Last spring, I read a New York Times magazine that offered a veritable treasure trove of material on the topic of Maternal Guilt. First of all, the magazine featured a woman who had spent 40 years with a succession of therapists trying to overcome the wrongs she experienced during her childhood. I am not trying to minimize her childhood traumas, but she might be able to cut to the chase, saving several decades of her life and tens of thousands of dollars, by reading Tolle’s The New Earth or the Ram Dass’s classic Be Here Now, which could help her live in the moment instead of in the past.
I found the second provocative comment in a book review where the protagonist reveals that many people feel mad at their mothers because of what they did or didn’t do during their childhood. Wow, that made me feel guilty for a nano-second. But guess what? I’m not mad at my mother for my admittedly imperfect childhood. I am a Big Girl, and it’s up to me to choose how to live TODAY in light of, or in spite of, my childhood. By the same token, while mothers are an obvious cat to kick, my son doesn’t blame me for his poor choices, even thought he was clearly deprived of that most coveted Cabbage Patch doll during his formative years. He, not me, is in the driver’s seat of his life today and chooses how it reflects or rejects his past.
I much prefer the third writer, a forty-ish Tweener mom who found herself in that vague space between Jimmy Choos and Hush Puppies. As she surveyed the changing seasons of her closet, she noted that there wasn’t room in the closet for self-recrimination. That’s the approach I choose to take: ditch the hair shirt of maternal guilt and banish the whip of self-flagellation. Instead, I’m wrapping myself in a cloak of forgiveness. Did I mess some things up? Yup. I have no claim on perfection. Did I cause my child to become an addict? Unequivocally not, no more than I caused his bunions or near-sightedness. Did I do the best I could? Absolutely. That’s all he can ask of me, and that’s all I can ask of myself.
I recently unearthed a stuffed animal that I bought 26 years ago at Disney World when I was pregnant with my first child. A purple T Rex, I named him “Figment,” as in “Figment of my imagination.” Figment represented the imaginations, hopes and dreams that I had for my first-borne as I pondered what would he or she be like and how starting a family would change my world.
What hopes and dreams did I hold for Child #1 and possible successors? Certainly “ten fingers and ten toes” and “happy” were high on the list. Boy or girl didn’t matter….I didn’t even want to know their sex until they arrived. But one thing is for certain: “Become addicted to prescription drugs” was most assuredly NOT on the list.
How little influence I have over the way my list panned out—or not. Ten fingers and ten toes wasn’t up to me. My chidren’s gender wasn’t my call, nor was the temperament they were born with. And the choices they have made are theirs, not mine.
Sometimes I get frustrated as I sit on the sidelines of my children’s lives. I worry if I spot a bad mood coming….is that a storm cloud of possible relapse? I am concerned about decisions they make that seem ill-conceived or simply bad. I worry when I think that their actions or choices could backfire and hurt them. I recognize that I have some very crippling, fundamental fears about their health and safety. So who has a problem here? Me.
While the Mama Bear protective instinct never disappears, I need to constantly remind myself that my loved ones need to deal with the hand they are dealt. My worry can’t protect them, and it only punishes me.
When our lives are controlled by a loved one’s addiction, things can get seriously out of whack. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to reclaim our birthright for happiness and joy, so take a look at the New Normal:
Then: Your son complains that his back hurts. You offer him an unsolicited array of suggestions including a trip to the chiropractor, aspirin, or relaxing in the spa.
Now: You say “Ohh,” grab your towel, and climb in the spa yourself.
Then: Your daughter needs money, again.
You say “Sorry, the Bank of Mom is out of business,” and then you head off to buy yourself a little treat–a coffee, a bestseller, flowers, whatever makes you smile.
Then: Your son enlists you as his human alarm clock so he can crawl out of bed, scowl at you, blame you for making him late and race dangerously to work/school.
Now: You buy him an ear-piercing alarm clock and tell him, “Sleep tight! I love you!” And then YOU sleep in late.
The point here is to turn things upside down and to start taking care of ourselves while requiring the addict/alcoholic to manage their own affairs. Funny how that works. We start feeling better, and they start taking care of their lives, or maybe they don’t. But we no longer make it our responsibility. When we subtract ourselves from the addiction equation and add in a bit of self-care, we set the stage for a healthier family for all. I’d love to hear how you are changing the math and restoring the balance in your lives. What does your New Normal look like?
I think about Hope differently and especially with the turn of a new year. It was in the New Year, and in January of years gone by when sudden and terrible events changed my course in recovery. My sons were arrested. This time was serious. This time things would be different. My hope went from “I hope they will…” to “I hope I can …” This was not an overnight phenomenon. Over time, working the steps with a Sponsor, giving service, and attending Al-Anon meetings regularly, something changed in me.
Was it the fact my sons progressed in their disease and my humility was exposed? From an outsider, things appeared to be getting worse not better. Nonetheless, the focus of my conscience mind was no longer on them 100% of the time – Was it a result of my own growth in recovery from the family disease? More than likely it was a combination of all these things. One day I realized I was no longer consumed by them or other things I could recognize as “outside my control.” I began to get a better understanding of the disease. I gained compassion and empathy to friends and family afflicted. I could no longer lecture or give advice on other people’s matters. I had to acknowledge my limits and stick to my own experience, strength and hope.
My hope today focuses on my own recovery, reaching out to others and giving service. Maybe my experience, like those who shared their experiences before me, will be a beacon of Hope to someone else – it’s not for me to figure out. Somewhere in the recovery community I felt hope and realized it’s a unique, individual awakening and choice to live life fully. There can be joy. There can be happiness. I’m hopeful because recovery is for anyone who wants it.
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