The Power Of Speaking

Deborah Meier said in her book, The Power of Their Ideas, “Teaching is mostly listening, and learning is mostly telling.”

I love this because as a former teacher I used to have it turned all around. I got better, fortunately, but then I retired. Now I’m an author and what I’ve learned about myself by writing has filled three books, essays, and poems.

I speak a lot, telling my story, mostly at recovery meetings. And when I’m not speaking to other people, I’m speaking to a piece of paper—many pieces of paper. It’s my therapy. It’s how I learn about myself.

It’s a constant practice of self-discovery, this discipline of pen to paper. I cross out, revise, change my mind, rephrase things. All this writing and rewriting helps me clarify my thoughts, my understanding of what’s real to me: what’s authentic. It’s how I learn about myself.

How I’m learning.

Continually.

It’s an ongoing process.

I find that as I keep growing and changing my writing reflects that as well. There’s nothing static about me or about my writing.

And just as the words flow out of my pen onto paper, my recovery continues to flow from my heart to those around me. It’s a real symbiosis, this relationship I have with my pen. It eases the words out of me so that I can share what I’ve learned with others.

The rare epiphany I experience is like a volcanic eruption. I had one recently, and writing and rewriting about that has taught me so much about its meaning. But mostly I’m just going with the flow of life, trying to pay attention with what’s going on with me.

So I continue to do public speaking, which is a tremendous learning experience. ”Learning is mostly telling.”  And the more I write—the more I speak on paper—the more I learn about who I am and who I’m becoming.

I just have to keep my heart open and listen.

Recovery Milestones

Excerpt from my first memoir, published in 2014. Some things change, and some things stay the same. It’s interesting to me to see the progress—or lack, thereof—of my recovery when compared to my second memoir on the same topic, published in 2020. It’s sort of like keeping journals over many years. When I look at what I wrote in my 20’s and observe what I write today…well, it’s a good way to measure how we grow and change. My path has been pretty crooked! But writing is, nevertheless, a form of self-discovery for me.

“Lately I’ve been reading a few books on suicide: Jill Bialosky’s query into her sister’s suicide; and Judy Collins’ heartfelt story about the addiction and suicide of her only child, Clark. Both of these authors consulted with the late Dr. Edwin S. Shneidman, a well-known suicidologist. His word, “psychache,” resonated with me.  From watching Angie grow into the addict she has become as an adult, I can see how that term would apply to her. If ever there was an aching psyche, it was hers, so in pain and so unable to express that pain effectively to those she loved. I often feel that drug addiction and the pain that accompanies it is a form of suicide, slow and relentless, if left untreated.

My father made attempts here and there to give up gin and tobacco.  When he had his gall bladder removed the nurses made him cough into a bag, and he was so disgusted with what came up that he stopped smoking for a while. But he never completely set aside his self-destructive behavior. It was like an old friend who reminded him of what he’d often felt as a child from an uncaring, abusive father: “You’re not good enough, not important enough.” As a young man working in the family business, he met and fell in love with my mother, who spent a good part of their marriage echoing his father’s disappointment in him. Where do the seeds of addiction take root? It’s the old chicken and the egg confusion. Was my father predestined to become an alcoholic? Or was he made one by the emotional abuse he endured? And if the latter is true, then how and when was I an emotional abuser of my own daughter?

But Twelve-Step recovery gently steers us away from questions like that; we can’t go back and do things over.  And I’m only human. I sometimes ask myself what I did wrong or what I missed seeing. Then I remember that addiction is a disease: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” And like a gentle breeze blowing away the clutter of remorse, I let go of those thoughts and embrace my life again, free of responsibility.

In any case, whatever she chose to do now, I needed to leave her alone to do it. I knew better than to scream and wail in the night to God and all the graces that protected the innocent to save my daughter. Whatever the roots of addiction are, whatever holes were missing in her that this opportunistic disease filled in, I didn’t have the power to combat them. And I just had to let go of the struggle, or I would disappear down that rabbit hole with her.”

© Maggie C. Romero, 2014. A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Weathering The Storms

From Each Day is a New Beginning, May 16:

‘It is only the women whose eyes have been washed clear with tears who get the broad vision that makes them little sisters to all the world’—Dorothy Dix

“The storms in our lives benefit us like the storms that hit our towns and homes and wash clean the air we breathe. Our storms bring to the surface the issues that plague us…Recovery is a whole series of storms, storms that help to sprout new growth and storms that flush clean our own clogged drains. The peace that comes after a storm is worth singing about.”

Growing up surrounded by substance use disorder and falling prey to the disease myself, I was in the veritable forest, unable to see the trees. My deep and overriding love for my daughter forced me—eventually— to open my eyes and see what was right in front of me. I took a large leap toward healing myself so that I could be well enough to enjoy all my blessings. As I conclude in the final chapter of my first memoir, “What could be a better testament to Angie, to all her gifts and possibilities, than to go forward with my life savoring every moment?” Many friends in Al-Anon have expressed gratitude to their substance abuser/alcoholic for getting them into the rooms of recovery— these same friends who, like me, deeply mourn the lost years with our loved one—but who, also like me, refuse to offer another victim up to the altar of substance use disorder. Many of us have made it through the storm, and have found that we have something to sing about.

As Charles Swindoll has said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it…we are in charge of our attitudes.”

“How Do I Love Thee..?”

  From my forthcoming memoir, Gene and Toots: A Story of Love…and Recovery, to be released this summer:

The lessons I’ve learned in life have brought me closer to an understanding of the mysteries of love. And it has everything to do with one of the Greek words for it: agápe. The Greeks certainly understood the difference between different kinds of love—eros, or sexual love, for example—but agápe is the word for humanity’s love for each other. My understanding of the word further leads me to an English word derived from it: agape, or open-mouthed.

           Loving between two people almost always involves an openness of mind and heart. Gene and I were hoping—this second time around—to embrace some of the lessons from our past for a greater purpose. We’d hoped to find a way to be happy together while still honoring our differences, even our whims at times.

           We haven’t always agreed on things, but we either found a way around disagreements or lay them aside to look at later, without losing our individual integrity. There were times when these disagreements were costly. But we’ve learned to look at these problems with cooler heads, figure out who is responsible for what, and try to resolve them favorably. That’s the most any couple can do when conflict arises.And because we love each other, we are determined to work things through amicably—always hoping for the win-win.

Loving can be expansive. It has the capacity to make us bigger than we were before. I was thoroughly against gardening with Gene, much less running an orchard. But over time, seeing all the blood, sweat and tears he put into it, and with such rich fruits of his labor, I began to feel swayed. By the time we moved to Camano Island, I’d opened my mind enough to work our garden with him. And I’ve learned to love it. Loving Gene transformed me into a novice but enthusiastic gardener.

Gene has showed that same openness to me and my needs. When we moved to Camano Island putting us near my son and his family, Gene left part of his family behind in New Mexico. Bridget still lives there and is happy with her life in community theater. That was no small sacrifice for GeneBut we do spend money and time to go back and visit, reconnecting with Bridget, just as we do with Patrick in Virginia and Caroline in San Francisco.

“And the learning process must be coordinated so that the actor learns as the other actors are learning and develops his character as they are developing theirs. For the smallest social unit is not the single person but two people. In life too we develop one another.” ~Bertolt Brecht

            When I met Gene, I was at a point in my life where I craved independence. And Gene also enjoyed the freedom I encouraged him to explore. This is where we were when we met, and we found the ability to remain open to the challenges we faced. Rather than running from them, we let them shape us.

           We worked hard to meet each other where we were—in our work lives, in our wilderness adventures, in our living arrangements, and in supporting our families. We learned early on that those families—whom we loved without exception—would have the ability to test us. We have walked with them through their trials—they, in turn, have helped me and Gene through ours. We can look at each other now with the certainty that we did our best for our children. And that—sincerely loving that part of each other that is separate—brought us closer together as a couple.

           Gene and I developed each other’s capacity to love well. We did our best to feed each other’s good wolf. I blossomed, in midlife, by uniting with a man who loves me the way I am, and I him. And from that foundation we both grew in our willingness to try new things, secure in our faith about the mystery of love.

  We can keep it—if we don’t hold on too tight.

Jumping Into Faith

Excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, Gene and Toots: A Love Story

“When my daughter was in trouble, my instinct was to rescue and protect her from harmful consequences. It was losing my child to the torture of substance use disorder that led me, quite accidentally, into confronting myself and the landscape of all my own inner conflict. And in so doing, ironically, it was I who came away more healed, less broken, and more able to accept—with grace—the disappointments in my life. Now, after years of recovery, I know that those same consequences might have been her best teachers. This is precisely where faith might have helped me; I didn’t have any when I most needed it.”

Memories

An old middle school friend of my daughter’s from 30 years ago found me on Facebook this week. Then she called me on Facetime from North Carolina.

“Jaime, omg, how are you? What are you up to?”

“Oh, I’ve got three boys and I’m doing well. But I’ve been wanting to get in touch with Annie.”

So I told her a short version of our story.

“I’m so sorry for the hell you’ve been going through, Marilea. Please know that I remember her to be the best kid, loyal and kind. It’s hard to believe how drugs have changed her so completely. If you ever reconnect with her, tell her I miss her and want to reconnect.”

Christmas is always hard for this mother, no matter how much recovery I have. I’m only human. But Jaime’s phone call made me feel better. It was a real time reminder that I once had a daughter who was doing pretty well in the world. She did some things to be proud of. She had friends who remember her like she was before drugs. And family.

Keeps things in perspective. We all have kids who were once doing well. It wasn’t all bad. As I decorate my Christmas tree, I proudly add the decorations she made in preschool. I remember the good times, and I smile when I look at the tapestry she made for me.

No Man’s Land

Excerpt from my first memoir, written under a pseudonym, as my healing journey began:

“Meth addicts can go for days without sleep sometimes, and then they need to crash, recoup their energy and start the cycle all over again. I went back upstairs, tiptoeing around the house, a minefield waiting to be activated by just the wrong look or comment. Most of the time I felt like a scared rabbit.

Angie came and went like a phantom between the holidays. She was a body, yes, but nothing else resembled my daughter. Her face was still healing from the burns she had gotten from freebasing crack cocaine back in October. She lost all her beautiful eyelashes then and had been wearing false ones ever since. How bizarre: false eyelashes at age twenty-two. And the eye drops—always the eye drops. She ate not at all as far as I could see, nothing from my refrigerator anyway. She was painfully thin. But, of course, meth took away your appetite. That was the point, one of them, anyway. All those years ago when I took amphetamines, I delighted in the same side effect. Life was repeating itself and I was in a time warp observing myself at the very same age. God, it was so painful.

We barely spoke. Sometimes she mumbled “Hello,” but mostly she just needed a place to crash and get her clothes…Every day was a surreal pageant, dancing around with this stranger. The terror was so disorienting that I lapsed into denial sometimes and pretended it wasn’t happening. But that was easier to do when I was working. I was on a break from school now and I couldn’t escape from it. It was right in front of me.

As New Year’s approached, I couldn’t bear it anymore. Did I snap? I hadn’t even joined Al-Anon yet, but years later I would hear a saying at meetings: “In Al-Anon we learn to trade a wishbone in for a backbone.” Amazing! I was ready to cross these frightening waters before I even had the support of the group. But I would flee, in subsequent years, to higher ground all too often, unable to navigate effectively. This was going to be a journey as much for me as for Angie, I soon found out. And like most journeys there would be many bumps in the road.”

© Maggie C. Romero, 2014. Excerpt from A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Mercury HeartLink)

Living In Abundance

“Life holds so much—so much to be happy about always. Most people ask for happiness on conditions. Happiness can only be felt if you don’t set conditions.” ~Arthur Rubenstein

All of us in these rooms have experienced substance use disorder in one form or another: in ourselves or in a loved one. Many serious illnesses are incurable, but SUD is often conquered by the sufferer. Many substance users recognize that they have the power to change if they are committed to recovery. Different people have different ways of dealing with it: some use 12-Step recovery, some use prayer, or yoga, or running, or writing things down. No one way is better than another. Whatever works for you.

Substance use disorder is painful and messy. My life was derailed because of it. But I found a way to recover—from my own substance use as well as my obsession with saving my daughter, and I got my life back.

I’m filled with gratitude every day for that. And I wish us all the same peace and joy for that freedom. I’ve learned to be happy and to make the best of things as they are. And that’s quite a lot. Gratitude keeps me grounded in recovery, and not just on Thanksgiving!

The Power Of Speaking

Deborah Meier said in her book, The Power of Their Ideas, “Teaching is mostly listening, and learning is mostly telling.”

I love this because as a former teacher I used to have it turned all around. I got better, fortunately, but then I retired. Now I’m an author and what I’ve learned about myself by writing has filled three books.

I speak a lot, telling my story, mostly at recovery meetings. And when I’m not speaking to other people, I’m speaking to a piece of paper—many pieces of paper. It’s my therapy. It’s how I learn about myself.

It’s a constant practice of self-discovery, this discipline of pen to paper. I cross out, revise, change my mind, rephrase things. All this writing and rewriting helps me clarify my thoughts, my understanding of what’s real to me: what’s authentic. It’s how I learn about myself.

How I’m learning.

Continually.

It’s an ongoing process.

I find that as I keep growing and changing my writing reflects that as well. There’s nothing static about me or about my writing.

And just as the words flow out of my pen onto paper, my recovery continues to flow from my heart to those around me. It’s a real symbiosis, this relationship I have with my pen. It eases the words out of me so that I can share what I’ve learned with others.

The rare epiphany I experience is like a volcanic eruption. I had one recently, and writing and rewriting about that has taught me so much about its meaning. But mostly I’m just going with the flow of life, trying to pay attention with what’s going on with me.

So I continue to do public speaking, which is a tremendous learning experience. And the more I write—the more I speak on paper—the more I learn about who I am and who I’m becoming.

I just have to keep my heart open and listen.

Making Amends

A few years ago I made amends to a number of people, but my three children were at the top of my list. In an excerpt from my memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation, I discover that the outcome is not always what I’d hoped for:

“Throughout Annie’s addiction, I’d been obsessed with saving her, putting my other children in the background. I needed to make some serious amends about that, as well as my neglect during their childhood and so much of their upbringing. Their response to me has been kind.

“Mom,” Carter said, “of course I forgive you.  I love you very much. But it’s better for me if I don’t dwell on my childhood. You need to stop bringing it up.”

I’m powerless to erase the parts of his childhood that cause him pain. It’s necessary to accept that he has his own ways to cope with what happened to him, and let it go.

           “Mom, it’s okay. I forgive you,” Caroline offered generously. “I get that you had stuff to deal with. Let’s move on from it. Just know that I love you now and appreciate the efforts you’re making.”

            I was not as fortunate with Annie five years ago.

I sent her an email because I didn’t have an address to mail her a letter. This was Annie’s response:

            “Your “amends”??? Sure, I could use a laugh. And by the way, if you think a couple warm, fuzzy emails ERASE the last 2-3 YEARS of you treating me like SHIT (ESPECIALLY when I’ve been doing everything you and dad wanted me to do, i.e. become financially independent), then you are WRONG. I’ve believed ever since I was in elementary school that you are a JOKE of a parent not to mention UTTERLY full of shit, and the fact that you’ve had the NERVE to email me the last 3-4  years WITHOUT apologizing for the atrocious shit you’ve done and said to me in the last couple years certainly confirms my long-held beliefs about you. Of COURSE I ended up on drugs. I had YOU for a mother.”

            When I shared this with my sponsor, she reminded me of something vital to my recovery: when we make amends to someone, we do it for the cleansing of our own souls, not for any anticipated outcome.

            It’s freeing to remember that, especially when I can still feel stung and shaken by Annie’s harsh words. I can’t do anything about the past, nor can I make her see that my attempts to help her, though often misguided, sprang from my love for her.

            And the best amends, I believe, are not even found in words. They are living amends.

            We can’t change the past, but we can try to do things differently now.

            “Step Ten invites me to grow up, to be responsible, and to make amends—all for my own benefit. I take Step Ten because I want to be the best I can be.”