Oh My, How Hard It Is To Change!

Oh My, How Hard It Is To Change!

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 8:

“’When people make changes in their lives in a certain area, they may start by changing the way they talk about that subject, how they act about it, their attitude toward it, or an underlying decision concerning it.’ ~Joan Illsley Clarke

…Each positive change we make builds our self-esteem. Realizing that through our own actions we are becoming the kind of women (and men) we admire, gives us the strength, in fact, encourages the excitement in us that’s needed to keep changing…

I will accept an opportunity today to act as if I can handle a situation I used to run from.”

I was desperately unhappy when I joined Al-Anon. I was sure that my misery was caused by my daughter and her substance use disorder. It didn’t occur to me that it was my reaction to those circumstances that was the culprit. But when, after years of struggle, I finally did accept that I was the author of my own unhappiness, I was ready to do some of the real work of the program. Many people write me: “But what made you WANT to change?” I answer them all the same way: “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired” (of myself).

My daughter has gone in and out of recovery from SUD. My recovery, in recent years, has followed a different trajectory. And the key, of course, is being able to cut the umbilical cord and recognize that we are on separate paths.

That’s very hard for most parents, myself included. But when I see the damage that comes from NOT detaching, from staying mired in old resentments, old guilt, old unresolved stuff, I am reminded to let the past go and stay in the here and now. “Annie,” deep in her disease, has consistently tried to keep my focus on past errors, in order to justify her rage and distract her from what she needs to do now to get well.

But that’s the illness talking. I don’t take the bait anymore. I don’t engage unless it’s on a healthy level. Why not? Because it keeps us rolling around in the mud. And that’s not productive.

For a long time I welcomed rolling around in the mud. But not anymore. That’s one of the changes in myself that I’ve enjoyed. With my history, my self-esteem has always been shaky. But the tools of recovery help me learn how to adopt new attitudes about myself. And as the reading suggests, this is most often accomplished by making positive changes in my behavior.

When I do good things, they return to me tenfold. I may not get everything I want in my life. But for me to get up every day and say to myself: “You know, Marilea? You’re okay. You’re a work in progress. You just keep doing things that reinforce that self-directed goodwill, and you’ll be okay.”

Life is unfolding as my HP intended, and all will be well.

The Eyes To See

Substance use disorder doesn’t discriminate. Before Annie was swallowed up in it, she was a successful gymnast, age ten, competing in England while we were living in Greece. She was a gifted artist. And she graduated from college with a B.A. in Journalism. When she was 21, it all fell apart. Why speculate on “Why Annie?” Rich, poor, educated or not, SUD can strike anywhere. And sometimes there is a gene component—four generations in my family—but not always.

The particular poignancy of this mother’s story is that Annie and I mirror each other: we both suffer from substance use disorder. So my story has a bit of a spin to it. It’s all graphically portrayed in my books. I’m not as detached as many parents without such baggage. My guilt and overinflated sense of responsibility consistently got in the way of any objectivity or of my acting intelligently. I had to let go of my remorse before I could be helpful to her. And I had to learn to value myself enough to do that.

That came from working the steps of my recovery program. Self-forgiveness is critical to my ability to move on. Mine has been a classic redemption story.

I have learned to live well, despite the fact that my daughter is estranged from me. Many fellow parents, myself included, are primarily interested in the magic bullet that will save our kids. But I’m glad I stayed around long enough to learn that even though I’m powerless to save my daughter, I can still save myself. There are other voices in my world who call me: other kids, grandkids and many friends. I want to listen and live well for them. That is the message of my story and many others’: that even though I’m weathering a parent’s worst nightmare, I’ve learned that there’s no glory in martyrdom, and that I’ve earned the right to live happily, whether Annie recovers or not. Life goes on, and we with it. I’ve lived a blessed life, and only through my work in recovery have I found the good sense to recognize and be grateful for that.

As I’ve watched Annie slipping away all these years, I’ve learned to view my life through a different lens. The tools of recovery have taught me how to be grateful for what I have, how to let go of people and situations that I cannot change, and to have faith in something greater, wiser, and more powerful than I am. Losing my child to substance use disorder did break me a few years ago, and in my brokenness I turned toward the light that had always been there. I’m so grateful that I still had the eyes to see it.

Getting Unstuck

From Hope For Today: September 5:

“…In Step Four I realized I was stuck in the past. My daily thoughts were usually about plans for the next day, week, or even month. I always anticipated tomorrow to the point where it became my today. I’d get so caught up in what I was going to do that I often wasn’t aware of what I was doing now.

After realizing this character defect and asking my Higher Power to remove it, each day I have is usually better than the one before. I give thanks for the little joys in each day. I still make plans, but I don’t let my thoughts erase the present. Anticipation is sweet, but not at the cost of today.

When I look back on this in the context of alcoholism, I understand why I behaved as I did. With all the awful happenings at home, there were many today’s I didn’t want to experience. As a child, I had limited options, so the best way to escape was to flee into the possibility of a better tomorrow. I have different choices now. I know enjoying my day and doing the right thing for myself and my Higher Power is the best plan for an even better tomorrow. Thought For The Day: Just for today I choose to enjoy all this day has to offer. If I don’t like the offering, I’ll ask my Higher Power to help me adjust my attitude.”

Attitude IS everything. I grieve the loss of my daughter like everyone else who faces this cruel illness in their child or loved one. But I can try to transform it into something that works for me. Gratitude does that. And it infects those around me. In the most uplifting way!

Sometimes good things are born out of loss. When I see all the recovery in all these rooms, my eyes are bearing that out. God Bless us all at this trying time of the year. May we all find some peace to carry us through to the New Year!

The Freedom Of Recovery

From Survival to Recovery, p. 25-26:

“Unless recovery is found, blame, guilt, anger, depression, and many other negative attitudes can go on for generations in a family affected by alcoholism…Focusing on ourselves actually allows us to release other people to solve their own problems and frees us to find contentment and even happiness for ourselves.”

We all have different stories of how substance use disorder has touched our lives. In my life, guilt was a constant theme from very early in my childhood, and, as I said in my memoir, “Guilt is a terrible crippler.” It crippled me, especially, when my own child mirrored the user in me and morphed into a worse and more dysfunctional user than I ever was. Guilt and self-blame put me at risk in setting and enforcing boundaries, in becoming an enabler, in shielding Annie from the logical consequences of her behavior. In short, guilt kept me from parenting my daughter intelligently and kept me stuck in a hole. Fortunately I found recovery and release from my own remorse, much of it misplaced, which in turn is freeing Annie to live her own life and solve her own problems.

Whatever happens in the days ahead, I won’t be burdened under a cloud of shame that isn’t  mine to carry.

The Power Of Choice

I am not a victim, but an active participant in my own life. I learned the 3 A’s in Al-Anon: awareness, acceptance, and action. Those are three very loaded concepts.

Awareness requires some honesty and courage, the willingness to look in the mirror and face one’s reflection—sometimes good and sometimes not; it also requires an alertness to what’s happening around me.

Acceptance asks us to recognize the difference between changing what we can and what we can’t, which is really huge and really hard for most ordinary humans like myself.

Finally, action asks more courage of us to make changes—rendering our lives happier and more productive.

I may be an adult child, but I’m growing up. I will take responsibility for my own life, for my successes and my failures. In this way I feel empowered, no matter the outcome, to be the star in my own show.

“I don’t want to wake up one day and find I’m at the end of someone else’s life!”

God’s Love

From Each Day a New Beginning, November 1:

“’Love and the hope of it are not thing one can learn; they are a part of life’s heritage.’ ~Maria Montessori

Love is a gift we’ve been given by our Creator. The fact of our existence guarantees that we deserve it. As our recognition of this grows, so does our self-love and our ability to love others.

High self-esteem, stable self-worth were not our legacies before finding this program. We sought both through means which led nowhere. These Steps and our present relationships are providing the substance and direction needed in our lives to discover our worthiness.

Had we understood that we were loved, in all the years of our youth, perhaps we’d not have struggled so in the pain of alienation…”

Happiness surely is an inside job. And it’s in several 12-Step fellowships that I have learned to treat myself with kindness and dignity. I’ve turned my new self inside out so that it’s visible to the world. It colors all of my relationships. No matter what happens in my life, I trust in the goodness of my Creator. All will be well.

In this excerpt from my award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation, I come to the same realization: I am a child of God, and I am worthy of love. All good things will flow from there.

                                                         Grace

            “While working at Harvard back in 1972, I spent a lot of time at a particular thrift shop in Cambridge. Making only about six thousand dollars a year, I was grateful to have acquired a taste for second-hand merchandise.

For twenty dollars, I bought a large print of Maxfield Parrish’s most famous painting, Daybreak, mounted in a handsome frame. Something stirred in me as I caught the alluring blues in an obscure corner of the shop where someone had placed the painting. It has held a prominent place over every bed I’ve slept in since that year.

             I am the woman lying on the floor of the temple, one arm casually framing her face, shielding it from the sun. Columns support the temple and there are leaves, water, rocks and mountains in the background, painted in tranquil shades of blue.

            Bending over me is a young undressed girl. I am in conversation with her. My face feels warm and I’m smiling. The setting in this picture is one of absolute calm, beauty, and serenity.

           That has been my ever-present wish: to be as watched over and cared for, as it appears that woman was.

           All my life, though I wasn’t always awake and aware of it, I have been.”

Today, In Fact, Is All We Have

Spending too much time regretting my past mistakes and/or fearing what may happen in the future keep me from looking at what’s right in front of me. But the present moment is all that’s real and something I can hold onto. So I will try to be present and attentive to what’s going on right now. That’s how I can relish what’s good in my life and enjoy the ride.

I’m not sure why “Just for Today” has always been difficult for me. I was either weighed down with guilt and regret about past mistakes, or else I was frantic with worry about the future. No wonder I was miserable! I do have so many things to feel grateful for. But before recovery, I barely recognized them. It’s like I was living in a dark hole of my own making, and this went on for years without the proper intervention.

To be honest, I went through some “survivor guilt.” How could I be reaching for recovery while my daughter was in such a bad place? But after much step work and learning to forgive myself and treat myself with compassion, I accepted that it would serve no one if I lost myself in substance use disorder as well. There are other people in my life who need me whole and healthy.

And so, I make a choice every day to move forward and do the best I can with what I’ve got. The loss of a loved one doesn’t have to bury me. It can be my teacher. God works in mysterious ways, and I’ll never understand his reasons. But I don’t have to.

That’s where my faith comes in. I believe that something good can come out of pain and suffering. Today I live soberly, with the grace of God, and happily.

That’s something.

Opting For Peace

From Each Day A New Beginning, April 18:

“I maintain my struggles with righteous behavior. They lose their sting when they lose my opposition. I will step aside and let God.”

Somewhere in the readings, someone wrote ‘Pain is not in acceptance or surrender; it’s in resistance.’ It’s much less painful to just let go and have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. There’s a reason that my Higher Power is running the show the way he is. I’m not in charge; I just have to get out of the way.

I also read somewhere the difference between submission and surrender: submission is: I’ll do this if I get XYZ; it’s entirely transactional. Surrender, on the other hand, is unconditional acceptance of what I get in life. Well, the latter is easier because I’m not holding my breath waiting for the outcome. I just let go – and have faith. Again, it’s a very conscious choice.

We can get bogged down in semantics. But each day as I go about my routines, I pray to keep Spirit close in all my affairs. For a long time I had an adversarial relationship with my Higher Power because I needed to be in control. My self-will was running rampant. I was white-knuckling my way through life. And getting very sore knuckles.

It’s been such a relief to learn how to surrender without feeling like I have failed. In some other places we are called warrior moms. And that very term says that we must do battle. Well, we have been, in some of the most painful ways. I have many battle scars, along with my brothers and sisters in these rooms.

At some point, embracing the idea of acceptance became my only option if I wanted any peace in my life. I will always love my daughter, and I tell her so. She has options, too. I can only pray that she exercises healthy ones someday.

In the meantime,  though, I take comfort in accepting realities that I cannot change. Lord knows I’ve tried. Haven’t we all?

Surrender

From Each Day A New Beginning, January 9:

‘The Chinese say that water is the most powerful element, because it is perfectly nonresistant. It can wear away a rock and sweep all before it.’ —Florence Skovel Shinn

“Nonresistance, ironically, may be a posture we struggle with. Nonresistance means surrendering the ego absolutely. For many of us, the ego, particularly disguised as false pride, spurred us on to struggle after struggle. ‘Can’t they see I’m right,’ we moaned, and our resistance only created more of itself.

Conversely, flowing with life, ‘bubbling’ with the ripples, giving up our ego, releases us from an energy that heals the situation—that smooths the negative vibrations in our path. Peace comes to us. We will find serenity each time we willingly humble ourselves.”

‘Resistance is more familiar. Nonresistance means growth and peace. I’ll try for serenity today.’

I wrote in my first memoir toward the end: “This is where I was in my recovery as I left San Francisco, at that hard won place I’d fought through years of resistance to find: the end of the battle—acceptance.”  That’s what the above reading is all about, I think. Letting go of my desperate need to save my daughter from her substance use disorder, and coming to accept that I simply don’t have that power. I can only love her.

What could be harder for any parent than to accept our powerlessness over our child’s substance use disorder? Yes, there are many things we can do to help, not the least of which is continue to love our kids unconditionally. My experience has taught me, though, that when I make decisions out of fear, I risk making bad choices. When my actions flow from a place of love, including love of self, all will be well.