Recovery — The Tough Road

by Julie Neale
September 30, 2019

When I discovered my son was an addict, I struggled with denial and anger at the same time. He kept his worlds totally separate—the “drug world” and the “other world.” He could be whatever anyone wanted him to be in any and every situation . . . until he got caught in his lies. He took pride in his chameleon behavior. I felt a lot of guilt for not seeing through his façade, and as a result, it took me a long time to accept that he was an addict. I spent months soul searching and agonizing over how I could have missed the signs pointing to his addiction. I was blinded by the unconditional love of a mother for her child and afraid to face the inconsistencies I saw in his behavior. We are called to love our children unconditionally, but what does love look like when dealing with someone in the throes of addiction?

Anger is generally the first emotion I feel. I don’t feel hurt or sad; I feel angry. I now know that underneath the anger is sadness. Through my own recovery, I’ve learned that I have shut out many of my feelings, just like addicts do. I didn’t want to feel; I didn’t want to hurt. Growing up in an alcoholic home, I learned to compartmentalize my feelings as a survival technique. There was so much uncertainty. On any given night, I never knew which of us kids would be the target of my Dad’s verbal abuse once he started drinking. The crazy thing was that, the day after, we would all act like nothing had happened. There were no apologies, no explanations, nothing. Just silence. The only thing I knew to do with those feelings was to put them away. That was how my sensitive heart survived, and I carried that with me into adulthood.

Acceptance of my own son’s addiction did not come easy for me. Acceptance is a key component in Step One of the Twelve Steps. Acceptance is realizing we are powerless over not only alcohol, but the alcoholic as well as persons, places, situations, and, many times, our own thoughts and feelings. My sponsor told me over and over that acceptance is the key. I had to accept that I couldn’t then and cannot now get people to do things the way I think they should be done. True acceptance is our only real source of peace.

What is the meaning of acceptance? Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest it. The concept is close in meaning to acquiescence, derived from the Latin acquiēscere (to find rest in). Acceptance is saying, “It is what it is, and what is, is what is.” You do not have to agree with something or even like it in order to accept it. Acceptance is not permission, authorization, sanction, agreement, sympathy, endorsement, backing, maintaining, aiding, abetting, or even liking what is. It’s not a seal of approval of unacceptable behavior. Acceptance is a state of being and not an action directed at another person.

When I accept, I relax and let go. I become patient—patient with myself for the times I obsess over my son’s recovery, patient with my family and with my spouse, and even patient with God. This means believing that God is at work and His timing is perfect, even when it doesn’t seem like change is happening. One of my favorite quotes is “Patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, and patience with God is faith” (Adel Bestavros).

There is a calmness of heart that I experience every time I pray the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Below is a clip from the documentary ASK. Caleb, who is in recovery, and his mother each recount the same story from their own perspective. Here is an example of a mom who has fully accepted her own powerlessness, the impact that has on her son, and the freedom they both experience. May we all grow in our serenity every day as we accept our lives just as they are today.

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Julie Neale

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  1. Hi my name is Gretchen and this clip from ASK Caleb struck a significant chord with me. My daughter Jana has been in and out of recovery for almost 20 years. She is 35 and her drug use probably started around 14. My experience and recovery has been really, really difficult at times. I have been involved with al anon for about 18 years and I use the tools all the time. I too had to come to a realization that my daughter was going to do what she was going to do, acceptance was an ongoing thing, over and over and over I had to do it. There seem to be layers of acceptance, just when I thought I have/had accepted that my daughter is an addict, alcoholic (and recently diagnosed bi-polar), then some new or different twist of a situation, crisis or problem would become apparent, and I would be sort of back to square one. However, I was never really back at square one, because I had the al anon, community, teachings and 12 steps to lean on. It was just a different version of an ongoing, life-long process of accepting the challenges that were placed in my path, in my families path and in my life. I came to know that as long as I live, uncertainty is evident and challenge is part of being human. But my biggest challenge was to really let my daughter go. There were times I had found her unconscious, stung out, and various degrees of inebriation over the years, and there were times where she was walking the path of recovery. But whether or not she was in recovery or using, whatever she was doing I had to find peace with that. My father died this past March and my mom passed about 4 years earlier. I had been the primary caretaker for my dad who had vascular dementia. I was also very close to my dad, so his passing was difficult. I found that when it came, when he died, something in me sort of shifted. I came to a another very hard and difficult realization that I had to let my daughter go and live my life no matter what she did or didn’t do. I am the only one that live my life right? That is common sense. Yet there was a part of me that was holding out, putting my life on hold for when she became sober. A part of me also knew that was a ridiculous and dangerous thing to do, to hinge my life on her’s. I can’t control whether she lives or dies, I cannot control whether she uses or doesn’t, I can’t control if she takes her bi-polar meds. I can’t control anything in her life. She is as 35 year old woman and I still wanted to fix her at times. Yet, there were times I was the walking embodiment of al anon. I was sane, I was productive and I was involved with my life. And for the most part that IS who I am today. But my heart still breaks when I see her struggle with anything. I have to bite my tongue, sit on my hands and wait, and let her figure it out for herself. Not much I can do but tell her I love her and that she has resources other than me. My husband and I had enabled her over the years, especially early on before al anon and a little even after al anon. For a long, long time, we really didn’t get it, or we didn’t wan to get it….thinking we were “helping” her. That was a long road to travel and to come to terms with. It seems to me that being a parent of an adult child who has addiction and alcohol problems is a long winding road, with twists and turns. I’d be so happy when things would be going along smoothly, and then something would crop up. But now I feel so much less shaken, so much less in crisis, (because its not MY crisis its hers). This strength and grounded-ness doesn’t come easily or naturally for me, its constant work, constant consciousness. But the bottom line is that she has to live her life and I have to live mine.

    • Gretchen-Thank you for sharing the long, difficult road you have been on with your daughter,Jana. 20 Years is a long time and I can only imagine how tired you must be. But it sounds like you have done and continue to do the difficult work of staying present and working on yourself. You said so well-you can only do what is yours to do and Jana has to do what is her’s. I want to encourage you to keep growing yourself and I am so glad you have a good community of Al Anon and this blog and other resources that remind you of what yours to do and what isn’t.

  2. Hi, I surely can relate to u both. My daughter Jennifer has been couch surfing and homeless since she was 19. She is 49yrs old. I did everything wrong and everything right. Without alanon I could never had been self supporting. I have been perpetually depressed and sad and angry for years. I have been sober in aa for 40yrs. To watch my daughter destroy herself while I sat in the meetings, is incomprehensible to me. I finally get that some get sober, some pass away, and some are the walking dead. Thank u for mompower. It has changed my brain. Luv u all ❤️Jan

    • Jan-Thank you for sharing your story. Wow-that is a tough road you have walked with your daughter for 30 years! I am so glad though that you have stayed sober yourself even though you have been depressed and angry I hate this disease so much. I am sorry.

  3. Thank you Julie for writing and publishing this article! I appreciate your comments on acceptance, that really resonates with me. My son was an addict for 5 years straight (no attempts to quit), and since his fist attempt to quit last September, has been struggling to live sober (2 relapses). I started attending NarAnon last October and thought I was “getting the program”. I was not. I was consumed with my son’s life and outside of work, that is all I thought about. He lives @ 3 hours away and last month, I knew he was using and after constant pressure from me, he asked me to come to help him. I rented a hotel room and we stayed there for 6 days while he detoxed. He started feeling better and we started talking. I tried to encourage and “talk sense” into him. I said things like “you should outlive me”, “doesn’t it feel better when you are clear headed”, “you have never been in trouble with the law”…Then he said to me “When I want to use, I will use”. It was like someone hit me in the head with a baseball bat (however that feels, but you get the point?) I finally got Step 1. Beyond the sadness, which is my emotion, I am strangely feeling better about myself and spending much less time obsessing about him. I realize I have no control over his addiction and I pray to my higher power every day that he wants to live a sober life in recovery, has found his higher power and is actively working the recovery program. Thank you.

    • Barbara-I feel honored that you would share your story with me. I join you right now in your prayer for your son that he may find his higher power and will work his recovery. I am so thankful you are feeing “strangely better” and I pray you will remember we cannot heal our children and are all powerless over this disease. I know it has helped me so much to hear other Mom’s stories and how we can begin to experience peace.

  4. Hi- I added a comment yesterday and I do not want my comment posted. Can you please insure that it is not posted for the public? Thank you.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My son is now 23. Having celebrated his birthday in a psych ward. He has not been home in the last four years, making it very hard on me. I agree with my husband that we would also be on our doorstep trying to pound it until we folded! After many rehabs and him signing himself out of the last one , we drew the line and said our help was no longer helping. He has been homeless and couch surfed, but this last manic episode really threw me. He now has no id, no phone, no nothing but the clothes on his back in an unfamiliar town ( where they had available bed in psych facility). Do I offer him a halfway house or at least a phone or clothes? We were trying to create a bottom for him, but he won’t admit it to us. Advice would be most welcome!

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