“’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.
Almost twenty-two. That’s a lot of time to live with substance use disorder in my child. It’s a third of our normal lifespan. So much time lost to the battle of this relentless disease. Some win the battle and some do not. No matter what “approach” we eventually embrace, some of our children will not make it. We can look for answers in hindsight, second guess ourselves ad nauseam. But to what purpose? Acceptance is what enables me to still get out of bed every day.
At first I was in denial. My kid? No way! This sort of thing happens to other people’s children. I was disabused of my arrogance and complacency pretty early, though, when she brazenly stole my identity—twice. That’s when I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
I got tough at first. I kicked her out, frantically wondering what would become of her. I felt like a moth turned into a butterfly for the moment, like I was taking charge. I was definitely giving her the message to shape up or lose her family. Little did I know at that point that many in the disease couldn’t care less about family.
Oh how this butterfly would flutter and die in subsequent years, as I backtracked over and over again, trading in my courage for equal doses of martyrdom.
This was all characteristic of my disease, of course. My inability to let go of my own guilt and responsibility (which she played on whenever I let her), my needing her in my life at all costs (the martyrdom of the ATM machine), and still thinking that I was her Higher Power. I’m her mother. It’s up to me to save her. Well, that’s bunk, of course. If she had terminal cancer, I wouldn’t be putting myself through all this. When will the world accept that SUD is a complicated brain disease? When will we look on these people with compassion and not crucify them with shame, stigma, and isolation? Do we do that with cancer?
My daughter did go to four rehabs, all of them using the 12-Step approach to recovery. She told me afterwards that she was an atheist and could not buy into it. There are a few other approaches as well, Smart Recovery for example. But whether or not substance abusers accept any form of recovery has everything to do with their willingness to change what they’ve been doing. The willingness to let go of the high they get from drugs. The willingness to face the demons that made them seek numbness and oblivion from pain in the first place.
My daughter has played hide and seek with recovery all these years. She’s had periods of remission that we all celebrated as a family. She was a reader at her brother’s wedding in 2009, for example, and I was sure we had her back then. How could she go back out when it was so clear to her on that joyful occasion what she would be giving up?
But within two years, she was gone again, sucked into the belly of the beast in the underworld of San Francisco. I haven’t see her since May, 2012. Yes, she’s alive. She reminds me of her presence every once in a while with a barrage of emails, blaming me for everything. This is her disease.
So, clearly, my daughter lacks the willingness to do the interior work necessary to disempower the disease that has taken control of her. And if I am to have any peace in my life, I must accept that. She may decide to come back to the living—the willingness to change—but if she does it will be primarily because she wants recovery for herself, and less about me wanting it for her.
I can only pray to accept God’s will for her—and for me.
A few years ago in one of my support groups in New Mexico, a friend shared how she had to lock everything up in her house. She’d lock the jewelry here, the silver there. She had a different key for every place, and one time she was so flummoxed by her son that she lost all the keys! We laughed together at that one, grateful that we still could laugh. This is what it comes to for many of us parents. We erect walls to protect ourselves, keeping the substance abusers out. And then, of course, we feel guilty about doing that.
My daughter used to steal valuables from my home in order to sell them for drug money. It was safer, she thought, to steal from me than from a store. She already knew what an enabler I was; but she was still a thief. And even though her disease pushed her onto the wrong path, she still should have paid the consequences if she was going to learn and mature.
They will work us, manipulate us, and use every tool in their arsenal to get what they want if they’re still using. Parents are so vulnerable, and they’re walking a fine line between helping their child recover, and enabling them to continue using. We learn eventually to sit frozen in inaction, to do nothing. We learn to let our loved ones be accountable for their own actions, and hopefully learn from the consequences (eviction, jail, death). But it’s that last consequence that holds us hostage, keeps us doing for our addict all that he should be doing for himself. We say to ourselves, ‘As long as he’s alive, he can recover.’ True, but when will we ever get rid of our God-like parental power, thinking that his recovery is all up to us?
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.
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?
“’Life does not need to mutilate itself in order to be pure’. ~Simone Weil
How terribly complicated we choose to make life’s many questions. Should we call a friend and apologize or wait for her call? Are the children getting the kind of care they must, right now? That “we came to believe in a power greater than ourselves” is often far from our thoughts when we most need it.
Our need to make all things perfect, to know all the answers, to control everything within our range creates problems where none really exist. And the more we focus on the problem we’ve created, the bigger it becomes.
The program offers us another way to approach life…We can learn to accept the things we cannot change, and change the things we can—with practice.”
My recovery requires hard work. But the result is beyond what I had ever imagined. White knuckling my way through life only made me miserable. I’m glad I chose to let go of my need to always be in charge and chose to have faith in something greater (and smarter) than me.
I will practice acceptance today. I will loosen my grip on the elements of my life and feel the color coming back to my knuckles. And the world will keep turning.
From Each Day A New Beginning, Karen Casey, CAL, August 20:
“’Everything in life that we really accept undergoes change. So suffering must become love. That is the mystery.’ ~Katherine Mansfield
Acceptance of those conditions that at times plague us changes not only the conditions but, in the process, ourselves. Perhaps this latter change is the more crucial. As each changes…life’s struggles ease. When we accept all the circumstances that we can’t control, we are more peaceful. Smiles more easily fill us up. It’s almost as though life’s eternal lesson is acceptance, and with it comes life’s eternal blessings.”
This is a hard one for me. Hard because, like many people, it is hard to accept the pain of loss. Like a recent amputee, I miss what’s not there. I miss my high school job; I miss my daughter; I miss some friends who have passed.
And at times I resist. I go into fighting mode where I refuse to accept. But that place is not peaceful for me. It stirs up feelings, long set aside as harmful: guilt, longing, even at times the wish to punish myself.
Whoa! This is why I need my recovery program, to keep me, first of all, on the road and secondly, charting a healthy course. It will do me no good to dwell on the pain of my losses. But it will help me grow a great deal if I can accept them with grace and try to let go of the pain. It will lead me to love.
There are joys in my life that clamor for my attention. That I still have the heart to embrace them openly, not as a consolation, but as emerging gifts worthy of my full attention, is how my grief leads me to a place of love.
Acceptance is the answer for me. It prevents me from getting stuck, and gives me the freedom to move forward.
“As we let go of obsession, worry, and focusing on everyone but ourselves, many of us were bewildered by the increasing calmness of our minds. We knew how to live in a state of crisis, but it often took a bit of adjustment to become comfortable with stillness. The price of serenity was the quieting of the constant mental chatter that had taken up so much time; suddenly we had lots of time on our hands and we wondered how to fill it.”
I’ve learned how to “be still in the stream.” Obsessing over my daughter and living in all her drama was threatening my health. I was suffering from severe PTSD and endured many other negative consequences in my life as a result of my constant worry over something I couldn’t control.
So, I took the first three steps in my recovery program. It was hard to do that because I felt that letting go was giving up on my daughter, not loving her enough anymore. But that’s not how I feel now.
Once, not so long ago, she was a loving daughter to me, a college graduate with her whole life ahead of her. Then, like the great cosmic crapshoot that afflicts millions of families, she fell out of her life and into substance use disorder. She’s been lost to us all for a long time now.
But my daughter, not the substance user that lives in her body, would want me to reclaim my life as I have, and learn to be happy.
I believe this with all my heart. I love my daughter. And love always wins.
From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, November 28:
“The idea of God is different with every person. The joy of my recovery was to find God within me.” ~Angela L. Wozniak
Well, there’s a thought…and how empowering! Too much do I rely on the outside world for kindness and goodness and strength. When I don’t always get those things, I feel vulnerable. We’re all flawed human beings, and we don’t always give or receive what’s craved in the moment. All the more reason to maintain a wellspring within ourselves—one of faith and hope for better days.
Isolation is not the answer for us who are in recovery. But neither is too much dependence on how we interact with others. We have to face life’s inevitable disappointments. I try hard to keep my expectations in check, do what I can to make a positive difference in the world, and then let go. I can’t control other people, places or things. But I can try to remain a steady force in my own life and those closest to me.
My recovery has taught me how to manage my ego and remember how small I am in the scheme of things. I have to muster humility in order to take the first three steps (the “God” steps), and humility is knowing my place in relation to God’s: a very small one, like the grains of sand on my beach. Every day I have the ability to marshal my thoughts and inner resources so that I’m not thrown off balance by what’s happening in my small world or in the world at large. All I can do is use the tools of the program as best I can. And, for me, that means keeping God close in my heart and relying on His strength as I watch what’s happening in the world. We all have the power to find peace amid the storms swirling around us. Blessings to all my sisters and brothers!
From Hope for Today, Al-Anon approved literature, January 7:
“One of the first Al-Anon sayings I remember hearing, known as the three C’s, embodies the concept of powerlessness over alcoholism: ‘I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.’…
’I didn’t cause it’ relieves me of any lingering guilt I may feel: ‘If only I had been a better (fill in the blank), (fill in the blank) would not have become (fill in the blank).’…
’I can’t control it’ gives me permission to live my life and take care of myself…
’I can’t cure it’ reminds me that I don’t have to repeat my insane behavior over and over again, hoping for different results.
I don’t have to search for the magic cure that isn’t there. Instead I can use my energy for my recovery.”
When we love someone caught in the trap of substance use disorder, we want to do everything possible to help. That’s only natural. In the beginning of my daughter’s illness, she enjoyed periods of sobriety, and I gave myself a lot of the credit because I was so supportive. Then, over time, her life went south and she went out again. And I was left to feel “What did I do wrong? I’ve been so supportive!” Again, over time, I learned in MY recovery group that her illness had nothing to do with me. And her facing down her demons and reclaiming her life was even less of my responsibility.
That’s where the rubber hit the road for me. That’s where I had to do the most difficult: lean into acceptance, let go of my own daughter and pray she finds her way back home. A friend who’s not walking in my shoes used to chide me, “Don’t just sit there; DO something!”
Well, I’ve done all I can. Maybe the seed of recovery will sprout in her. But for now, I choose to let go and let God. And I realize there’s a lot of strength in surrender.