“God, Grant Me The Serenity To Know The Difference…”

From Each Day A New Beginning, March 23:

“’On occasion I realize it’s easier to say the Serenity Prayer and take that leap of faith than it is to continue doing what I’m doing.’

Most of our struggles, today as in the past, are attached to persons and situations we are trying forcibly to control. How righteous our attitudes generally are! And so imposing is our behavior that we are met with resistance, painful resistance. Our recourse is now and always to ‘accept those things we cannot change, and willingly change that which we can.’ Our personal struggles will end when we are fully committed to the Serenity Prayer.

‘The wisdom to know the difference is mine today.’”

Oh yes, the wisdom to know the difference…how often our egos get in the way of living well. We want what we want when we want it! We want our substance abuser to give up drugs and come back to the living. If only that choice were in our hands…

But it’s not. Only substance abusers have the power to reach for their own recovery…and we have the power to reach for our own. That has been my choice for several years now, and I’m learning to be happy despite losing my daughter to the living death of heroin addiction.

A good friend told me that ego is what separates us from God and each other. Ego (Easing God Out) is often our enemy and keeps us from the serenity we so desperately long for. So I’ve learned to turn my pain over to God (Step Three), to “let go and let God,” and that has made all the difference in my life.

One Day At A Time

Being able to live one day at a time, one of the basic tenets of the Twelve-Step Programs, used to be a challenge for me. How could I live my whole life in just the next twenty-four hours—without fear or projection? That was a tall order. But particularly for substance abusers it’s necessary to live one day at a time. Life happens—every day—and too many stresses can occur in a mere twenty-four hours to throw us a curve and beckon us back into our addictive behavior.
If we limit our vision to the day at hand, it’s easier to stay focused on our sobriety.
Early in my Twelve-Step study, I often tormented myself looking at my past mistakes because I’d felt I had it coming. “What goes around comes around,” and all that wrathful noise about divine retribution. But I don’t believe God has anything to do with my self-punishment because I believe that He is benevolent. And now I can “look back without staring” if I keep my focus on the present and remind myself that done is done, but today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Not dwelling on what happened yesterday, not worrying about what hasn’t happened yet, and having the gratitude to appreciate the colors of the sunrise today, or a kind gesture from someone, or a good meal, or a good night’s sleep—I’m always sending God thank you notes—I don’t know who else to thank! The ability to do this with an open heart is one of the many rewards this Program offers us.

The Spirit Coming Alive

“The idea of God is different in every person. The joy of my recovery was to find God within me. “ ~Angela Wozniak

One of the promises of 12-Step recovery is that we shall learn to be “happy, joyous and free.” I like the free part best. For too many years I’ve been chained to my own human failings. I never understood with such clarity my own defects and limitations until I started to work this Program. I was so lonely and isolated. But when I came to believe after much trial and error that I was in fact powerless over substance use disorder—mine, my daughter’s, and anyone else’s—I fell to my knees and turned this struggle over. And I felt so much lighter. Now, at last, I was off the hook. I’ve turned over all the lost years with my daughter and turned my attention to things I can control now. And that has given me the freedom to focus on other things.

My spirituality is based on three factors: far less EGO (Easing God Out), humble acceptance of whatever my lot is in life, and the vision to appreciate every day for all the good that I can see and experience. In this way, the principles of this Program have changed my life. It’s really great to be alive, and for so many years my life was utterly joyless. That’s the power of the spirit coming alive in me through my spiritual Program.

Something To Leave Behind

My shell collection is extensive and surprisingly sturdy. I’ve dragged them around with me from all my travels over the years. But I’ve run out of space to display them. And I wonder why I’ve collected so many. What have they represented to me? Maybe the assurance that something of me will be left behind.

Ego. Such a fundamental part of the human condition, the very thing that makes me human. And it’s my ego that has the power to separate me from God.

It’s ego that keeps me struggling in my relationships, ego that keeps me from accepting things as they are and feeling content with what I have. Ego and my willfulness beneath it that traps me in my restless search to outdo myself and others.

And it’s ego that makes me want to leave an imprint in the sand.

All human beings wrestle with ego, but substance users have found a solution that elevates them from their soul sickness: losing themselves in substances and behaviors that provide oblivion for a time. “We want what we want when we want it.” That tired old phrase smacking of egocentricity and immaturity.

Substance users in their disease are all about themselves. In Alcoholic’s Anonymous, one definition of an alcoholic is an egomaniac with low self-esteem.

To be “relieved of the bondage of self,” as the Third Step Prayer states in the Big Book, I’m learning how to nurture a relationship with God and remember my place in relation to him.

My importance is next to nothing in the scheme of things. This keeps me right-sized and humble.     

I’m just another grain of sand on the beach.

© Marilea C. Rabasa, 2020. Excerpt from Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation (She Writes Press).

The Power Of Our Thoughts

“Thoughts become things: choose the good ones.”

It seems logical, doesn’t it? Why would we choose negative thoughts? Well, sometimes it’s all we know, what we learned growing up. It’s been our default setting. And, as my sponsor always used to say, “How’s that been working for you, huh?”

Not well, of course. And it wasn’t until I did a lot of work in recovery that I actively started challenging my thinking. For example, the guilt trip:

“It’s all my fault. I didn’t raise her right.”

Another one: the fear trip:

“OMG, look how she’s destroying her health!”

Another one: the responsibility trip:

“She’s not capable. Only I (my love, my wisdom) can fix her.”

All this tripping did not help me, and it helped her even less.

How can I move my erroneous thinking into a more positive space?

the guilt trip:

My mothering didn’t cause this. It’s a disease. And why are my other children well-adjusted?

the fear trip:

Many substance abusers go into lasting recovery, motivated, among other things, by their own fear.

the responsibility trip:

Only she has power over her disease and has the power to recover from it. It’s totally up to her.

When I move my sometimes faulty thinking to a more sane and reasonable place, it’s much easier to live my life. I can accept what I can’t change. I can surrender to the will of my higher power. This is not giving up. This is understanding my own power and using it to dig out of my despair and arrive at a better place, one filled with faith and hope for better things.

Recovery.

Hope For The New Year

From Hope for Today, April 20:

“For me letting go is like a tree shedding its leaves in autumn. It must let go of them to produce even more beauty in the following spring and summer. Letting go of what I do not truly need—whether it be old thoughts, things, or behaviors—makes room for new growth in my life.

Turn that problem over…Then begin to do something about your own life.”

My sponsor told me to “loosen my grip.” How many of us white-knuckle it through life? Holding on to old ideas, old destructive habits—because it’s all we know, all we’re comfortable with? Like holding on to my need to save my daughter from her substance use disorder. The Serenity Prayer encourages me to let go, with grace, of the things that I cannot change. The disease of substance use disorder is one of those things. So I’ve learned to let go. And I’ve found peace in my life—and gratitude for all that remains.

Happy New Year, everyone! May we all find some wellness and joy in 2024.

Holiday Thoughts

They come every year, this time from Thanksgiving to Christmas. I have many, many years of memories around my children at this time of year. Most of them were so happy and full of excitement. Then about twenty years ago the curtain fell down. My middle child fell into the rabbit hole we all know so well—substance use disorder—and a shadow was cast over my once carefree holidays.

So I, along with many of my fellow travelers on this journey, began to live with the reality of our families under a terrible strain, felt even more keenly at this time of year. And my journey has been a long one, with many bumps in the road. But the lessons I have learned about living with substance use disorder are invaluable and have filled three books!

No one would choose to learn about life and the power of letting go of some things in this way. It’s not like planting a flower in the garden, watching it flounder, and saying, “Oh well, we’ll plant another one next year.” These are our children who are floundering and they cannot be replaced by anything—not next year, not ever. And because of the heartbreaking truth of that, I clung to my grief, as though letting go of it would be disloyal to my daughter. I was forgetting for the moment other sources of joy that are equally important and help to balance my sense of loss.

And therein lies the key to my recovery: gratitude for what remains. My sense of well-being and serenity has been hard won, that’s for sure. Early on in my grief I made myself sick with exhaustion and worry. But I see now that it was a necessary bottom from which I could recover if I kept an open mind. I would be able to recover if I saw that I was powerless over my daughter’s disease, which reflected her bad choices. If I could believe in a power above me that could remove me from this burden, and carry it for me, then I would feel lighter and open my eyes to all the blessings life still affords me. I am blessed, and I have the good sense to see that now.

Joyfulness is a song of the angels. And I have learned to sing again, surrounded by other children, grandchildren, my partner of thirty years and a multitude of friends. “Life doesn’t always give us everything we want. But to make the best of things as they are is the only way to be happy.’ ~Jenny Jerome Churchill

Happy Holidays!

Chasing The Butterfly

From Each Day A New Beginning, July 19

‘At fifteen, life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.’—Maya Angelou

“We had to surrender to a power greater than ourselves to get where we are today. And each day, we have to turn to that power for strength and guidance. For us, resistance means struggle—struggle with others as well as an internal struggle.

Serenity isn’t compatible with struggle. We cannot control forces outside of ourselves. We cannot control the actions of our family or our co-workers. We can control our responses to them. And when we choose to surrender our attempts to control, we will find peace and serenity.

That which we abhor, that which we fear, that which we wish to conquer seems suddenly to be gone when we decide to resist no more—to tackle it no more.

The realities of life come to us in mysterious ways. We fight so hard, only to learn that what we need will never be ours until the struggle is forsaken. Surrender brings enlightenment.”

Surrender is not transactional. It’s not submission. It’s freely giving up our wills to a power who is smarter than we are, a power who has our back. Surrender is like wearing a loose-fitting garment. It’s easy, comfortable, and doesn’t restrict me to my own demands. It is, as the third step prayer tells us, “freedom from the bondage of self.”

Acceptance and surrender. Peace and serenity await me there.

A New Kind Of Freedom

From Each Day A New Beginning, November 25:

“’Change occurs when one becomes what she is, not when she tries to become what she is not.’ ~Ruth P. Freedman

Learning self-acceptance, and then loving the selves we are, present perhaps our two biggest hurdles to the attainment of emotional and spiritual health. Fortunately, they are not insurmountable hurdles. The program offers ready assistance.”

Well, learning to be comfortable in my own skin has been a lifelong process for me. But not until I found 12-step recovery did I discover such a well-conceived plan to achieve that. Before I found a way to recover from substance use disorder—my own and my daughter’s—I wore masks to conceal how unhappy I was. It all started with me in an unhappy childhood. But I don’t dwell on any of that anymore because it represents the beginning of my problems, not the solution to them. I think it can be self-defeating to remain stuck in the past because I can’t do anything to change it. But I can, with effort, keep laser-focused on the present and paying attention to what I can do something about.

“Learning to love all our parts, the qualities we like and the traits that discouragingly hang on, offers a new freedom. A freedom that invites change. A freedom that safeguards the emotional and spiritual well-being that we strive for.”

The Yin and Yang Of Living

From Each Day Is A New Beginning, November 19:

“’Experience is a good teacher, but she sends in terrific bills.’ ~Minna Antrim

Our longing for only life’s joys is human—also folly. Joy would become insipid if it were our steady diet. Joyful times serve us well as respites from the trying situations that push our growth and development as women…Joy and woe are analogous to the ebb and flow of the ocean tide. They are natural rhythms. And we are mellowed by their presence when we accept them as necessary to our very existence.”

Recovery has mellowed me. My growing faith has taken the sting out of the loss of my daughter. I was angry, self-destructive, heartbroken, and guilt-ridden…the list goes on. But that path was leading me nowhere.

One day I woke up with a bright light shining in my face. It was warm and melted away my rough, icy edges. A voice was calling to me; I think it was one of my grandchildren and she said, “I’m right here now, Bela. Look at me! See, I’m wearing the dress you gave me. Please come to my recital!”

I went to her recital and many others afterwards. And I learned that my mother’s heart could be filled up over and over again by these children and so many others. The heart has a great capacity to renew itself and heal. Acceptance of that which I cannot change has helped. And listening to the voices of others—long silenced in me—ring loud and true now as hope for the future.

All will be well.