Let God Do It

I raised my family with the best of intentions. I loved my kids to the moon—still do—but I also felt completely responsible for them. That’s understandable when they’re children and young adults. But at some point—and this place is different for all of us—I feel it’s important to relinquish our responsibility and allow our children to be responsible for themselves.

This gets so complicated because mental health issues so often accompany active substance use disorder. There is so much for our children to shoulder, and we want to help.

This understanding is never more critical than when our adult children struggle with this disease. If we are hampered by guilt—a truly crippling emotion—we might allow ourselves to feel overly responsible. We keep moving our own healthy boundaries to accommodate the substance abuser. This in turn puts us at risk of becoming enablers. And that downward spiral will continue—until we break free of it. It’s a hard journey we’re on, and we need help too.

”We didn’t cause it; we can’t control it; we can’t cure it.”

Sailing Lessons

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott

I grew up in Massachusetts on a lake, and we sailed every summer. Boats and water are a part of my narrative because it’s where I started my life. But it was never really smooth sailing.

Twenty-two years ago my world turned upside down. My boat capsized as I started watching my daughter tumble down the rabbit hole of substance use disorder. Mind you, I was living a wonderful life, not perfect, but whose is? I was a hardworking single mother with three kids who seemed to be doing well. Just one of millions of women doing their best for their families. And then I got tagged. Annie became another statistic.

I got sucked into a perfect storm of my own shortcomings colliding with my vulnerable daughter and her addictive character. I was utterly guilt-ridden, and that crippled me and my judgment. I enabled her far too much, cradling her in one safety net after another. I inadvertently prevented her from facing consequences and learning from her behavior.

In the end, by taking on far too much responsibility for my daughter’s illness, I had such severe PTSD/clinical depression that I felt compelled to retire. That was my bottom, when I knew I had to change my thinking and some behaviors in order to reclaim my life. Annie is a wounded soul split in half—the addict and all the life that entails; and my loving daughter. I believe with all my heart that my loving daughter would want me to survive losing her. And my survival is how I choose to honor her.

I got help in the rooms of twelve-step recovery; there are many, many of them, in every city and here on Facebook. The kind of help I received involved a lot of reflection and reframing my life. I learned not to fear looking back on my childhood, that the answers to much of my coping skills lay there. As I moved forward reflecting on my life as a young mother, I understood why I behaved as I did much of the time. And I awarded myself compassion and forgiveness for doing the best I could in difficult times.

Now I feel blessed, if only because the ground under my feet is more solid. The storms in my life have rocked me many times over the years, but I’m learning how to weather them. When we lose something as precious as a child, everyone and everything in our lives loom larger in importance. It’s a terrible irony of life that the intensity of our joy often comes to us at the cost of much pain.

I have a snapshot of me and Annie on my aunt’s sailboat many years ago just before she started tumbling away from us all. We’re both smiling, and it doesn’t make me sad to look at it. On the contrary, it reminds me of the fragility of life and how more than ever it’s important to live with intention. I think I sleepwalked through much of my early life, entirely unaware of who I was. But now, thanks to my years of work in recovery, I have learned a better way to live. We all pass through storms in the course of our lives. But they don’t have to destroy us. We can seek out healthier solutions and work them into our lives.

“We are made to persist; that’s how we find out who we are.” ~Tobias Wolf

“Freedom From The Bondage Of Self”

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 6:

“Wanting to control other people, to make them live as we’d have them live, makes the attainment of serenity impossible. And serenity is the goal we are seeking in this serenity program. In this life.

We are each powerless over others, which relieves us of a great burden. Controlling our own behavior is a big enough job…”

When I took the Third Step, and turned my concerns about my daughter over to the God of my understanding, I felt a freedom that I’d never felt before. I stopped trying to control everything so much, stopped trying to play God when that’s not my job. With this freedom comes the faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to, without any help from me. Acceptance of life on life’s terms gives me peace—and the energy to open my eyes and keep moving.

Baby Steps Lead To Bigger Ones

“First Step Prayer:

Dear Lord,

I admit that I am powerless over my addict.

I admit that my life is unmanageable

When I try to control him/her.

Help me this day to understand the true meaning of powerlessness.

Remove from me all denial of my loved one’s addiction.”

The first step is probably the most important one in assuring our recovery from the effects of another’s substance use disorder.  And it’s because I refused to take it that it took me so long to start to recover. I simply wouldn’t accept my powerlessness over my daughter’s disease. I felt as though I would be dropping the ball and appearing not to care about her. I felt that I had to do everything in my power to save her. “Power,” I realized later on, that I didn’t have.

So, deep pockets enabled me to put her through four rehabs. Deep pockets also had me paying her rent, paying off her loans, paying back the creditors she got into trouble with. All my “help” simply gave her more money for drugs. In short, deep pockets can be dangerous if used for the wrong things. She might have learned something from the consequences of her actions if I hadn’t kept getting in the way.

So yes, my life had become unmanageable. I love my daughter very much. And I kept making things easy for her. But we can enable our children to death. Now I’ve let go of all my attempts to control her and her disease.

And I feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.

Resistance Training

From In All Our Affairs, Making Crises Work For You, Surrender:

“‘Let go and Let God.’ It sounds so simple. But when our circumstances or the circumstances of those we love weigh heavily on our minds, we may have no idea how to do it. Some of us struggle with the very idea of a Higher Power. Others begin to question long and deeply held beliefs, especially in stressful times…

Many of us review the same scenario again and again, looking for that elusive answer that will solve everything, obsessively wracking our brains for something that we could do differently or should have done differently in the past…As long as there is a chance of figuring out a solution, we reason, we should keep trying…We may secretly feel that this problem is too important to trust to God, as if we had the power to prevent God’s will from unfolding by the mere exercise of our resistance. We fear that if we surrender, anything could happen—

Actually, anything could happen whether we let go or not. It is an illusion that as long as we cling to the situation we have some control…Surrender means accepting our powerlessness to change many of the realities in our lives…It means trusting instead in a Power greater than ourselves. Faith has been likened to being in a dark tunnel and seeing no glimmer of light but still crawling forward as if we did.

Though our circumstances may seem dark indeed, when we turn to a Higher Power rather than to our own stubborn wills we have already begun to move toward the light.”

“Moving toward the light…” I really love the sound of those words. What could be darker than watching my daughter self-destruct over the course of twenty-two years? How have I learned to “dance in the rain,” even as she has continued to slip away?

My resistance training at the gym has shown me that pain comes from putting resistance on the force exerted, and that has served me in strengthening my body. But my spiritual life demands just the opposite. My strong will and determination to save my daughter from substance use disorder was instinctive; it would be counterintuitive NOT to step in and interfere in my child’s self-destruction.

However, once I became educated about the nature of addiction as a brain disease, I realized that other than offering my love and emotional support, there was very little I could do. I did send her to four rehabs, which bought her some time. But my efforts were not enough. At what point do we need to make our adult children responsible for their own recovery from this cunning disease?

One Path To Peace

From One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, June 17:

“The words, ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,’ could make life so easy for me. If only I could subordinate my will to His. This is a stumbling block for so many of us: we feel obliged to apply the force of our will to our problems. No solutions can be found in this way.

‘There is a guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening, we shall hear the right word. Certainly there is a right for you that needs no choice on your part. Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into your life. Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to perfect contentment.’’ ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Especially when motivated by fear, applying the force of my will to my problems has often proved disastrous. When I rely on myself alone, exercising my own will and agenda, I have made many mistakes.

The difference now is that I have a program to guide me in my decisions. The education I’ve received in the rooms has helped me fight off some of my worst impulses: self blame, guilt, the need to cover up and over-protect, and worst of all, the ability to withstand painful abuse.

One thing has never changed, though: the unconditional love I feel for my troubled daughter. The key ingredient that has sustained me through years of self-doubt and recrimination is my growing faith in God and His will for me. Without Him, I was flailing around without an anchor. With Him in my life, I feel utterly secure that the world will keep turning as it is meant to. And I feel a peace I never felt before. There’s a lot of freedom in surrender. For me, acceptance is the key to “accepting all of life on life’s terms.”

Choosing A Life

T.H.I.N.K. (Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary, Kind)

“This day is a beautiful room that’s never been seen before. Let me cherish the seconds, minutes, and hours I spend here. Help me to THINK before I speak and pray before I act. ‘The program helps me gain the freedom to make wise choices that are good for me. I choose to put that freedom in my life today.’”

I used to be on automatic pilot, prone to old actions and reactions that were familiar to me. But I wasn’t happy. So when I began my recovery program twenty-two years ago, I learned that I can switch that autopilot off. I learned that I have choices about how I want to live.

Losing my daughter to the hellish world of substance use disorder helped bring some things into focus for me. But not until I spent a lot of time grieving for her. I tried to help her, made many mistakes in the process, but ultimately as a matter of survival, I had to let go and practice acceptance of what I couldn’t change.

I’ve done so without shame or guilt. I started to hear, faintly at first, the voices of other people in my life calling out for attention. Thirteen years ago my first grandchild was born, and that changed me forever. I was no longer just a mother who had struggled to raise her children. With the birth of both of my grandchildren, I could now start over with a clean slate. I’m not the same troubled young woman who raised my children. Now I’m a recovering grandmother with better health and a happier spirit to help raise this new generation. This is God’s gift to me, a second chance to try and live well without the demons that plagued me when I was younger.

And the beneficiaries of this second chance? Everyone who is in my life today: my remaining family, of course. But even without family, the world is a big place: neighbors, co-workers, the delivery man, the man I pass when I walk in the morning, my friends in and out of recovery, the people I sing to in the nursing home—the list is endless.

Let me open my eyes and appreciate this beautiful room that I’ve never seen before. I believe that if I look for happiness, I will find it.

Breaking The Chains

From Daily Word, May 20:

“I Celebrate The Free Spirit I Am

Sometimes I may forget to give thanks for one of my greatest gifts—freedom. I am free to believe what I wish and worship where I want. I am free to travel and free to express myself. Most important, I am free to choose my thoughts and responses.

In the Silence, I let go of fear worry and pain. I release any limiting opinions or views of myself and claim my divine potential. My heart expands with gratitude as I connect with the part of me that know no limits—my spirit self.

I affirm: I am free to choose my thoughts and responses and align my dreams with the highest good. I rejoice in the presence of unbounded Spirit in me and claim my infinite potential.”

For much of my life I suffered from depression, and I didn’t know how to be free of it. I just resigned myself to feeling sad much of the time and filled in the hollowness with food and drugs and alcohol. Working the Steps in several 12-Step fellowships has given me the tools to look at myself, work on things that were getting in my way, and point me in a positive direction. I can choose to do this work or I can choose to be the unhappy person I was for so long.

I’m free to choose. And I choose joy.

Rising Above Fear

From The Forum, November, 2022:

“Connecting with My Spirituality”

“Amid chaos, when I most need to find relief and serenity, it can be difficult to slow down and use the tools of prayer and meditation. Even when I can’t still my mind, meditation can help me steer it in the right direction…Meditation helps me to be mindful instead of mindless in all aspects of my life…Mindfulness isn’t limited to techniques like sitting cross-legged, reciting a mantra or focusing on my breathing. It’s about noticing my default mode and realizing that I have choices. It’s a slowing down that grounds me and gives me a sense of opening and expanding, of pushing back against the walls and gaining space. It’s the opposite of pressure and fear.”

My default mode: fear and panic. Slowing down and recognizing the source of my fear helps me get a handle on it. Then mindfulness: I draw on my program and examine my choices about handling that fear. What can I do? Do I have any control over the source of it?

My 44-year-old daughter is in the clutches of substance use disorder. She has been in and out of recovery for twenty-two years. She is not in recovery now. That might make me fearful without my recovery program.  What can I do about her? She’s in charge of her own life. I wish I had the power to change it. I don’t. Believe me, I’ve tried. After years of managing my fear and anxiety through enmeshment, helicoptering, and people-pleasing, I’ve learned that those means are unhealthy. They give me the illusion of being close to her and “helping,”  which has always backfired. It just kept her learning from her mistakes and growing. So now I have let go. I know that I can only love her. And staying in that positive space removes my fear and makes my life more enjoyable.

Fear has the potential to bury me. Loving sets me free.

Living In Grace

Grief and sadness are heavy. They weigh us down. Are we aware of the heavy backpack some of us are carrying? Remorse, anger, resentment, rage, disappointment and loss. That negative space is like a black hole. It’s dark and we can’t see clearly. “Our thinking becomes distorted…”

It’s been hard to let go, even of the pain and abuse, because it was my only connection to my daughter. I wanted to stay connected at any cost. But it was hurting me. I realized that I was sinking into that black hole, and then I reversed course. I didn’t want to throw my life away as well. I had too much else to live for.

I’m okay now, mostly free of the feelings that were burying me. I guess I’ve had some survivor’s guilt, but that’s faded, too. It’s been a rough twenty-two years, but life goes on in spite of the challenges. My recovery program has been a guiding light in helping me live a better life. Living in grace diminishes my pain and anger. It softens my edges.