"Journeys bring power and love back into you. If you can't go somewhere, move in the passageways of the self. They are like shafts of light. Always changing as you change when you explore them." - RumiAt any point in our recovery there will be missteps, stumbles and relapses. Whether it is our son's or daughter's journey or our own, relapse, sadly, is a integral part of recovery.
Our recovery as parents of addicted children takes us through hills, valleys, jungles, plateaus and the occasional mountain top. Unlike the covering alcoholic or addict, our relapses into old behavior (raging, enabling, denial, bitterness, fear, anger) are not a signal to begin the "sobriety" count again. It is neither cause for celebration nor something to be defined as "total failure".
It is, simply put, a part of our recovery process, and for the record, part of ANY recovery process. Ours is a gentle road to recovery. As I will mention regularly, this MUST be.
There is a joke among the "double winners" - those recovering from the various substances and behaviors that can lead to addiction who also attend the various Al-Anon programs such as parent groups, adult children of alcoholics, family groups, codependency groups, etc. The joke is:
"In AA, if I take a drink, no matter how many days, months or years I've been sober, I have to start over, to zero days sober. In Al-Anon, if I stumble by enabling, hovering, or doing anything for the addict that he can do for himself, I simply catch myself, learn from the event and move on. And I get to keep all my coins, whether one, three, ten or 30 years."This is always followed by laughter and smiles from all in the room because we all get the joke, eventually.
As parents of addicts we have an obligation to be gentle to ourselves in the midst of all the chaos. There will be times when we become hooked into doing for our addicted child things we really shouldn't be doing. There may be occasions when we may throw extended "pity parties" for ourselves and neglect our true calling, the journey toward our personal growth. There will be narratives playing in our minds like bad movies about things over which we have no control.
These "Could-Have-Been" epics take us away from the beauty and glory of today.
Sometimes we do all the right things, we feel as though we're taking care of ourselves and at the same time feel stuck. We feel we deserve more happiness, laughter, joy, friends and peace. It happens to all of us and when we can feel this stuck feeling, the yearning for more, we've perhaps crossed at least one bridge in our journey.
I love the use of topography to describe the journey of a recovering parent. We can picture ourselves on a plateau, exhausted, mired by muck, brush, a hedgerow or cactus. Then we can look down and imagine where we've been, where we've come from. Below our plateau is a rocky approach seemingly impossible to conquer. Below that, a jungle, a tropical rain forest teaming with snakes, bugs (I HATE bugs), disease, and the carnivorous beasts that would have devoured us had we not found the courage to fight our way out.
We can then look upward to the next plateau, steppe or mountain foothill with excitement. The burs and quills that have us stuck on the current phase of our journey are a vast improvement over the dangers of the rain forest.
For a while, that rain forest seemed so beautiful, so comforting, so safe in its familiarity. We now know remaining in that rain forest would have been deadly.
For new travelers on the journey it is often difficult to see beyond the dense jungle canopy to what lies ahead. You may have lived your entire life there. Addiction is familial. Even if your son or daughter brought you there you have quickly developed powerful skills to avoid, to buffer and combat the life threatening spirit-sucking environment. These skills have served to protect you. These skills have also served to keep you exactly where addiction wants you as a parent of an addict - unhappy.
The jungle seems to go on forever. Know this: There IS a break in the dense foliage, somewhere. And you can find that escape in any direction.
Just move on.
Keep searching. Keep striving. Keep connecting. Eventually you will see a break in that heaviness, a glimpse of what is "out there" if you want it and if you're hungry enough for something new. Perhaps you'll see sunshine for the first time in a long time. Perhaps beyond the rustling leaves is a mountaintop revealed above grass-covered foothills.
At minimum what you will notice are others progressing on their journeys, succeeding, failing, and again succeeding. If you're ready, you may even see a sidelong glance of encouragement, gently reaching out to you. These people will not pull you out of your jungle or even tell you how best to escape the morass - even if you ask.
And if you do, if you ask for the way out they'll simply smile as if they've just given you a gift.
Eventually it will dawn on you that these travelers have given you a gift, a gift of empowerment. The empowerment comes with the knowledge that only you can decide that you have a life to live. The empowerment materializes when you make it happen.
Good luck on your recovery journey. There are victories and setbacks ahead. There are plateaus followed by valleys and perhaps even a descent back to the jungle. This sine wave of recovery is a reminder of how important you and your journey are to the Universe. Wherever you are, you are an inspiration to those around you, your family, friends, and perhaps, even your addicted child.
When you become mired again remember to look around at where you've been and how far you've come. Smile, rest, and for God's sake, keep moving.