The Talk

From Living Sober, AA World Services, Inc., p. 49:

“Many of us, when drinking, were deeply sure for years that our own drinking was harmless. We were not necessarily smart-alecky about it, but when we heard a clergyman, a psychiatrist, or an A.A. member talk about alcoholism, we were quick to observe that our drinking was different, that we did not need to do any of the things those people suggested. Or even if we could admit that we were having a bit of trouble with our drinking, we were sure we could lick it on our own. Thus we shut the door against new information and help. And behind that door, our drinking went on, of course.

Our troubles had to be pretty dire, and we had to begin to feel pretty hopeless before we could open up a little bit and let in some fresh light and help.”

Not all of us reach the same bottom, of course, before we decide not to drink. For many, it’s that first (or third) DUI. It could be lost employment for others. I’ve seen a couple of people with late-stage alcoholism awaiting liver transplants. Hopefully more and more alcoholics will decide to quit long before that happens.

My bottom cut me to the core and maybe that’s why I haven’t wanted to drink since. My son and his wife had an intervention with me. They called me out on my habit of drinking alone in their basement, something that I thought I was getting away with. Didn’t I think they’d notice all the empty vodka bottles? That and the fact that I was being secretive about it were red flags. Shame and secrecy all play into the denial that enables us to keep up bad habits.

I was stunned and deeply ashamed. And only because I’d had many years of work in another 12-Step group did I have enough recovery to stay in my chair and listen to their concerns. They were concerned about their children, my grandchildren, and the danger of drinking and driving. But most of all they were concerned about me, keeping me safe and alive long enough to enjoy watching them grow up.

I am so grateful to my son for stepping in. He saved my life. My own father was just a couple years older than I am when he died prematurely from alcoholism and smoking. History does not have to repeat itself.

When my children were young, I was not always emotionally present for them. To feel my son’s forgiveness now and to see his concern for my welfare is incredibly gratifying to me. I’ve been given a second chance and I want to take advantage of it. How many people get do-overs like that?

Mother’s Day in the Time of Coronavirus

I am a blogger for The Addict’s Parents United. The sequel to my award-winning first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, will be released by She Writes Press on 6/16/20. This is an excerpt from Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation:

         “Several years before I attempted to make amends to Angie, she was in her last rehab in California. It was 2009, and I flew across the country for Parents’ Weekend. After excitedly showing me around the grounds, she bumped into a couple of new friends.

         “Hey, Angela, show us more of those moves.”
        My daughter still enjoyed showing people what she had been able to do as a gymnast in Greece. 

         “Sure.” Proud of her agility, she showed us, among other things, a backward twist that must have been difficult then. She wasn’t ten anymore.

            As she leaned backward toward the floor, her hair fell back; I saw the scar again and wondered how she’d gotten it. She must have had an accident to have sustained such a deep gash around her hairline in the middle of her forehead.

When Angie was a child, she looked like a beautiful mandarin doll. She’d always had a thick pile of bangs to frame her oval face. But her hair didn’t fall that way anymore because of the scar, and she hadn’t been wearing bangs for several years. I remembered the picture of my children from J. C. Penney’s one Christmas in Miami, her pretty brown eyes accented by her thick bangs.

Seeing her then in rehab, I focused on her bangs. How much I missed seeing them on her! What mother doesn’t mourn her child’s innocence and wish a painless life for her?

            The last time I saw her, for Mother’s Day in 2012, I was in a San Francisco motel near the hostel in the Tenderloin where she was staying. She was to spend a night with me and had a key to the room. It was five in the morning when I heard her unlocking the door, and I jumped up to open it.

            “Hi, Mom. This is Pontus.”

            “Hi there,” the much older man said as he offered to shake my hand.

            “Hello, Pontus. Angie, please come in now so I can go back to sleep.”

            “Sure, Mom. See you later, Buddy.”

            I have a picture of her sitting on my bed the next morning, her terrier, Loki, on her lap; she was never without him. Her hair was pulled to the side and held with a clip, exposing the scar.

            She looked so strange—like someone else—without those lustrous bangs. But of course she was . . . someone else.”

Eight years. Some digital contact in all that time—most of it unpleasant. I’ve often said in my commentary over the years that an addict, after long periods of using, seems split down the middle: the child we raised, and what remains after years of substance abuse.

I’ve hoped for the happy ending so many of my fellow mothers are blessed with. I’m so genuinely happy for them, and I hold a fervent wish in my heart that their addicts continue to enjoy sobriety. But many of us have not been so fortunate. And many mothers have buried their children. So how do we move forward with our grief and loss?

Together, for one thing. Together we are stronger. Talking openly about it, putting an end to the shame and isolation. There is strength and empowerment in our ability to stand tall and add our voices to the others out there. Substance use disorder—this is hard to believe—is even more on the rise now. As a result of all the forced isolation in the time of coronavirus—isolation which is a substance user’s worst enemy—a few mothers I know have found themselves frustrated and saddened  to watch their children falling back into the rabbit hole. I pray their relapses are short-lived and they are able to get back to living their lives without using substances to cope.

I think of my Angie on this Mother’s Day, 2020. I don’t know how she is. I sent her an email, telling her how much I love her and I hope she’s well enough to survive another day. The email didn’t bounce back. If she’s still with us in San Francisco, that’s good, because where there’s life there’s hope.

We all have different stories with our children; some are happy and some are sad. This is just my story. But I know that I was the best mom that I could be, and I believe that most mothers are. Because of that stirring belief, I’m proud to celebrate myself and all of you on Mother’s Day, this year and every year. We have more than earned a place in that fellowship.

God Bless Us, Every One Of Us Mamas!

“One Day At A Time”

Involvement in the world of substance use disorder is overwhelming, whether I’m a substance user or love one. So when I try to do things on a daily basis, and not for the rest of my life, getting through every day seems more manageable.

I am not able to multitask. Not at all. If I try to do two things at once, neither of them gets done. I’m just not able to juggle two things at once. So I make a lot of lists and I try to manage things simply, doing one thing at a time. This process has taught me a lot of patience, if only because the rest of the world is screaming at my back to hurry up! So—with difficulty— I tune them out, listening to my own drummer.

The pressures of living are out there, relentlessly telling me to do this or finish that. It takes discipline to ignore the ads, the competitive wars I unconsciously wage against others, and proceed at my own pace—often just putting one foot in front of the other. This is more necessary than ever in pandemic mode.

Living for this day only—yesterday never happened and tomorrow is just a dream—keeps things remarkably simple and uncomplicated. I’m also, consciously, learning to set healthy boundaries, where I recognize my own needs as they bump up against the needs of others, figuratively, not physically! It’ll be a while before I bump up against others.

Oh brother! Life is so complicated. That’s why I make an effort to “Keep It Simple”! 🙂

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 eighteen years ago, I learned that I can switch that autopilot off. I learned that I have choices about how I want to live.

Losing Angie 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 did so without shame or guilt. I started to hear, faintly at first, the voices of other people in my life calling out for attention. Ten 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 (on hold for the foreseeable future! L)—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 joy, I will find it.

We’re Good Enough

From Each Day A New Beginning, by Karen Casey, December 1:

“’And it isn’t the thing you do, dear, it’s the thing you leave undone which gives you a bit of a heartache at the setting of the sun.’ ~Margaret Sangster”

A quality many of us share, a very human quality, is to expect  near perfection from ourselves, to expect the impossible in all tasks done. I must rejoice for the good I do. Each time I pat myself on the back for a job well done, my confidence grows a little bit more. Recovery is best measured by my emotional and spiritual health, expressed in my apparent confidence and trust in “the process.” This is especially true now, in the middle of our national health crisis, as we learn to put aside our egos, sometimes staying at home, in the interest of protecting others.

Creeping perfectionism is a strange form of self-sabotage. At first it seems like such a good and healthy attitude. But setting realistic goals and doing my best to achieve them is very different from placing unyielding demands on myself and feeling “less-than” if I fail to meet them.

It all boils down to being honest and knowing myself as I am, not as I think I should be. Knowing myself and coming away liking myself—well, for many of us that’s a process that takes a long time. Holding onto realistic aspirations can be a healthy thing. But demanding perfection of myself and worse, punishing myself when I fall short, is not healthy. It’s a bitter tyrant holding a whip at my back.

Strong language, yes. But not as strong as the sting of that whip on my back. I’m happy to be free of it. I love my recovery fellowship where I’m just one in a community of equals, where I can mess up and they love me anyway. I’ve grown up in the rooms all these years and I’ve learned to love myself, warts and all. This is where I found my humanity. I am truly blessed and happy to be alive, now more than ever as we join elbows 🙂 to strengthen our communities. Thank you, HP!

Sometimes, Loving Is Enough

From Hope for Today, Al-Anon Family Group, Conference Approved Literature,August 14:

“Holding on to anger, resentment, and a “poor me” attitude is not an option for me today…Remembering that alcoholism is a disease helps me see the person struggling beneath the burden of illness.”

It’s so simple to give in to anger. Losing a loved one to addiction is pure hell. I’ve cried out against everyone: God, all those who stigmatize and judge addiction, all those who shun my daughter as though it’s contagious, and myself, too, for my misguided attempts to help her by enabling her behavior.

Many years in the rooms of recovery have opened my eyes and my heart to the “new realities” of addictive disease. When I was growing up, I thought drug addicts wore tattoos and rode motorcycles. And of course they had to grow up in poverty.

When my daughter became an addict, I was sure she would snap out of it. But I was wrong. This disease doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anybody.

The American Medical Association has helped by declaring addiction a brain disease. Now that I know my daughter has an illness, there is no room for blame or judgment. There is no room in my heart or mind for anger. I can only feel great compassion for her. And I will always love her.

It’s as simple as that.

Breathing Lessons

From Each Day A New Beginning, September 16:

“When working the steps we are never in doubt about the manner for proceeding in any situation. The steps provide the parameters that secure our growth. They help us to see where we’ve been and push us toward the goals which crowd our dreams.”

Many times in recovery meetings people refer to us all as shipwrecked human beings. I like that metaphor because it reminds me that we are all together on that ship, all part of the same human race, triumphing sometimes, often struggling, but together. We are never alone.

But there is much division around the topic of addiction. Much of the problem arises from semantics: is addiction an illness that strikes, like cancer, without permission? Or is it a moral failing? That simple question lends itself to hours of discussion; whole books have been written about it; bloggers have exhausted themselves going back and forth in the argument. I used to enthusiastically participate, certain that I was making valid points here and there.

It’s the “here and there” that finally derailed me as I was hyperventilating on this fast-moving train of rhetoric. In the final analysis, does it really matter what it is? Getting caught up in all the arguments just kept me from putting my focus where it belonged. I needed to get back to self-care. And stepping back. And taking a breath.

How we navigate our lives together on that ship is as varied as the shells in the ocean. Twelve-Step work has a lot in common with many other forms of spiritual recovery, some of them organized religions. I might well have learned many of the principles elsewhere. I happened to learn them in Al-Anon. But this recovery program doesn’t have a lock on the ideas of acceptance of things we can’t change, or on surrender to something bigger and smarter than we are. Those ideas are found in many places. I go out of my way to avoid the “R” word, but don’t we all seek peace and serenity in our troubled world?

The tools we use strive toward the same goal. When I try to keep my eye on the ball, I don’t get embroiled in discussion that leads nowhere. We need not be divided. We all pray for the same miracles, the health and wellness of ourselves and our loved ones. When I remember that, I feel as though we are all part of the same solution.

Remembering Angie

Today is my daughter’s 40th birthday. She made this tapestry for me after her first rehab. She was always interested in Oriental art and designs. I think the simplicity fascinated her.

For a long time I couldn’t look at it. In my early recovery, I was still wedded to the “If onlys.” But over time, I’ve learned to let go of “might have beens” and accept what is.

I hang the tapestry proudly on my wall now. It’s one of many of my happy memories of her. I had twenty-one years with her as my daughter before addiction hijacked and transformed her.

I’m grateful for the good years I had with my daughter.

I love her.

Laughter is Contagious

From Hope for Today, April 6:

“I also used humor as a manipulative tool to get people to like me. …My sense of humor wasn’t spontaneous or appropriate. I used it to please people. When no one was around to please, however, I was miserable…

Today my sense of humor is a natural reflection of who I am. I experience the world through smiles and laughter rather than through bitter smirks. I share joy with others rather than seek company for my misery. I help others heal rather than attack them. I allow my sense of humor to unfold naturally, just the way it was meant, and I watch the wonderful results as my Higher Power works through me toward a higher good.”

Life goes On, And We With It

“The greatest gift we can give one another is rapt attention to one another’s existence.” ~Sue Atchley Ebaugh

Happy New Year to my grandchildren. If ever there were a reminder of grace, it’s in the face and voices of my son’s children. “We love you, Bela!”

May the new year continue to teach me that focusing on one’s blessings is the best way to live well.