Down the Rabbit Hole

by Marilea C. Rabasa
September 7, 2020

Where do the seeds of addiction take root? It’s the old chicken and the egg confusion. Was my father predestined to become an alcoholic? Or was he made one by the emotional abuse he endured? And if the latter is true, then how and when was I an emotional abuser of my own daughter?

But Twelve-Step recovery gently steers us away from questions like that; we can’t go back and do things over.  And I’m only human. I sometimes ask myself what I did wrong or what I missed seeing. Then I remember that addiction is a disease: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” And like a gentle breeze blowing away the clutter of remorse, I let go of those thoughts and embrace my life again, free of responsibility.

 In any case, whatever she chose to do now, I needed to leave her alone to do it. I knew better than to scream and wail in the night to God and all the graces that protected the innocent to save my daughter. Whatever the roots of addiction are, whatever holes were in her that this opportunistic disease filled in, I didn’t have the power to combat them. And I just had to let go of the struggle, or I would disappear down that rabbit hole with her.

[From my award-winning memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” by Maggie C. Romero (pen  name)]

Eighteen years in the rooms of Al-Anon have helped me to get my life back. But guilt, a destructive emotion that I had to learn to let go of, usually got in my way. For all parents wondering what they did wrong, guilt is a crippling emotion. It puts us at risk for moving any healthy boundaries that we have set in place. Substance users will work and manipulate us as much as possible, and we need to be vigilant. Over the years I have learned to recognize the split personality in my daughter. It’s not hard to accept. Don’t some people turn into blithering idiots when they drink too much? In Angie’s case, drugs made the moral compass I raised her with fly out the window.

Detachment with love is an important tool I discovered in my recovery fellowship. But, as with all the tools, it came with a steep learning curve. At first I could only detach, as in run far away. I felt little unconditional love early on, only loss. I was obsessed with guilt, anger, fear, and shame. But as I educated myself more about this disease, those feelings faded away, and I stopped internalizing all the judgment around me. We live in a puritanical society that still allows the shame and stigma of substance use disorder to flourish. We must stop marginalizing people who are suffering from this disorder. They deserve the understanding and compassion of all people afflicted with any chronic illness.

But, as they say, “Charity begins at home.” I have needed to grow in my own recovery from the devastating effects of loving an addict. First, I needed to let go of my overinflated sense of responsibility. By taking over for Angie as I had been early on, and assuming her financial responsibilities, I was preventing her from being an adult.

Next, I had to learn more about addiction. My anger toward my daughter early on when I thought she kept “choosing” the wrong path, was misplaced. My anger now rests firmly with substance use disorder, a relentless hijacker of millions of our children all over the world.

It’s hard to watch our children hurt themselves in this way. Substance use disorder is very cruel because it often destroys our children’s minds before it takes away their lives. So many otherwise productive years are lost in the interim.

But many, many addicts not only survive but make it their life’s mission to help others get well. I know a number of these recovering addicts. Recently one young man said to me, “Marilea, keep doing what you’re doing. The real Angie is buried deep inside, and she never stopped loving you. She would want you to survive her illness.”

I believe that with all my heart. I steer clear of the rabbit hole. I look around at my other children and grandchildren, so many caring friends and family members, and I know how fortunate I am. Staying present in each moment, and counting my blessings every day, I’m keenly aware that life goes on—and we with it. This is how I honor Angie close to her 40th birthday: by embracing my happy memories of her, grateful that I have them—and with hope in my heart—yet moving forward.

Find out more about Marilea here:
Books: A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, written under a pseudonym, Maggie C. Romero; Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation by Marilea C. Rabasa

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Marilea C Rabasa

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  1. Wow, I needed this today as my 48 year old son just completed his 9 month recovery program. It’s 2:00 am and I can’t sleep. I am back to worrying about what’s next. I am so proud of his progress and yet I am worried about how transitioning from this protected world of recovery to the real world will affect his sobriety. I know this is when I need to let go and let God. So I got up, read your article and am ready to detach with love knowing I am not in charge of his life. I need to take care of me.
    Thanks for being here.

    • Hi Janie, and I’m so happy that your son has completed so many months of rehab. When Angie was in her last rehab in Palm Springs, I remember wishing I’d had the money to pay for TWO YEARS in rehab! My thinking then was “more time/better results.” And that may even be true. But once again I was taking too much responsibility for the outcome. Too many anguished years, my health in peril and my career ending convinced me that I needed to make many changes for which I am so grateful. I have learned to let go and focus my attention first of all on me and ways I’m trying to be a better person, and secondly on my other family members and friends who give me so much joy. Everything feels better in my life because I practice acceptance of things I can’t change. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. I hope that you enjoy many more years with your son. People change all the time, and many give up substances for good. Sending hugs and hope to you!

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