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.

Anyone But Me

From Each Day A New Beginning, February 19:

“’God knows no distance.’ ~Charleszetta Waddles

Relying on God, however we understand God’s presence, is foreign to many of us. We were encouraged from early childhood to be self-reliant. Even when we desperately needed another’s help, we feared asking for it. When confidence wavered, as it so often did, we hid the fear—sometimes with alcohol, sometimes with pills, Sometimes we simply hid at home. Our fears never fully abated…Slowly and with practice it will become natural to turn within, to be God-reliant rather than self-reliant

There’s a joke in the Program that “our best thinking got us here (into the rooms of recovery).” And it’s so true! I joke at meetings that I’ve always been “CSR,” compulsively self-reliant.” I have been for much of my life, afraid to ask for help and even more afraid to accept it. As a child I had to rely on myself for so many things, and that became a survival strategy. But as an adult, that very façade of strength can become a terrible defect. Appearing as a formidable wall of arrogance, it only served to isolate me and separate me from my peers. I had to tear down that wall.

And when I did, when I found the courage to bare my fears and vulnerabilities and ask for help when I needed it, I found my humanity. My faith in a power greater than myself enabled me to let go of my self-reliance and join hands with others as we reached out and helped one another.

It hasn’t removed the problems from my life. But it has made facing them so much easier.

The Benefits Of Fellowship

From From Survival to Recovery, p. 19:

“Surrounded by other recovering people, we are learning how to heal our broken hearts and create healthy, productive, joyful lives…(our program) has led many of us to serenity, fellowship, and relief from loneliness and pain.”

Because of the stigma and shame surrounding all forms of addiction, many of us have kept our loved one’s problem (or our own) shrouded in secrecy. I did most of my life, and only in recent years have I dared to share my family disease with the rest of the world. I realized that until I faced the dreaded subject and learned more about it, it would continue to rule me and my family.

“It” is addiction and all of its effects and consequences. They are far reaching, especially for the family of an addict. And they can become terribly complicated as we become enmeshed in the lives of those we love. Being in the rooms of recovery has helped me untangle the mess.

That’s why a number of programs have been so valuable to many of us who suffer. We break out of our isolation and share our stories with others like us. We gain valuable perspective by listening to others. Our self-esteem soars as we see others listening to us and validating our experiences. We are offered compassion and understanding inside the rooms when it may be hard to find either of those things on the outside.

And we begin our journey toward getting our lives back when once they seemed to be lost.

 

Making It Real

Step Five: Admitted to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

 

This is an honest program, and I recognize that I’ve been lying to myself and others my whole life. Shame, stigma, embarrassment were just a few of my rationales. But the lies kept my addictions going. I didn’t have to face them if I didn’t acknowledge them.

Telling someone else was the game changer for me. Other people became the mirrors I needed for valuable feedback. And telling other people made it all real. I could no longer hide in the shadows with my defects.

Bringing them out in the open with witnesses gives us a chance to deal with our defects more honestly and effectively. Freeing myself of some of my defects is critical to my growth and recovery in the program. My defects were roadblocks for me and contributed to my drinking.

I’m glad I’ve come out of isolation and faced myself. Day by day, I’m healing and getting better.

 

 

The Benefits Of Fellowship

From From Survival to Recovery, p. 19:

“Surrounded by other recovering people, we are learning how to heal our broken hearts and create healthy, productive, joyful lives…(our program) has led many of us to serenity, fellowship, and relief from loneliness and pain.”

Because of the stigma and shame surrounding all forms of addiction, many of us have kept our loved one’s problem (or our own) shrouded in secrecy. I did most of my life, and only in recent years have I dared to share my family disease with the rest of the world. I realized that until I faced the dreaded subject and learned more about it, it would continue to rule me and my family.

“It” is addiction and all of its effects and consequences. They are far reaching, especially for the family of an addict. And they can become terribly complicated as we become enmeshed in the lives of those we love. Being in the rooms of recovery has helped me untangle the mess.

That’s why a number of programs have been so valuable to many of us who suffer. We break out of our isolation and share our stories with others like us. We gain valuable perspective by listening to others. Our self-esteem soars as we see others listening to us and validating our experiences. We are offered compassion and understanding inside the rooms when it may be hard to find either of those things on the outside.

And we begin our journey toward getting our lives back when once they seemed to be lost.