Transforming addiction and alcoholism into spiritual growth

This is an “encore” post from Eliza

I’ve been reading a book called Sacred Moments, Daily Meditations on the Virtues.  The back of the book describes it better than I can:  “The virtues such as honesty, generosity, love, discernment and trust dwell inside all of us.  They are our link with the Divine, the best parts of our character and the highest qualities of our humanity….The virtues help us to know who we are and what we can be.”

This book was given to me by a mom student in the anatomy class.  She mentioned to her classmates that her young son had been killed several years ago by a drunk driver while riding his bike home from a Little League game.

This ethereal mom walked a walk of tremendous grace, compassion and humanity.  There was not a bitter bone in her body over her son’s loss; instead, she continues to dedicate her energy to transforming sorrow into strength, pain into growth, and fear into trust.  She teaches a Virtues class every six months to introduce the concepts to our community, but she lives and breathes the virtues with every step.

When I am tempted to throw a Pity Party for the missteps and damage done along the way, I will reflect on this brave mom, do my best to follow in her footsteps, and spin straw into gold.

Addiction and alcoholism: a dark room were negatives are developed

1431793_97522247 resentmentIt’s been said resentments are the dark rooms where negatives are developed. This conjures up a great deal of truth about resentments – all negative. For me, it always came when my sons did not do what I expected and when it really mattered. I usually had a financial or emotional investment in the action I was anticipating. Commonly defined as an emotional feeling resulting from fear or imagined wrong doing, resentments always kept me hostage to negativity; anger, sadness, frustration, contempt, tension.

As I work through the resentments I have harvested with regards to the family disease, I can see where my obsession with the addicts in my life was consuming me and thwarting any possibility of joy and happiness. Depending on other people for things that really mattered to me was the driving force behind my resentments. Since my perspective was disproportionately misdirected, it was as if THEY were held in higher standards than where I held myself.  And my self worth was predicated on them…no wonder I spent so much time trying to control…

It’s been said the amount of time you spend thinking about something should be in this proportion: God first, me second, them 3rd! My understanding of resentments has come full circle, and though I do not find myself having these emotional feelings as much anymore, they are not far surfacing when life happens to throw a curve ball. The difference today is I have a better support system to help me accept what is going on. I have choices in how I react to it.

Try exploring how the expectations we have for our loved ones can set us up for happiness or sorrow in our Meetings in A Box: Expectations.  You may discover your own dark room were negatives are developed.  You may begin to ask what really matters.


Grandma and Grandpa and a grandchild’s addiction…the family disease takes a toll

Grandparents can be subject to the same intensity trying to help the affected grandchild whose life is troubling. I remember a time I thought my father might be a better influence to my son’s problem since nothing I did seemed to be working. But my son would soon abuse the privileges of Grandparent assistance. They became a means of continuing his addiction life cycle. Things changed drastically, and fast. Now I was subject to a deepening sad heart each time: grandpa complained about the lack of follow-through, strange people in their house and inability to wake my son up in the morning. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and requests – and I was getting resentful. I resented the addict for the moral turpitude. I resented my parents for arguing my pleas to stop rescuing. I can’t control my son and my own parents for that matter! Just how powerless I am came to focus.

All I wished was that he’d stay away from the family because of how it was affecting me affecting them. Time would reveal the progressive nature of the disease and the family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom of the family disease. Turns out I’m not the only co-dependent!

Parents: He’s got a drug problem and won’t go to rehab, we are learning more about addiction.

Grandparents: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”

Parents: We are not going to buy him another car.

Grandparents: We co-signed; he has to be able to get to a job!

Parents: He cannot live in our house he’s not trustworthy.  We are concerned you are being taking advantage of as well.

Grandparents: He’s temporarily living here, we discussed our rules – it’s under control.

Parents: We’re concerned about our parents – they are vulnerable and open to getting financially ruined – they won’t listen to any reasoning!

Finding support through the Al-Anon Family Group, I learned many things about the nature of the illness which gave me a better perspective on matters. This was where other grandparents in my support group helped me understand their point of view. They were trying to force solutions just as I had been. They believed they had it under control, just like I did.  I learned compassion and understanding that everyone is affected by this disease.

Lights! Camera! Resentments! Keeping your expectations in check

1431793_97522247 resentmentResentments are the dark rooms where negatives are developed.  Resentments are expectations in waiting…for sure, it has negative connotations.  Wikipedia defines resentment as an emotional feeling resulting from fear or imagined wrong done.  They reference a professor of continental philosophy at the University of Texas, Robert C. Solomon.  He categorizes resentment into one of 3 emotional continuums.  The first is contempt: directed towards lower-status individuals, 2) anger: directed towards equal status individuals and 3) resentment: directed towards higher-status individuals.

Well, that’s interesting to me as I work through the resentments I have harvested with regards to the family disease.  My obsession, which was consuming me, was with the addicts in my life.  This was the driving force behind my resultant resentments. Since my perspective was disproportionately misdirected, it was as if THEY were held in higher standards than where I held myself.  It’s been said the amount of time you spend thinking about something should be in this proportion: God first, me second, them third.!   My understanding of resentments has come full circle and though I do not find myself having these emotional feelings as much as before, they are not far from surfacing when life happens to throw a curve ball.  The difference today is I have a better support system to help me accept what is going on.  More than anything, I have a Power, greater than myself, that can restore me to sanity.  I do not have to be afraid or isolated in the dark room where negatives are developed!

Mending the wounds of a child’s alcoholism or addiction: It’s an inside job

I expected that, of all people, my sister would best understand the hell our family went through during my son’s active addiction.  After all, I poured my heart out to her, shared grim news, and cried on her shoulder for years.  Of course, she “got it, “ didn’t she??

Yet the other day, when I recounted one particularly difficult and terrifying stretch, she asked me, “Why didn’t you…?”  Or maybe she asked, “Did you think of…?”  I am not exactly sure what she asked because I was so stunned by the feelings it evoked in me.

I felt judged.  I felt like I had done something stupid or overlooked some obvious solution to that pesky little addiction problem.  I felt jealous that her life has been a relative cakewalk while we ate s**t sandwiches for the longest stretch.  And I was mad that, in spite of the deepest fears that I shared with her, she seemed unable to see the world through my dark lenses.

What I really wanted to hear from her was, “I am sorry. I know that was a terrifying time for you.” But what I “heard” in her question says so much more about me than about her. It’s not her fault that she didn’t have to walk through my hell, one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Clearly, I still need to work on my own recovery, forgive myself and others, and try to put the past in its proper place.  And I need to be aware that an innocent question may appear to be judgmental and can open a Pandora’s Box of sorrow and pain. That’s a valuable, and hard won, reminder for me.

No News is… no news!

I did not come to the rooms of the Al-Anon Family Group to get what I got. That said, what I got was so much more that what I expected. And what I expected I never got! In fact, many times I find that the contradictions, counter-intuitive measures, completely unexpected outcomes are points of humility which reveal how the universe (Higher Power) is more complex than my simple thinking. Things I use to say I don’t say anymore. I recall a time I said “well, at least there are no grandchildren involved!” Shortly thereafter my son’s girlfriend announced she was pregnant. Wrong again! (Truth is today there are no grandchildren, but this too may pass!) Another time I thought, “at least my youngest son hasn’t substance abused.” Wrong again.

I have learned to remove (or use very cautiously) some words from my vocabulary: NEVER, ALWAYS, MUST, IF ONLY, and WHAT IF, to name a few. I have replaced the old adage: “no news is good news” to “no news is no news”. This reminds me that when I make assumptions based on non-truths, I’m in trouble. Though the saying “its 5 o’clock somewhere” rings some truth to it, if it’s not 5 o’clock where I am, then I don’t need to think about it somewhere else! Seems simple enough, but this type of thinking is very difficult to break. With no news right now I stay in the moment and accept that bad news, good news, world news, whatever news may be occurring, is not for me to dwell on. Put simply, until presented with news of any kind, I can live today, in this moment, and not react to upcoming unknowns out there that I have not yet heard about. Notice I did not mention any problem of obsessing with what wonderful experience and good news story is waiting to unfold? I’m hard wired for doom & gloom. By saying “no news is good news” I was fooling myself into believing this as true. It’s a form of denial and self imposed set-up for a possible disappointment!

Drugged by the words

My son tells me things – whether it’s what he plans to do in the future, or just what happened in his day. I am drugged by his words.  This thinking is so powerful; I completely believe what I hear, even though there may be a conflict with his actions. “I’m going to do this and that” and neither is done. I end up getting resentful because I have built up an expectation based on what he said. For the co-dependent that I am, this is a daily occurrence that I have to be aware of. With false expectations, my actions are, consciously or not, based on how I perceive the outcome. You told me this, so I expect that. You are not capable; I will do it for you and manage the project I have taken on by virtue of what is said. I will take it to the next level and inquire about where you are on that matter, did you follow-up? Here’s a reminder… what’s the status on…you get the picture. Just trying to be helpful!

I realize this is my problem because I’m the only one bothered by it. It’s not limited to my son; it shows up in all my affairs. Inevitably, someone gets disappointed. Usually it’s me that gets hurt, and my resentful reaction is typically sarcasm – it’s not pretty, so really everyone gets hurt. Just the other day I got in a snit with my husband. My interpretation of what he was telling me was not what he was actually doing. Naturally, I felt compelled to point this out to him and that went over like a lead balloon. And I wonder how that happened! What did I miss? I was drugged by his words, thinking they were factual, and I completely missed what he was actually doing. If I can remember to stay in my business, be a better listener AND if I watch the behavior, I can be assured that I’m living in the moment and have a better awareness of where truth and facts are. My expectations are minimized, or at least, closer to reality. This is a hard to overcome. When I’m impaired by someone’s lips moving, I should not be the designated driver.

Choices for a co-dependent who’s loved ones’ lifestyles are troubling

There was a time when my day’s outcome, good or bad, depended on how my sons were doing. As I drove home from work, I’d come around the bend and the voices in my head would shift from obsessive work related issues to my family’s situation. I’d start guessing about the daily drama, possible outcomes, and strategies I must take.  I usually had a feeling of dread and impending doom – if they were doing well, I’d find temporary relief. If they were not doing well, my feelings of resentment and constant worry would take center stage. Then, in preparation for a good nights’ sleep, the gears in my mind would churn great sadness and an overwhelming desire to go back in time and change the course of the future. If only I had done something sooner, if only I had changed schools, if only I had …I was possessed by the loud click-clack-clang in my head!

Today I no longer dwell on would haves or could haves. I have freedom from compulsive thoughts of possible outcomes dreamt up in my head. One thing is certain, all that mindless matter never helped and mostly it hurt. When I accepted that I did not cause the disease of addiction, I could not control it, and I could not cure it – those feelings became false and the thoughts began to dissipate. There is something to be said about embracing each day and staying in the present. Today, I do not have to project about tomorrow or next week. Today, I do not have to re-live days gone by, or wish them different. I work on what’s in front of me today, one day at a time, and it quiets my thoughts.  My day’s outcome, good or bad depends on me. I can choose my attitude - do I want click-clack-clang or a well lubricated mechanism driving my thoughts?