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Coming to Terms With "Why Me?"

“Why me?” No doubt those of us whose loved one's abuse alcohol and illegal drugs have asked ourselves this question. I know I have. Many times, particularly during a crisis. And in different ways such as:

“What in hell did I ever do to deserve this?” (Lousy genes, bad karma, mortal sins?)

“Why can’t my family be healthy and happy like others I know?”

However it’s asked, the question is self-defeating. This way of thinking fuels resentment, envy, and self-pity. Toxic emotions demean and diminish us. How do we defeat them?

When I find myself heading toward a pity-party, I recall the first line of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

Acceptance. I cannot change my adult son, but I can change the way that I interact with him. It took me a long time to accept the fact that no matter how hard I tried or how much I cared, I could not fix my son. Years ago when my son first came out of treatment, I was constantly interrogating him. “Did you go to an NA meeting this week?” “Have you considered getting a sponsor?” “Did you make an appointment with a counselor?” “Do you plan to participate in the after-care program?” Most often, he was non-committal and would brush me off with a response like, “I was busy this week but plan to look into it soon.” (For a helpful resource when a loved one is new to recovery see Beverly Conyers' Everything Changes Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts.)

Finally, I began to embrace the wisdom of the three Cs: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. I worked hard to get out of my own way. Now during our frequent long-distance telephone conversations, I don’t ask questions or offer unsolicited advice. We talk about the weather, his beloved dog, sports (he’s a Dallas Cowboy and Duke fan), shows on Netflix, dental and doctor appointments, travel plans, old friends, and other “neutral” topics. Almost always we end with, “I love you.” Over the years I’ve come to appreciate my son with his strengths and weaknesses like everyone else.

Ditch Comparisons. When talking about envy, a friend reminded me that, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” In our materialistic, competitive culture we’re encouraged to be better than others. Own a bigger house, drive a more expensive car, earn a higher salary. So when other family members and friends tell me about their children’s accomplishments, I tend to compare their good fortune to my family’s misfortune. So if I learn that Harriet and her husband, Bob, just brought a new house in a gated community overlooking a golf course, I compare that to my son’s meager apartment in subsidized housing in a less than desirable neighborhood. Instead, I should be grateful that he qualifies for subsidized housing, that he has a roof over his head (rather than living in the streets), and that he can afford the rent. In other words, I have to reframe my negative self-talk.

Think Big. Another friend pointed out that “Why Me?” is an example of thinking small. If we think about events in our lives, many occur at random. Recently several members of my faith community have died. One had a stroke, one had dementia, and another cancer. All were in their 60s and in reasonably good health. The stroke victim did not have high blood pressure or diabetes, the dementia victim earned a Ph.D., the cancer victim did not smoke. “Why them?” Wrong question. “Why not them or you or me?” Disease happens. Accidents happen. Addiction happens. So when I get caught up in the “Why me?” self-pity mindset, I take a look at the bigger picture and count my blessings. Presently, my son is in recovery and I’m involved in a recovery program as well. We both receive support and tools to counter “Why me?” and other negative thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

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