A Mother’s Story
In this month that celebrates mothers, I’d like to celebrate a memory of my daughter, Annie (Angie in this book). She was just 22 when 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 substance use disorder hijacked and transformed her.
I’m grateful for the good years I had with my daughter.
I love her.
“When Angie came out of that first rehab, she made me the most beautiful gift.
‘Mom, I’m not quite finished with it. I just have a few more flowers to cut. You’ll need to find a 17-by-22-inch frame to mount it on. Sorry it’s such an odd size. Guess I wasn’t thinking. I copied it from one of my Chinese art books. I hope you like it!’
Right now it’s hanging in my room for me to see. Over the years I’ve taken it on and off the wall, hidden it in a closet, too painful for me to look at. Maybe it’s a sign of my recovery. Now I can leave it on the wall, look at it, and appreciate all the work she put into it. This was her way, I believe, of telling me she loved me and she was sorry, not for getting sick, but for what that sickness drove her to do to me. She never, ever, was able to express her feelings easily with words. So she showed me, in countless ways, as she did once in December 1993.
“Where the hell is that $300 I put away for safekeeping? If you kids want any Christmas presents, you’d better help me find it now,” I shouted, panicking at the thought of losing my hard-earned cash. I was so scattered sometimes. I was perfectly capable of misplacing it.
“Found it, Mom! Don’t you remember when you hid it in this book? Well, here it is. Aren’t you glad I’m as honest as I am?”
“Yes, Angie, my darlin’ girl, I am. And thank you!”
Years are passing by, and sometimes it’s hard to remember her as she was. But when I look at the tapestry she made, I remember:
Angie had a fascination for all things Asian—Chinese, Japanese, it didn’t matter. She loved the grace and flow of much of the artwork. She copied a simple series of flowers. But she did it not with paint or pencil or pen; she cut out every pistil, not completely detailed, a few sepals in place, the rest scattered, all the ovaries in different colors for contrast, every leaf, in varying sizes and colors, every stem, and glued it all together on a piece of gold cloth. It looked just like the picture in her book.
I treasure this gift she made. The tapestry is twelve years old, and sometimes a petal comes unglued and I have to put it back on. I should put it under glass to preserve it. I wish we could put our children under glass—to keep them safe.
I would soon discover, though, that no matter what I did for Angie it would never be enough to protect her from the illness that was consuming her.”
From A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pen name) (Amazon)
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.
God Is Everywhere
We Do Recover
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has said: “I’ve studied alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and more recently obesity. There’s a pattern in compulsion. I’ve never come across a single person that was addicted that wanted to be addicted. Something has happened in their brains that has led to that process.”
I picked up my tools for recovery in various 12-Step fellowships, which are at times controversial. I was reading in “Psychology Today” an article addressing this controversy. Here’s the link:
I honestly think that I could have picked up some of these life lessons anywhere; Al-Anon doesn’t have a lock on teaching gratitude and acceptance. The fellowship just happens to be where I gained some tools to change my attitudes and try to live better. I learned in more than one program how to take responsibility for my own happiness and how to stop searching for validation outside of myself. I’m happy to be a member. But this is an interesting article, and explains why many people still shy away from 12-Step programs.
“Do whatever works for you—“ that’s my motto.
“We are all broken; that’s how the light gets in.”
“This journey of mine, this parenting journey, would involve going two steps forward sometimes and then three steps backward. It was not vertical progress I was making, but it was progress. And strangely, the more I kept the focus on myself and striving to be happy, the easier it was to let go of my child. I knew I had paid my dues, and I feared no one’s judgment, least of all God’s.
I’ve railed at God many, many times during all these years of joy and pain, this God they speak of at Twelve-Step meetings. How many times had I sinned in my life? Many, more than I want to remember. And so the child in me had been sure, earlier on, that I was being punished for all of them. It was my karmic payback. “What goes around comes around,” etc. Indeed, for all of my life, before my breakdown, I had no faith in any thing or any one other than myself. I grew up very lonely and isolated, and if there was a god, he wasn’t paying any attention to me. So I learned to be very independent and self-reliant.
But when I finally found myself on my knees, I felt broken and whole at the same time: broken because my MO for dealing with my problems hadn’t been working; and whole because I finally let myself believe in something outside of myself to strengthen me, to fill in the gaps that were missing in me, and to help me cope. I was starting to develop and cling to a faith that assured me that I was not being punished and that I would be OK in the end, no matter what happened to my daughter. And I realized that fighting Angie’s battles for her was not only a waste of time; it was also useless and of questionable value.
My energies, spent though they were, would be better directed toward reclaiming my own life, which had been sorely compromised in the fight to save my daughter. And in reclaiming my own life, I was bidding for my redemption, long overdue, but just within my reach. This was my journey now, I knew it; I sadly accepted it. I wanted us to be connected but we weren’t. I wanted her struggle to be our struggle, but it wasn’t. I wanted to save her life but I couldn’t. I could only save my own. And I’d keep working at it—or this relentless disease would claim two more victims instead of one.”
From A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (pen name)
My story with Annie has always been a complicated one. A number of moms I’ve met in these rooms are double winners, like myself, and that reality only made my recovery work harder. And lengthier! This excerpt demonstrates how I was dealing with my daughter from a terribly weak position. And until I dealt with my own issues, I would be in no position to intelligently cope with hers.
Enjoy this poignant excerpt. It’s a window into my life before I surrendered to a power greater than myself, before I began reaping the rewards of my own recovery.
My (Old) Achilles Heel
Guilt has been a huge stumbling block for some of us in recovery. This is true because it keeps us stuck in the problem rather than in the solution.
I, too, have struggled with multiple addictions. So when my daughter mirrored my behavior, I was stunned to see her becoming a worse version of myself. The heartache was so real, and so deep, that I carried the responsibility for it. And that miscalculation crippled my judgment in numerous ways, ways in which I knew better. But I was still stuck in the problem.
Gratefully, I’ve become more educated about substance use disorder. It’s a brain disease with many moving parts, both physical and emotional, and with the cooperation of the user, it is highly treatable. But full recovery rests there, in the hands of the suffering addict. There is much we in the family can do to help and encourage, ways to show love and support without drowning ourselves. But we do not have the power to cure our loved one.
I am so heartened by what I’m learning about SUD recovery. More family involvement, love and support can make all the difference to a struggling family member. It encourages me a great deal to see substance use awareness moving in a more positive direction. Someday shame and stigma will be relics of the past, and SUD sufferers will be treated more effectively, with intelligence and compassion.
And guilt, one of the most useless and harmful emotions there is, will be kicked to the curb.
The Many Faces of Gratitude
Though nothing can restore the years we’ve lost with Annie, I feel more and more able to embrace the life around me and revel in the gifts I’ve been given. On my gratitude list this morning: “I thought the rose bush was dead, but a little more water and it’s come back.” Simple things—
How is it possible for me to be grateful, even, to Annie, whose illness brought me into the rooms of 12-Step recovery? How is this possible?
My unsent letter to my child:
Ironic, isn’t it, that you have become my teacher and not the other way around—teacher of life, teacher of love, and beacon of surrender.
I’m so grateful that you were born, even though at times I’ve felt otherwise. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he? Though you haven’t been in my life long, and not always happily, it’s been your very existence that has propelled me into a serenely spiritual life, even happiness. I never would have done the work necessary to reach this place without your inspiration.
You are my child, my teacher. As I’ve stumbled on this rocky path, my thoughts of you have guided me; they guide me still.
All that I’ve become are gifts from you, my daughter: life lessons, trial by fire. How do I honor you?
By living well—By loving well.
I Am a Child of God, and I am Worthy
From Each Day A New Beginning, CAL, November 2:
“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 and stable self-worth were not our legacies before finding this program…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.”
This vignette, entitled “Grace,” from my award-winning memoir, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation, affirms my realization that I am a child of God, worthy of love:
“While working… back in 1972, I spent a lot of time at a particular thrift shop… Making only about six thousand dollars a year, I was grateful to have acquired a taste for secondhand 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 spotted 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.” @2020Marilea C.Rabasa
God, in all His magnificence, has always loved me.