Beach Combing

I have a huge collection of shells that I’ve amassed over fifty years. But I’ve pretty much stopped collecting because I have no more room to put them! It’s time to enjoy what I have. And to wonder what they’ve represented to me all these years.

Ego. Such a fundamental part of the human condition, and yet the very thing that makes us human and separates us from God. It’s ego that keeps us struggling in our relationships, ego that keeps us from accepting things as they are and feeling content with what we have. Ego and our willfulness beneath it that traps us in our restless search to outdo ourselves and others.

And it’s ego that makes us want to leave an imprint in the sand.

All human beings wrestle with ego, but addicts have found a solution that elevates them from their soul sickness: losing themselves in substances and behaviors that provide oblivion for a time.  “We want what we want when we want it.” That tired old phrase smacking of egocentricity and childishness.

Addicts in their disease are all about themselves. In Alcoholics Anonymous, one definition of an alcoholic is an egomaniac with an inferiority complex..

To be “relieved of the bondage of self,” as the Third Step Prayer states in the Big Book, I’m learning how to nurture a relationship with God and remember my place in relation to Him. My importance is next to nothing in the scheme of things. This keeps me right-sized and humble. I’m just another grain of sand on the beach.

Learning to live beyond ego has been one of my biggest challenges. And, like all my work in the school of recovery, there is no graduation.

I line up all my conches and other shells, like students in a classroom, mindful of what they are teaching me.


The Path To Peace

From Each Day A New Beginning, August 19:

“‘…to have a crisis and act upon it is one thing. To dwell in perpetual crisis is another.’ Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Exaggerating the negative element in our lives is familiar behavior for all too many of us.  But this obsession is our choice. We can stop at any moment. We can decide to let go of a situation that we can’t control, turn it over to God, and be free to look ahead at the possibilities for happiness…Perhaps we can learn to accept a serious situation in our lives as a special opportunity for growth first of all, but even more as an opportunity to let God work in our lives.

Serenity is the gift promised when we let God handle our lives. No crises need worry us. The solution is only a prayer away.”

In my recovery program we are quick to replace the word “God “with “higher power.” A tree, the sunset, a friend—anything but me, because “my best thinking got me into the rooms.” The point of this reading is Step Three: turning our crises, burdens, whatever is too much for us, over to another being who is stronger and wiser than we are.

It took me a long time to take this step because I thought I was strong and wise; I didn’t know how to rely on others. My faulty thinking was: I’d better be able to handle all this cuz who else has ever helped me when I needed him?

Fortunately, I’ve learned to change my attitude about many things, including my ability to handle my life which wasn’t working for me at all! I’m grateful to have been unhappy enough, desperate enough, and finally open enough, to consider other options toward living better. And one of the most critical ones was turning an unbearable situation over to a higher power. The weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders, and I found a new freedom. I began to focus on my own happiness and well-being—because without it I wasn’t much use to my other loved ones.

Recovery has been all about self-care—from letting go of guilt, to putting an end to enabling, to accepting what I can’t change.

I do this because I’m worth it.

“Let Go And Let God”

“In Al-Anon, letting go and letting God means exchanging the finite, narrow limitations of our own self-will for the infinite wisdom of our Higher Power. We turn our lives over to the Higher Power’s care, confident that in God’s time, solutions to our problems and relief from our pain will come to us.

The lily symbolized this slogan and was inspired by the biblical passage that tells us:

‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’

By making the Twelve Steps a part of our lives, learning to trust God’s will, and practicing program principles in all our affairs, we continually renew our faith and achieve our own special beauty as our serenity grows.”

My life is so much simpler when I let go of things and people I can’t control and turn the struggle over. What had been weighing me down is lifted from my shoulders and I feel lighter, more at peace. This frees me to live my life better, unencumbered by negative thoughts for which I have no solutions.

Life can still be good for us; it’s all a matter of perspective.

Finding The Courage To Change

“Sixth Step Prayer:

Dear God,

I am ready for Your help

in removing from me the defects of character

which I now realize are an obstacle to my recovery.

Help me to continue being honest with myself and

guide me toward spiritual and mental health.”

This is the step that separates the men from the boys. Four and Five ask us to look at our defects and share them with someone else. But we still need to find the willingness to remove our defects of character. You’d be surprised how many of us cling to our faults, including me. They often serve a purpose, sometimes twisted or mysterious. The pain from our defects is at least familiar to us, and removing them can be unsettling. Step Six is about readiness, willingness.

My partner and I have a farm. We till the soil, add fertilizers, coffee grounds. We ready the earth for growing in the spring. That’s what Steps 4-6 do. They ready us for a kind of personal revolution, a change in ourselves. Change is very hard work. We are what we are for a reason. And letting go of our faults, which serve some function, can be hard. But I ask myself as I prepare to take this step if I need these defects anymore. Do I need them to be happy? No! Do I want to be happier? Yes! Then it’s time to shed some of my self-protective armor.

It might be that glass (or six) of wine at the end of the day. It might be our stubbornness, our need to be right all the time. It might be the misplaced guilt we cling to telling us it’s our job to save our loved one.

I pray for the willingness to let go of whatever is getting in my way and preventing me from being happy. I want to be the best I can be.


If I am overwhelmed, I may be trying to do too much. Today I will try to “keep it simple.” “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Another reason to let go…

Taking (My Own) Inventory

“Fourth Step Prayer:

Dear God,

It is I who has made my life a mess.

I have done it, but I cannot undo it.

My mistakes are mine and I will begin a

searching and fearless moral inventory.

I will write down my wrongs,

but I will also include that which is good.

I pray for the strength to complete the task.”

When I joined Al-Anon fifteen years ago, I was miserable and desperate to save my daughter from self-destructing. But I was also guilt-ridden and felt overly responsible for the mess her life was in.

Because I was inclined at that point to be overly hard on myself, I did not take this step properly. I focused exclusively on my defects and ignored my strengths. If I had had a program sponsor I would have received the proper guidance. But it took a very long time for this CSR (compulsively self-reliant) Al-Anon to admit she needed help in getting help. “My way or the highway…” Uh, huh, no wonder I was getting nowhere. Fortunately I did finally start to get it and come out of my isolation. It’s been a miraculous journey ever since.

What I love about this step is the inherent balance and demand for honesty. There are few shortcuts to telling the truth. We can hide and distort and rationalize all we want. But brown eyes are brown, no matter how much we want them to be blue.

Facing ourselves in the mirror on a regular basis takes discipline. But for me it’s been the best way to change and grow. As I continue to work on this step, I feel less vulnerable to life’s inevitable challenges. And I’m particularly less vulnerable to the manipulations of others, including my addict.

This is an honest program, and I’m grateful to have discovered the ability to look within. “Happiness (truly is) an inside job.”

The Boomerang Of Enabling

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 addicts out. And then, of course, we feel guilty about doing that.

My daughter Angie 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 addiction pushed her onto the wrong path, she still should have paid the consequences if she was going to learn and mature. But I let her get away with it.  I deeply regret that.

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 addicts be accountable for their own actions, and hopefully learn from the consequences: eviction, jail, or 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?

Let Go…And Strive To Be Happy Yourself

Third Step Prayer:

God, I offer myself to thee

to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.

Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness

to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love and Thy way of life.

May I do Thy will always!”

My willfulness has always been my Waterloo. But I never saw it as a bad thing. I saw it as strength, determination, and power—the opposite of weakness.

But I’ve had to modify my will and determination to save Angie. After years of using my strong will and stubbornness to fight a battle that wasn’t mine to fight,  I’ve learned to let go. From well-meaning friends over the years, I’ve heard these comments:

“But how can you drop the ball like that? How can you give up on your own child? She’ll think you don’t love her anymore! How can you be so cruel?”

Those people need to walk a mile or two in my shoes.

The cruelty belongs to the Monster (if it had an appearance), the brain disease, that is claiming millions of our children. After years of educating myself about the nature of addiction, I have settled on my own path to recover from the effects of this illness.

I have  no more power to cure Angie of her addiction than I would have if she had schizophrenia. Drug addiction and co-existing mental illness is very common, and there are many treatments out there. My daughter suffered from depression for years before she turned to hard drugs, and she tried therapy and antidepressants when she was just a teenager. Then when full-blown drug addiction took over, she was in and out of recovery, including four rehabs, for fifteen years. But she’s still out there, in active addiction.

My story with my daughter isn’t unique. Many of us share the same tragedy. But if I’ve learned one thing from all these years of chaos and pain, it’s that life is too precious to waste. I want to make the most of mine with the years I have left. I’m grateful now to make good use of my stubbornness and determination: to live well and strive to be happy.

Resistance Training

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 fifteen 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 Angie from drug addiction was instinctive; it would be counterintuitive NOT to step in and interfere in my child’s self-destruction.

But 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. Once or twice would have been enough to show her the tools of recovery. At what point do we need to make our adult children responsible for their own recovery from this cunning disease?

I will let go of my strong will to save Angie and trust that God has a bigger plan. I have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to—and in God’s time. In my view, faith and acceptance go hand in hand.