“The self is always searching for the right environment to complete itself.”
- Paul Ornstein, a holocaust survivor, doctor and leader of the self-psychology movement—a psychotherapy model that Bill W. used in developing the 12 Steps.
An environment to complete myself has been 12 Step Recovery.
While I am part of a 12 Step Recovery community, this blog is not an advertisement for it. Rather, this post tells a story about how the program has served as a refuge for me and has helped me begin reclaiming pieces of myself—pieces shredded by the Roaring Tornado of Addiction: Destruction of the Family System, which I talk about in a previous blog post.
The sh*t storm of my daughter's substance use and abuse left a broad path of destruction, decimating my life, sanity and faith, which I sincerely needed to address. And, through community, walking amongst people of a similar path, I began to do that.
I believe in the healing power of community, and this blog is, in part, about encouraging you to find a group that works for you...whatever that may be. The method by which you find hope, healing and restoration is not the issue. The purpose is, however, to find and foster a community that helps you heal, supports you, encourages you and gives you the tools you need to begin to recover, rebuild and be restored.
The 12 Steps have and continue to teach me how to be complete. Through working a program of recovery, I have learned that I am not my daughter’s, nor anyone else’s, solution. That awareness was paramount for me.
Despite what I’d like to think, I do not possess the intellect, the ability or the emotional, mental or spiritual capacity to change, carry or “save” anyone from anything, much less a disease—especially, the dis-ease of addiction.
A Path To Recovery
I entered into recovery emotionally destitute, spiritually bankrupt and physically worn-out. Yet, despite my decimated condition, my fists remained tightly wrapped around tattered, but intact, remnants of pride, ego, self-righteousness, justification and rationalization. Although, at that time, I was totally unaware of it and I would not have believed it had someone told me. But, over time, it would become crystal clear.
In a previous blog, A Beautiful Unravelling, I shared that I was a mother on a mission when I walked into the rooms of recovery. My daughter was obsessed with the drink and the drug, and I was obsessed with her.
My obsession had a hold on me in a way that I find almost impossible to describe. It was so powerful that it began to alter me physiologically, cognitively, psychologically and spiritually. I had become as lost in addiction as my daughter, and my life had become almost unmanageable.
The Spiritual Malady of Addiction
At that time, I was experiencing internal “unmanageability” or a Spiritual Malady of my obsessive compulsive thoughts about and actions taken in an attempt to control my daughter's addiction, which became my addiction.
Step 1 of the 12 Steps states -
“We accepted that we are powerless over alcohol/cocaine/heroin/meth/etc. and that our lives have become unmanageable.”
This “unmanageability” is comprised of three components: Restlessness, Irritability and Discontentment (RID).
RID is referred to by several names, such as “untreated ism’s," “bedevilments," (page 52 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous) or a “spiritual malady” (page 64).
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous promises -
"When the spiritual malady is overcome, [the afflicted will] straighten
out mentally and physically."
The 12 Step recovery model contends that the mental and physical factors of alcoholism/addiction are put into remission AFTER the "spiritual malady" is overcome.
Here was the good news, but bad news for me. My faith—the faith system that I was raised in, practiced and promoted—was actually part of my spiritual malady, my RID.
I was raised in church. For better or worse, intentionally or unintentionally, I had developed a faith system based on transaction, certitude and will power. These characteristics fueled my “spiritual malady.” They left me cloaked in self-righteousness and full of religious ideologies that bolstered my pride and ego.
My story and my truth is that my religious beliefs drove my restlessness, irritability and discontent. They hindered my ability to appreciate and truly experience the spiritual nature of the 12 steps. The following quote from the Twelve and Twelve describes my experience perfectly,
“The intellectually self-sufficient woman… far too smart for [her] own good… used [her religious] education to blow [her]self up into prideful balloons, though [she] was careful to hide this from others. Secretly, [she] felt [she] could float above the rest of the folds on [her] own brainpower alone…Knowledge was all powerful…Since [she] were brighter than most folks (so [she] thought)…”
I was full of religious knowledge, but deeply devoid of spirituality. I had a large “quantity of faith” but lacked “quality of faith.” Quantity had been my blind spot, the source of my discontent and it would be the beginning of the deconstruction of my faith.
“We suppose we had humility when really we hadn’t. We supposed we had been serious about religious practices when, upon honest appraisal, we found we had been only superficial. Or, going to the other extreme, we had wallowed in emotionalism and had mistaken it for true religious feeling. In both cases, we had been asking something for nothing. The fact was we really hadn’t cleaned house so that the grace of God could enter and expel the obsession. In no deep or meaningful sense had we ever taken stock of ourselves, ... We had not even prayed rightly. We had always said, ‘Grant me my wishes' instead of ‘They will be done.’ The love of God and man we understood not at all. Therefore, we remained self-deceived, and so incapable of receiving enough grace to restore us to sanity.”
- The 12 and 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous
My earnest religious beliefs proved to be no match for addiction. That I was trying to play God in my daughter’s life and against her dis-ease had not yet been revealed to me. I joined a 12 Step recovery program for family members and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics in order to learn how to help my daughter—to save her. I was not attending to take a “deep or meaningful stock of [my]self.” I wasn’t there to take an “honest appraisal.” I was there as a mom who was “serious about religious practices" and serious about finding a way to save my child.
My religious teachings had taught me that my daughter’s substance use and abuse was a moral failing—an issue of rebellion against her faith. And, I was “certain” that it could be stopped, arrested and ended with prayer, hard work, proper motivation and sheer will power.
While the dogmas and “absolutes” of my faith were great on paper, when applied in real time and real life—in our family's battle with addiction and the subsequent issues that followed—they proved ineffective, shaming and worthless. My daughter remained an addict and I remained unmanageable.
I was determined to turn my daughter's will and life over to God, (Step 3) Not realizing that her will and her life aren’t mine to turn over. I can only surrender Myself, My Will and My Life.
Embracing The Spiritual Path
I am convinced and firmly believe that without the spiritual disciplines of the 12 Step program and the shift in quantity to quality of faith that I could not and would not be living the life I am today. It was not the church, the book of my faith tradition or my faith system's theological constructs that enabled me to gain new insight or understanding. And, they did not create the space within my world view which led to my freedom from the bondage, compulsivity and slavery to fear.
Rather, my faith traditions kept me tightly bound in fear. Fear that my daughter was “lost” in her disease. Fear that if she died in her disease, without repenting, she would be condemned to an eternity in hell. Fear that her addiction was “proof” of her rejection of God. Fear that her disease was proof that I had not done enough in educating her about God, the Bible, Jesus, his teachings and our faith tradition dogmas.
In other words, her moral failings, were my moral failings. Fear! Fear! Fear! And, it consumed me every minute of every day.
Yet at that time, I was doing all that I knew to do. I fasted. I prayed. I had others pray over her and for her. I read my Bible searching for signs, clarity and assurances that somehow, some way my daughter would be repaired and restored.
And, then I bargained. I pleaded. I got angry. I tried to do good works so that God might show my daughter favor. I begged Him for grace and mercy on her behalf. I scolded her and reminded her of God’s “justice” and “wrath.”
You get the point...
I was hysterical. I was desperate. I was a mess. I needed God to fix my daughter. And, when He didn’t, I began to see my fear and anger turn to doubt.
When it appeared, God couldn’t or wouldn’t “fix” my daughter, I began to question my faith and the God of my understanding. What had I missed? What had I misunderstood? How could I believe in a God who would allow my daughter to suffer this terrible fate? Could I pray to a God who didn’t appear to be a restorer or a healer and who seemed so stingy with His grace and mercy?
A Path To Healing
It has been a long and arduous process but I have finally come to realize, understand and accept this bitter, but honest truth:
I will never possess enough love, money, time, spiritual, mental, or physical strength to sustain or eradicate my daughter’s addiction.
Addiction is bigger than me, it’s bigger than my pride, my ego, my will or my determination. I no longer believe that my mission is to save my daughter—only God can do that, My mission is simply to carry a message of hope to others who suffer from a loved one’s addiction: To stand in the gap and hold sacred space for another mother, father, grandparent, sibling, child or friend.
If this story of faith failing, faith shifting and faith questioning rings true for you, I's like to hear from you. Tragedy, loss, trauma and grief can create profound disruptions in our beliefs and convictions. They can cause us to question the foundations on which we have tried to live and be in the world. If you would like to explore those in a safe, anonymous environment I can be reached at www.therefugecenterhouston.com.
I hope you will continue following me as we explore the world of addiction, faith, love, loss, hope, restoration and life as a loved one of an addict/alcoholic.
It is critical that family members and loved ones have a strong community of fellow travelers. Addiction/alcoholism is not something you should face alone. Please find a community that completes you. If you have questions or are looking for connection contact us at www.therefugecenterhouston.com. We will help you find the resources right for you and your loved one(s).