Lessons Learned in Recovery
Originally published on www.psychologytoday.com on 9/8/2015
Family and friends can learn how to take care of themselves...
Years ago when I began teaching online, I tackled a steep learning curve in order to get it right. Eventually, I mastered the basics with a lot of help and support from colleagues at the university. But even after years of online teaching, I still ran into glitches and continued to learn.
When I started to participate in a twelve-step program for loved ones of addicts and alcoholics, my biggest challenge was to stop trying to fix my adult son. (Issues around control and enabling are huge for us.) Group members were more than willing to provide help and support. But first I had to get out of my own way, abandon my “yes, but…” thinking and listen in order to learn.
Initially, I didn’t much like what I heard. That I was powerless, that I couldn’t fix my adult son and that I needed to shine the light on me rather than him. That meant changing my attitude and behavior. A colossal learning curve for me. I spent years rescuing my son—paying his bills, making excuses, and getting him out of jams. None of my enabling led to a change in his behavior, in fact, it fueled his addiction and fed our melodrama. This went on for years. Finally, when I hit bottom, a friend recommended a twelve step program for loved ones. I decided to give it a try. I listened. Here is some of what I learned.
First and foremost, I learned that I can’t fix my son’s problems. Unless an addict experiences the consequences of his bad choices and poor decisions (and the sooner the better), he won’t recover. I’ve been reminded that every time I bailed my son out of a financial or legal mess, I robbed him of the opportunity to build up his self-respect and face the consequences of his behavior.
I learned not to berate myself for past behaviors such as nagging, judging, and obsessing. In the past, I didn’t know better. Now that I know better, I try to do better. When a thorny situation arises, I take some deep breaths and think before I speak. Most importantly, I learned that I have choices. I can shoot from the hip and react immediately or I can slow down. Call a friend, walk my dog, listen to soothing music, soak in the tub, try a new recipe or veg out by watching House Hunters on HGTV.
Of the Seven Deadly Sins in Dante’s Inferno, envy, along with anger and pride, perverts love. The envious are the farthest away from Paradise. Even with their eyes sewn shut, they weep over their sins. Although I’ve learned how envy and self-pity diminish me, like a narcotic, they can seduce me. Giving up smoking was easy compared to letting go of feeling sorry for myself. I found self-pity much more comforting that a slow drag on a Salem Menthol. But I’ve learned that heavy doses of gratitude help mitigate self-pity and other character flaws. In addition, I’ve learned that expectations can result in resentment; faith counteracts fear; humility isn’t a four letter word; and it’s ok to mourn lost hopes and dreams. Although I’ve been involved in a twelve step program for many years, I still stumble. It’s then that I need to focus on progress, not perfection. This has been the most important lesson of all.