For the third installment of The Recovery Sessions, we’ve asked the children of those practicing a long-term or progressive recovery to share their experiences. We wanted to know, how has having a parent who has struggled with substance abuse addiction impacted you? And, more importantly, how has their recovery work impacted you? The second installment in this series is by Debbie, who shares her account of how her mother’s recovery affected their relationship.
How long has your parent been in recovery, and how old were you when they first sought treatment for addiction?
My mom has been sober for almost 41 years. I was 16 ½ when she stopped drinking, never to drink again. Oh, if only not drinking had been able to fix all the dysfunction!
What is your understanding of their recovery work? (i.e. do you regard it as a spiritual practice, therapeutic, religious, habitual, etc.) And why is this your understanding?
My understanding of my mom’s recovery work as I perceive it, has been an ongoing process. I watched her recovery evolve over the years, it’s changed, grown, matured. In the early years it was just about not drinking; staying sober was the only objective. It became her new habit, a sober drunk, that didn’t seem too happy. As the years progressed she faced what I saw as her sober bottom, which appeared to me worse than the drunk bottom.
From that point she began to work her program, to an extreme. Not a bad extreme, for her, but for me, I often felt that it was all about her; her new people and her new life. It was then, I believe, she began to see her recovery in a more spiritual practice. More introspective. She began to go to Unity Church, explore new ideas, and gained a new community in which to be sober. She seemed happier. It became more of a spiritual practice.
As Life does, Life was happening. She remained sober, but the busyness of mid life, a new career, new marriage and caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s took all her time, and the meetings became difficult for her to maintain. By that time she had the tools, practices, and some friends that helped her stay sober. However, she did really miss her meetings and the community she had developed. I saw that without the regular contact she became more isolated, and her recovery, again, was just about the fact that she did not drink. A habit stage.
After her mother passed away and she retired, she returned to her meetings. Now having the time, she began to serve and give back to the program that saved her Life.
Today, Mom continues to be active in her program, and after 41 years is still working on her own recovery while helping others. I suppose I would call this period of her time in her recovery work as Spiritual Habit.
How has your mother’s recovery process impacted your relationship with her?
I’m not really sure what would have become of mine and my mother’s relationship had she not went into recovery. Our relationship within recovery has been an ongoing transformation.
Because my mom was a young 18-year-old mother, and I a first born “grown up girl,” it felt like more of a friendship of convenience for the two of us. Especially as I became a teen and it was the height of her alcoholism. I never viewed our relationship as the mother daughter relationships I saw in other families. When she stopped drinking it certainly changed the dynamic, as she struggled to gain control over her Life, myself, and my siblings, whom I had been responsible for, more than I should have been.
So, at 16 1/2, I attempted to relinquish my “mom role” and follow the rules, which did not work well for either of us. At 17 I moved out of my parents home, and began to take care of myself. Our relationship became more strained and distant, as she clung to her sobriety and I moved on as far away emotionally and physically as I could. She remained a sober drunk and spiraled downward emotionally, as I began my own downward spiral emotionally.
Moving geographically far from my mom made it a little easier to separate myself from her, but not the dysfunction I carried with me.
When she hit her sober bottom, she began her real recovery work. She was getting better, I was not. I still felt as though she was unavailable to me on an emotional level. I struggled with the expectation that if she was getting better, then she should help me. Our relationship remained civil, but emotionally separated.
However, I saw how hard she was working her program and what it was doing in her Life, the success it was opening to her. It showed me the way to the rooms, and how to ask for help.
The years went by as the years do, and we were both recovering and healing. Step by step we drew closer to each other, almost unawares. Today, not only are we emotionally closer, but physically, as well. This has allowed us to spend more time getting to know each other as mother and daughter. Doing things that moms and daughters do together. These days I will call just to chat, or vent, or ask for advice. And we may not always agree and it may not be the advice I want to hear, but it’s nice that today because of recovery I have this opportunity.
As recovery is progressive, and new layers are always to be uncovered, I have recently become aware that because of my Mom’s longevity in recovery, I’ve elevated her to a pedestal, of sorts. Which, surprising to me, has caused me to put unexpected expectations upon her and holding her to a higher standard. Another layer of the healing process called recovery.
It’s a Gift recovery has given me, the ability to speak my Truth. To thine own self be True. Even if we don’t agree or are unable to see the other’s view, I am now able to remember that she is still a work in progress, as am I, and we each walk our own path, side by side.
How has having a parent who is in recovery impacted how you deal with your own issues? As in, are you more aware of the possibility of becoming addicted to substances? How does this affect how you make decisions?
Certainly having a parent, and generations of addiction on some sort of level, in my family makeup has kept me aware of my predisposition towards addiction.
Me, I am a big ole’ ball of codependency. Control is my drug of choice, and it has kept me from delving too deeply into the “out of control” vices. Yet, I have suffered greatly from the ism’s that I deemed controllable, until they weren’t, like exercise, or church, or controlling others lives that I was sure I could help them control. There were so many ism’s, it felt as though my whole Life was an addiction.
As I’ve continued to work my program I have gained the ability to find more balance in Life and make decisions based on my own continued growth and recovery. I am walking with a more mature awareness these days, that aids in catching myself slip into old destructive behaviors and more quickly return to balance.
Has your mother’s recovery and practices affected your own spirituality or philosophy? If so, in what ways?
My mom’s recovery has absolutely affected my spirituality and philosophy. Of course, much of my beliefs and views about “Life” have changed as this journey has moved forward, often times back, but ever forward. I’m not sure it could have been any other way for me, as the healing occurred and the work continued.
My mom’s recovery introduced me not only to the 12 step community, but the Unity movement, as well, which was a catalyst in my spiritual development and growth. Going to meetings, being a part of the 12 step program keeps me in awareness that most people are good, that we’re more alike than not. That we are all doing the best we can on any given day.
The Transformation recovery has brought to my Life can be described as nothing less than miraculous. The recovery process has been a positive in my family and I am more than Blessed.
Above all else, what recovery brings to my Life is the recovery of Self, of Me. The Me I was when I drew my first breath. And in those early fragile moments of Life, I was whisked off to isolation due to health reasons, my first of many experiences with isolation and abandonment. From that day forward the making of a new version of Debbie began, and who I really am became lost in the shadow of the Debbie needed to maintain control in a world out of control. Recovery has shown me the way back to my true essence, that first Breath essence.
Today I live a Life I create, not a Life created by dysfunction, confusion and pain. Remembering who I Am has given me my voice. I’ve been able to share my message and gifts in churches and with organizations, like Deo Volente, Inc., as a speaker, writer, and spiritual guide.
I am also living my dream of having a homestead and retreat house. The 100 Year Oaks Homestead is busy with its six goats, two Great Pyrenees, two cats and three chickens. The smell of barns and hay are my favorite perfume right now and farm animal silence soothes my soul. The Sacred Barn, retreat house, is under construction, and a Summer opening is in the works. I eagerly anticipate offering and providing a space for others to come play, heal and remember who they are, and were at their first breath essence.
41 years ago, I could never have imagined this is what long term recovery looked like. I am so grateful to be living in the NOW. It really is a sweet, simple and unpredictable place to be on this part of the ever unfolding progressive recovery.