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.

Keeping Secrets

It’s important for families to communicate well, especially where illnesses are involved. We didn’t talk much in my family, especially about the elephant in the living room, my father’s alcoholism. In those days there was so much shame and stigma, and it was swept under the rug.

Not a healthy way to deal. I always knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what. Many children are naturally egocentric, and I thought everything was my fault. I internalized all of the dysfunction and blamed myself. So that’s how I proceeded through life, feeling guilty for what was not my responsibility.

If I had been told what was going on—even later on when I could handle it— I would have gotten a healthier perspective on my family and my place in it. And I would have let go of the guilt, which wasn’t mine to carry.

Talk to your kids, no matter what. It might not change what’s going on, but it might provide a smoother landing pad for your kids later on in their lives.  “Knowledge is power.”

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.

“Recovering From Fear”

From The Forum, November, 2022:

“When I came into Al-Anon at the suggestion of a friend, my life was unmanageable in so many ways. I was unaware that living with alcoholism was involved in my broken relationships, divorce(s), several addictions, inability to be honest with myself, people pleasing, and other things I had not uncovered yet, either because of denial of lack of discovery.”

“lack of discovery…” Bingo! I feel as though I’d been living in a fog for most of my early life, only I didn’t know it. I didn’t know anything about the family disease that (I now know) was interfering with my well-being.

Where was this article—this enlightenment—when I needed it? As a younger woman I blamed myself for everything that was wrong in my life. I understood nothing about the complicated disease of substance use disorder. But twenty years of work in Al-Anon have opened my eyes. The fog has lifted and now I see more clearly. I understand why I internalized so much of the dysfunction that was happening in my family and carried the guilt myself from which there was no relief.

Not until I entered this compassionate fellowship. It is in these rooms that I found forgiveness for my parents and myself, along with critical tools to continue the healing work I was doing. The 12-Steps and the slogans, when practiced, have helped me navigate through my life. And life, itself, is a mixed bag. I’ve had joys, but also incredible sorrows. Using the teaching of Al-Anon as a guide, I’ve learned to be grateful for my blessings. And I’ve learned to accept my sorrows with grace without being destroyed by them. Learning how to put things into healthier perspective has been a gift of the program.

I have been given hope for a better life, and I’ll always be grateful that I opened my mind to some good advice: “Go to a meeting, Marilea. It might be the answer for you.”

It was. And my fears have been replaced by the certainty that all will be well, in God’s plan.

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.”

Humanity Is Changing The Face Of Substance Use Disorder

A while back a friend in Naranon shared this link with our group. I watched it and was so heartened to see how attitudes are changing across the country. This PBS special focused on a program in Seattle, WA. It is a practical and above all humane way to deal with substance users. The more we talk about alternative ways to treat substance use disorder, the more likely there will be people to bring pressure to bear on government officials and on insurance companies. And the more likely our loved ones will feel embraced with compassion and understanding instead of fear and judgment.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/chasing-heroin/

The Healing Power Of Humor

From Hope for Today, April 6:

“…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.”

Finding my sense of humor has been a reflection of how I’ve changed in recovery. I’ve worked through my grief around my daughter and continue to do so every day. But the darkness has receded. Somehow it’s not as heavy to carry as it used to be. It seems lighter. I’ve gained perspective from years of reading and writing, and listening to other peoples’ stories. Being able to laugh, and cease to take myself too seriously, has eased my journey through this frightening tunnel. I can see the light at the end of it.

At times I wondered if I would ever laugh again, but my Higher Power wanted me not only to survive but to do so joyfully. There are many other people in my world, and my recovery spills over onto them in countless ways.

Cultivating a healthy sense of humor keeps me right-sized; I stay small and HP stays big. Then I don’t get in my own way so much!

Another Perspective

“A Open Letter to My Family (from the substance user)

I am a drug user. I need help.

Don’t solve my problems for me. This only makes me lose respect for you.

Don’t lecture, moralize, scold, blame, or argue, whether I’m loaded or sober. It may make you feel better, but it will make the situation worse.

Don’t accept my promises. The nature of my illness prevents my keeping them, even though I mean them at the time. Promising is only my way of postponing pain. Don’t keep switching agreements; if an agreement is made, stick to it.

Don’t lose your temper with me. It will destroy you and any possibility of helping me.

Don’t allow your anxiety for me to make you do what I should do for myself.

Don’t cover up or spare me the consequences of my using. It may reduce the crisis, but it will make my illness worse.

Above all, don’t run away from reality as I do. Drug dependence, my illness, gets worse as my using continues. Start now to learn, to understand, to plan for recovery. Find NAR-ANON, whose groups exist to help the families of drug abusers.

I need help: from a doctor, a psychologist, a counselor, from an addict who found recovery in NA, and from God.

Your User”

 Enmeshment can be crippling: we don’t have enough emotional distance, often, to deal intelligently and effectively with the substance user. Stepping back, detaching, takes discipline and restraint. Such a hard thing to do when we’re in this emotional minefield. It has taken me years in my recovery program to act more and react less.  I need to deal from strength to be any help to my daughter. The oxygen mask must go on me first.

The Elusive Butterfly

From Each Day A New Beginning, June 18:

“’…we could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.’ ~Helen Keller

We chase after joy, like a child after a firefly…”

Yes I did, all my life, and then I changed. I stopped chasing the butterfly, not because it was a waste of time, but because my time could be better spent on other things.

In a quote from Cathy Hull Taughinbaugh’s new book, The Compassion Antidote:

“While you may feel your happiness or well-being depend on what your child does or doesn’t do, the more you can focus on yourself and your happiness the better…And the more you work on yourself, the better off your child will be—now and in the future…You will then become a role model for your child. She will see you not just as her parent, but as a strong person who can weather the storms that life throws at her.”

Our children are watching. The suffering in my family has gone on for over twenty years. But if I can turn my sadness and grief into lessons in resilience and hope for the rest of my family, then it was time well-spent.

Laughter Is Contagious

From Hope for Today, April 6:

“…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.”

Choices. Life is chock full of them. Every day when I wake up, I have a choice about how to experience my life.
 
In the past, if I was sad, I ran with that feeling. At first, I guess I needed to experience those feelings. But when I allowed them to overwhelm me, it was the author of many bad choices.

Now I choose gratitude. Why??? The problem that brought me into the rooms of recovery hasn’t changed. So what am I grateful for?

Everything else. My world isn’t defined by my problems, by what is lacking. I choose to define it with the joy of my blessings. They far outweigh my losses, and I put my focus on them. In years past it was hard to smile or feel any joy at all. Time can heal us, and now I’m glad that it can.

I’ve had an attitude adjustment, and it’s working for me. Nowadays I seek out comedy and enjoy a hearty belly laugh at a good joke. It beats feeling unhappy all the time.

My soul is dancing when I laugh.