periods of using, seems split down the middle: the child we raised, and what remains after years of substance abuse.
I’ve hoped for the happy ending so
many of my fellow mothers are blessed with. I’m so genuinely happy for them,
and I hold a fervent wish in my heart that their addicts continue to enjoy
sobriety. But many of us have not been so fortunate. And many mothers have
buried their children. So how do we move forward with our grief and loss?
Together, for one thing. Together we are stronger. Talking openly about it, putting an end to the shame and isolation. There is strength and empowerment in our ability to stand tall and add our voices to the others out there. Substance use disorder—this is hard to believe—is even more on the rise now. As a result of all the forced isolation in the time of coronavirus—isolation which is a substance user’s worst enemy—a few mothers I know have found themselves frustrated and saddened to watch their children falling back into the rabbit hole. I pray their relapses are short-lived and they are able to get back to living their lives without using substances to cope.
I think of my Angie on this Mother’s
Day, 2020. I don’t know how she is. I sent her an email, telling her how much I
love her and I hope she’s well enough to survive another day. The email didn’t
bounce back. If she’s still with us in San Francisco, that’s good, because
where there’s life there’s hope.
We all have different stories with our children; some are happy and some are sad. This is just my story. But I know that I was the best mom that I could be, and I believe that most mothers are. Because of that stirring belief, I’m proud to celebrate myself and all of you on Mother’s Day, this year and every year. We have more than earned a place in that fellowship.
though I can’t solve your problems, I will be there as your sounding board
whenever you need me.’ ~Sandra K. Lamberson
emotional well-being is enhanced each time we share ourselves—our stories or
our attentive ears. We need to be part of someone else’s pain and growth in
order to make use of the pain that we have grown beyond. Pain has its purpose
in our lives. And in the lives of our friends, too. It’s our connection to one
another, the bridge that closes the gap.”
my lifetime have words and phrases meant more to me than “connection,”
“bridge,” and “closes the gap.” We are all living through an extraordinary time
where the viral pandemic has halted life as we know it. Of necessity, many of
our routines have stopped. From my small world of one to the world at large,
nothing will ever be the same again. This is a time when our physical health
and wellness are uncertain; it’s a time when the world is being engulfed by an
invisible threat which to some extent is out of our control. We’re doing our
best to slow the progression of the disease. Mitigation, social distancing. We
are being tested.
one, am enjoying yet another opportunity to look within and put things into a
larger perspective. And things will be different after this. I can’t see into
the future, and everyone’s world will change in different ways. But my world
already involves more appreciation for the finer things in life: things like
kindness, consideration and thoughtfulness, generosity of spirit and time, and
human connectedness. Just remember how Zoom crashed recently while Americans
across the country were anxiously trying to visually connect with one another. This
intense appreciation for those things will inform my choices on how to live,
what to do with my time. This is a good thing.
interconnected and interdependent. We may not be able to connect hands right
now, but we can connect our hearts and minds as we all strive to figure things
out, learn some important lessons, and determine to make our planet stronger for
the next generation to enjoy and pass on. The world belongs to my grandchildren
and their children. God keep me strong to leave them something beautiful and
resilient, reflecting the best in us all.
“Addiction is like a chain reaction. It
is a disease which affects the addict as well as the family members, friends
and co-workers. We try to control, cover up, and take on the responsibilities
of the addict. The sickness spreads to those of us who care the most.
Eventually, we begin to feel used and unhappy. We worry, lose trust and become
angry. The addict blames us and we feel guilty. If only something or someone
When we discover Nar-Anon, we find others
with the same feelings and problems. We learn we cannot control the addict or
change him. We have become so addicted to the addict that it is difficult to
shift the focus back to ourselves. We find that we must let go and turn to
faith in a Higher Power. By working the steps, following the traditions and
using the tools of the program, we begin, with the love and help of our Higher
Power and others, to change ourselves.
As we reach out for help, we become ready
to reach out a helping hand and heart to those in need of Nar-Anon. We
understand. We do recover. Slowly, new persons emerge. Change is taking place.”
Though I have changed and grown through
my work in the program, I. of course, still love my daughter and am available
to help her if she reaches out to me for help. Detachment is not desertion. The
difference is that I’m a healthier person now and am able to make the tough
choices I couldn’t make years ago. I pray she finds the strength to come back
to her family. We can’t get back the lost years, but I still have hope, like
the warm sun shining on my face, and keeping my love strong.
Love and hope in the time of coronavirus.
If “addiction is a chain reaction,” moving through our society like a massive nimbus
cloud of loneliness and despair, then kindness and good will can also be a
chain reaction, propelling people to examine their lives and make necessary
changes. There was never an easier time to do this, when all these weeks of
enforced reflection carry the potential for change in all of us. In the Chinese
language, the word “crisis” has two characters: one for danger and the other
This is humanity’s opportunity to move forward stronger and more effectively than ever before.
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” ~Charles A. Beard
cannot be discovered by a journey of miles…only by a spiritual journey…by which
we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be at home.” ~Wendell Berry
Without the gift of spirit in my life, I would be drifting on an island in the middle of the ocean. Spirit can be anything we want it to be: some people say God, or Higher Power; others focus on a statue or a tree in the garden. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it’s not US. “My best thinking got me here.” (into the rooms of recovery)
another acronym: EGO=Easing God Out.
floating island in the middle of the ocean can be a dangerous vessel without a
steering wheel. Maybe not dangerous; just completely self-reliant and without
was something I learned as a child because I had to. The adults in my life were often distracted with their own
problems, so I learned to do things by myself. This was a vital survival
strategy when I was a child. But as an adult, it became a huge defect.
adult, I’ve too often carried that survival tool into situations in my life
that required outside guidance. Too proud sometimes, or afraid, to ask for help
or advice, I steered my ship into some dangerous waters. Like everyone else,
I’ve made mistakes, and some of them were preventable if I’d had the humility
to ask for help.
like everyone else, I’m just a child of (God, a tree, the stars), and I’m
growing every day, learning (hopefully) from my mistakes and trying to do
better. Humility is a great leveler, and it has brought me closer to the one
thing I’ve missed all my life: being part of a community of equals. When I’m in
touch with the spirit within me, I’m no longer alone or isolated. I’m at one
within my fellowship—and it feels good to be alive.
“The Al-Anon program has helped me see that pleasing others over myself is no longer in my best interest.” ~The Forum, 8/19, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature
always been a people pleaser. I wanted others to be happy, and I often
sacrificed something of my own to achieve that. Not always something obvious
like an object: my dessert, my jewelry, or my car. Usually it was much more
subtle so I wouldn’t take notice: my time, my opinions, even my values.
a time when I was like a chameleon, but like the lizard I was usually afraid of
offending people. That’s why I made the “sacrifice.” But it was my integrity
that, over time, I lost.
recovery, I’ve learned to understand that people pleasing isn’t always a
healthy behavior. Often we lose ourselves in the process. My step work has
helped me get to know myself more honestly and like myself anyway. If I value
who I am, it’s easier to stick to my guns and not fear the consequences if
someone disagrees with me. The cost of losing myself to please others is
greater than the benefit of being who I am.
my recovery program, I have learned to build bridges instead of walls.” ~”The
Forum,” Al-Anon Family Group, Conference
that mean? From what I’ve learned in recovery, it’s about learning to set
healthy, workable boundaries. And what does that word mean? A lot of questions!
I grew up
in an alcoholic family without many boundaries. There was a lot of guilt, and a
fair amount of permissiveness related to that. My parents were sometimes
neglectful and/or passive. I was allowed to run wild and became rebellious.
Even my moral code was challenged. I was not a happy camper, and it showed.
adult raising my three children, is it any wonder that much of my parenting was
the same? We pass on what we were given. When Angie started abusing drugs at
age 21, I was blindsided, but I shouldn’t have been. I was in such denial about
myself and my own shortcomings that I was incredulous at the change in her. I
couldn’t believe it! But, in time, with a lot of my own recovery, I learned to
not only believe it but to understand it. And most importantly, not to blame
myself for it.
Because of MY misplaced guilt around Angie’s addiction, early on I set almost no boundaries with her. Why would I have to? She was 21; I had instilled a moral code in her since she was a child. What I didn’t realize, and gradually learned with horror, was how the personality of the addict often changes, how they abandon their moral code over and over again to serve their addiction—their new master. Angie lied to me, she stole from me, and she violated me in many ways.
I had to
establish a new set of boundaries for her, quite apart from the boundaries I
set for my other children. With them, I didn’t need to protect myself. With
Angie, I did.
I view an
addict while using drugs as a person split down the middle: my Angie, the
daughter I raised was endlessly thoughtful, always remembering birthdays and
Mother’s Day; the addict on heroin bears no resemblance to the daughter I knew.
This is the tragic reality of how addiction hijacks our children and sometimes
renders them unrecognizable.
boundaries are not walls to shut people out. They are bridges to ensure
healthier lines of communication. I incorporate boundaries into all of my
relationships. Most relationships wouldn’t work well without them. Call them
“rules,” or “expectations.” Whatever word we use, they are intended to help our
dealings with people work better. Curfews with our teenage children are like
lines in the sand, and many kids will tell you that they feel safer when
parents impose limits.
With my daughter, I’ve had to impose tough limits because she is still under the influence of drugs. The addict is in charge, and I need to stay safe. Again—the sad reality of loving an addict lost in the hellish underworld of substance use disorder. But love her, I do, and always will. She knows this.
addicts recover. It’s miraculous to see them return to their former selves once
they stop polluting their brains with substances. I pray Angie will be one of
them someday. She knows how to reach me and I pray she will want to one day. In
the meantime, setting boundaries is one of the many tools of recovery I enjoy
to make all of my relationships work better. I’ve had to learn to reparent
myself in recent years and I’m still growing as a parent. And a grandparent!
Life goes on…
relate to my inner self influences my relationships with all others. My
satisfaction with myself and my satisfaction with other people are directly
proportional. ~Sue Atchley Ebaugh
I grew up
with two hypercritical parents. The negativity, of course, affected me
profoundly, and I was saddled with low self-worth and self-esteem issues. And
though I recognize that I’m an adult child of an alcoholic, I no longer have to
view my life through the eyes of a child.
recovery program has opened my eyes and presented me with new perspectives. My
father had problems of his own, and my mother, an untreated Al-Anon, suffered
as she tried to cope with him. The children in such a dysfunctional family are
bound to be affected in adverse ways. That’s why they call it “a family
to re-parent myself with compassion and understanding is a task for many of us
adult children. And as I continue to view my life through a different lens, my
inner self blossoms. In turn my self-acceptance reflects itself in those around
me as I cease to criticize.
reward of self-love, I think, is that it’s a magnet for others. No more
loneliness and isolation. As I learn to treat myself with love and respect,
those positive feelings are mirrored in all of my relationships. Life is good!