No Quarantine for Sea Creatures

                                                     

“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.

Mother’s Day in the Time of Coronavirus

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 moves.”
        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.

When 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.

Seeing 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 her?

            The 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 open it.

            “Hi, Mom. This is Pontus.”

            “Hi there,” the much older man said as he offered to shake my hand.

            “Hello, Pontus. Angie, please come in now so I can go back to sleep.”

            “Sure, Mom. See you later, Buddy.”

            I 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.

            She looked so strange—like someone else—without those lustrous bangs. But of course she was . . . someone else.”

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.

God Bless Us, Every One Of Us Mamas!

Our Human Fellowship

From Each Day A New Beginning, April 10:

“’Even though I can’t solve your problems, I will be there as your sounding board whenever you need me.’ ~Sandra K. Lamberson

Our 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.”

Never in 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.

I, for 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.

We are 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.

Good Vibes

From the blue Nar-Anon pamphlet:

Changing Ourselves

“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 would change!

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 for opportunity.

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

The Spirit Within

“The world 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)

Here’s another acronym: EGO=Easing God Out.

That 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 guidance.

Self-reliance 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.

As an 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.

So, again 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.

Just Being Myself

“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

I’ve 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.

There was 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.

In 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.

People respect honesty.

Walls Or Bridges?

“Thanks to my recovery program, I have learned to build bridges instead of walls.” ~”The Forum,”  Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature

What does 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.

As an 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.

But 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.

Many 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…

Self-Love 101

“How I 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.

My 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 disease.”

Learning 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.

The best 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!

The Comfort Of Faith

From Each Day A New Beginning, November 24:

“’If onlys are lonely.’ ~Morgan Jennings

“The circumstances of our lives seldom live up to our expectations or desires. However, in each circumstance we are offered an opportunity for growth or change, a chance for greater understanding of life’s heights and pitfalls. Each time we choose to lament what isn’t, we close the door on the invitation to a better existence…

The experiences we are offered will fail to satisfy our expectations because we expect so much less than God has planned for us in the days ahead…

I will breathe deeply and relax. At this moment my every need is being attended to. My life is unfolding exactly as it should.”

I’ve wrestled with my faith most of my life, always too self-reliant for my own good. But as I’ve watched my daughter succumb to heroin addiction, it has been a great comfort to me to learn how to harness a newfound belief in the power of something outside of myself, something I can turn to in my despair and know that something beautiful will come out of it. And it has: my whole life, and how I choose to live it now, is a miracle.

No Casseroles

NAddiction is a terrible thief, stealing Angie away from us in the night. She had her whole life ahead of her.

There’s still so much shame and stigma in this country around it. Some people think it’s caused by bad parenting. Others say it’s a moral failure. Many believe it’s a choice.

Are they kidding? Who is their right mind would choose to stick a needle in his arm and live in the gutter like a wild animal?

If my daughter had cancer, friends and family would express sympathy, put their arms around me and ask if they could help.

Not so when it’s addiction. Many people look the other way, afraid to mention it. They’re not judging, necessarily; just keeping their distance.

 It’s the modern leprosy.