Sunday, August 31, 2014

Approaching Real

"Serenity NOW!" ~ George Costanza, Seinfeld, Season 9, Episode #3, "The Serenity Now"

I was a devoted follower of Seinfeld during its original run from July of 1989 to May 1998. And I got the joke. These four main characters, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer were petty, self absorbed, small, rude, insular.

Shall I go on?

Still, the show was hilarious. Try as they may the four major players on our weekly television stage couldn't carry out a truly noble act even if theirs, or someone else's life depended on it.

Landing in a jail cell as the final episode was an absolute brilliant plot denouement - the Universe exacting its perfect Karma upon the four. Most of us got it. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer didn't. And they probably never would!

Among my favorite episodes is "The Serenity Now." George's father Frank opens a new business and hires George and George's childhood nemesis Lloyd Braun as sales people. Frank ineffectually employs the phrase "serenity now" learned from a self-help recording by screaming the mantra, rather than calmly and meditatively breathing the words. George also adopts the phrase with drastically unintended results as does Kramer, who has a meltdown and destroys 25 computers he is storing in his apartment for George.

There is really no hope for these three. They are simply going through the motions. They'll never get it.

I laughed along with everyone else at these characters' attempts to become "one with" something. I also laughed at (Senator) Al Franken's Stuart Smalley character ("… because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.")

We all laughed. To this day when I see a You Tube of Franken's character I still go into hysterics, I can't help myself, even though many of Smalley's affirmations read straight out of the Al-Anon and other 12-Step playbooks. In a Seinfeld episode, in an Al Franken bit, it's funny. In real life, it can seem tragic.

This was the 90s after all. We've evolved, hopefully.

We band of brothers and sisters, we parents of addicts must learn to evolve beyond the platitudes such as serenity now, or the cynicism of a besweatered fictional character. What was funny might remain funny, but tragedy has us looking beyond sitcoms and Saturday Night Live skits for answers to progress along our journeys.

We must strive to approach REAL.

When first confronted by our children's addictions our reactions were influenced by our parental instincts to fix, cure and control. Sometimes interventions are necessary to cleanse, save a life or stop sudden downward spirals. Eventually the substance abuser must decide on his own to turn things around. The change usually does not come from the outside. The decision to be free of addiction must originate from within to be effective and lasting.

Our ability to allow our children to find their pathways requires a journey on our part that is fraught with its own perils and dangers. We may feel damaged and imperiled as we change the way we react, feel and live. It is foreign to transform from rager to listener, from a reactionary to a parent who might, just, possibly, THINK before she acts, before he explodes. We are fearful of this change.

It's hard, but true serenity has its own rewards. True serenity is catching. It's like a virus from heaven.

Suddenly people around us are drawn to us, not repulsed. Our responses to situations, to our unique position as parents of addicted children become as foreign to those around us as they seem to us. Our new behavior, uncomfortable and painful to embrace at first, becomes second nature.

We are becoming REAL. We are becoming the human beings the Great Creator, the Universe, meant us to be. And one day someone may tell us how calm we are and we'll smile, knowing we have come to this place just recently by travelling along a pathway to finding our true selves. We won't let them know we've not yet "arrived." This can be our little secret!

We become a beacon of light to family, friends, other parents beginning their journeys and perhaps even the children who brought us to this place if only the fog of the addiction could lift a bit for our new lives to shine through. Realness is something that cannot be ignored forever.

The Real may take a while or may never appear. Real is a progression. Real is an ideal for which we can strive. Our lives now, as real as they are may be improved if we stay true to our recovery journeys.

Because you know … we ARE good enough!

"The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him." ~ THE Velveteen Rabbit  Or HOW TOYS BECOME REAL by Margery Williams | Illustrations by William Nicholson
… keep coming back 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Child Sightings

"The humble heart is protagonist to the critical heart and must always prevail." ~ Patrick Benjamin
It is one of the cruelest burdens we bear as parents of habitual substance abusers and addicts. Sometimes the addiction will allow us a brief glimpse of our sons and daughters as they were, prior to the change.

It is as if the addiction is taunting us, screaming, "See what I've taken from you!"

It is at these times, during these surprise attacks on our souls, when our journeys are tested, our progress at risk. We can revert to the comfortable, we can return to the swamp, the harsh canopy, the darkness and dampness of the rainforest, the inescapable hedgerow. We can tell our addicts everything we've not been able to communicate during substance-driven stupors. We can cajole, lecture, attempt to control. This may be the perfect opportunity to apply a fix, to impart the single lesson that might just turn them around. This is our chance to jump in and talk some sense into our children, right?


This, rather, is a chance to sit back, listen, converse and simply revisit if just for a short time the beauty that is our children who have been taken from us.

How long it has been since our last child sighting is often concomitant with the deepness of our childrens' spiral into addiction. As hard as this may sound, our childrens' addictions will tempt interactions meant to harm, coerce, influence, mislead, misdirect, cast blame and deceive. The days, weeks, months or even years since our last child sightings we've held fast to our recovery journey. We have continued. We've held the line. We've not lectured nor raged, or reverted to the old behaviors, or offered pat solutions to obstacles not under our control.

We can think of the child sighting as our reward for doing for ourselves and our children by doing nothing to fix the addiction. All the time spent keeping our egos in check, staying the course of our recovery journeys, humbly trusting that some Higher Power is at work creating a future we could not create or even conceive has paid off.

My first child sighting came early on in my recovery and is indelibly and forever etched into my memory. It was at an off-site lunch break during a parents' weekend at the therapeutic boarding school we had placed our son to provide him tools for his eventual recovery …

My son ordered nothing. He was angry, still, that we had sent him for eight weeks to the high desert of Utah, then to finish his junior year of high school in western Montana. He used the twenty minutes spent at the local diner to remind me how pointless sending him away had been and what a load of crap we had been handed by the school counseling staff during our parent sessions (the boys had not been there). He peppered his twenty-minute diatribe with enough F-bombs to rival Nixon's 12-day Christmas air assault on North Vietnam in 1972.

I sat there and said nothing. We parents had been prepared for this. So early on in my recovery I was barely able to hold it together.

But I did.

After my quick lunch the two of us piled silently into my rental car for our return to the retreat house. As I prepared to turn the ignition my son turned to me and without any preamble simply said, "Dad, I was really good at football, wasn't I?"

"Sweetheart, you were even better at baseball," was my response. 

We drove to the house without another word.

That was my first child sighting.

Child sightings give us hope that is neither unrealistic nor unfounded.

Child sightings help us love the addict while hating the addiction.

Child sightings are a minor victory over the addiction. Relish this victory. We've earned it.

But do not become complacent.

Our personal recovery pathway is long and fraught with dangers and detours, uncertainty and confusion. We can remember that wherever we are along our journeys the child sightings provide bright sunshiny days and clear vision of what may lie ahead if we persevere. Child sightings give us validation that we just might be on the right path and in doing the BEST WE CAN for ourselves, we're doing the right thing for our children.

This is our opportunity to let our children know they are loved and appreciated for who they are. It is not a time to jump in to fix the unfixable, control the uncontrollable, to cure the incurable or to take ownership of what we did not cause. This would transform time with our children, however brief, into a victory for the addiction.

Cherish these moments. Bask in the sunlight of our childrens' souls. These child sightings are our opportunity to Breathe, Trust, Laugh, Seek, Hope, Love and See, all in an instant.

Silently cry if you need to.

Gently accept these unexpected gifts from the Universe, God, the Great Creator. There's a new-found spring in our step. We are on the right pathway. Look up. There are possibilities ahead we can't even imagine!

… keep coming back

"In the darkest hour the soul is replenished and given strength to continue and endure."   ~ H.W. Chosa

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


"If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are." ~ Zen Proverb

Some of us are living with the children who brought us to recovery. They are, remaining, still, in our homes as well as constantly in our hearts. Boundaries are eternally established, breached, then reformed for the next onslaught on our souls, the next betrayal of trust. Walking on eggshells in our households has become as much a part of life as the fear of the next late night phone call or knock on the door.

"Is this Mr. Jones? This is Officer Smith with the (insert name of municipality here) police department."

Before we embarked on our recovery journeys life was never what we had envisioned. And now, as we continue on our recovery journeys life is nothing like we could have ever imagined.  Once we have owned our personal lives and found our true life pathways, our former fallbacks of raging, negativity and blame are familiar barriers to be overcome, not barometers of who we are. Rather than falling further into our pre-recovery abyss we now learn and even gain confidence from these encounters with our former selves.

When we stumble upon these metaphorical landslides, fallen trees or other four-legged (or no legged) obstacles impeding our journey, we realize, eventually, that the paths we've chosen in the instant of those encounters with our former selves do not lead to where we want to go - or, lead us nowhere. We figure it out. We turn around. We keep moving. There is another way to where we want to be, who we want to be. There IS … a Plan B! We learn, respond positively and progress along our personal path to recovery.

Still, often, having the addict at home, can simply suck!

It may have been, actually, what catapulted many of us to pathways of realization - the realization that sometimes allowing the addict to remain in the comfortable deception of our households is poison to both our children and ourselves.

Some of us have made the transition through forced separation or mutual understanding, an opportunity we know will refocus our children (college), voluntary or involuntary separation (rehab, wilderness, therapeutic boarding school), or a calm you can't live here anymore discussion that challenges our sons or daughters to find their journeys.

By whatever method or means, our children are no longer at home.

This transition, in whatever form, is at the same time empowering and terrifying. The silence is both welcome and maddening.

Silence brings with it a challenge from the Universe that we use this opportunity to make some real progress in our recovery unencumbered by the madness. We often find instead that our children are somehow, seemingly still there, in our hearts and minds as shadows in our homes.

We can choose to revert to old behaviors, to those former life habits of the comfortable recluse, the fountain of anger, the passive aggressor, the martyr.

This is no life at all. This is the life of fear, stagnation, depression and suffering we experienced long before beginning our recovery journeys. Do we really want to go back … there?

This is when true epiphanies can happen.

We ask ourselves, "How can I continue to feel the pain and shoulder the burdens of my addicted son, my substance abusing daughter? How crazy is that?"

We're not crazy. We're normal. We're parents - still. We still love our babies.

Crazy is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Crazy is owning someone else's pain and addictions.

Perhaps the madness does not come from our sons or daughters. Perhaps we need to look to ourselves. Could we have possibly given The Addiction too much power?

The silence of a household purged of the addict can be deafening if the addiction and its effects remain. Beyond the silence, beyond the lingering eggshells and the slime left behind by addiction is Life, if we're ready to go for it.

Surely the movies inside our heads will begin to play. Is he OK? Where is she now? What are they doing in the desert? We come to realize that the madness comes from believing we are in control of what has yet to happen. The Addiction will attempt to get in our heads even when our sons and daughters are not living with us.

With the silence, we can break through previously unbreachable barriers addiction had laid in our pathways. Again, we can close our eyes, breathe, and move ahead to what the Great Creator is offering. The offering is Life!

It's just beyond that ridge, that blind turn, that seemingly impassible thicket.

Move forward. We can take this opportunity to seek out possibilities for ourselves. The silence provides a chance for us to seek the good. Only then, will we allow ourselves the gift to see the good available to us.

The Universe awaits us if we can just quiet our minds. Hear the silence, feel its gentle calm. Smile, and with the deafening cacophony of addiction no longer in our heads, we will continue confidently along our pathways.
"Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings to us to learn from." ~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

… keep coming back

Monday, August 11, 2014


"Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes. You'd know what a drag it is to see you. ~ Bob Dylan "Positively 4th Street"
I've always loved this song by Bob Dylan. Filled with bile, anger and vinegar I have often wondered who he was writing to - not about, to! This was a salvo aimed directly at someone rather than a "fire for effect" composition. This person must have at some point seriously disappointed Dylan to the fullest extent!

Be carefully who you disenchant, especially when they are a master at turning a phrase!

No, this is not the message I wish to leave you.

This last verse of "Positively 4th Street" quoted above is one of those quintessential Rock lyrics along with Randy Newman's milk truck hauls the sunup ("Living Without You"), and Neil Young's sailing hardships through broken harbors ("Tell Me Why") along with countless Springsteen and Billy Joel verses.

I've known people who I've wished could "stand inside my shoes" if only to give them the experience of seeing themselves outside of their consciousness, to give them a mind opening out-of-body experience. These are the "negative energy" beings we have all encountered throughout our recovery journeys and have either jettisoned when possible or established boundaries by which we can maintain a relationship.

It is actually by standing outside of our own shoes and looking at ourselves objectively, lovingly and honestly that we can ever begin our own recovery. This follows the gut-wrenching acknowledgment of being defeated by the addiction of our loved ones.

We know this, and again, this is not the message I want to convey.

I'd like to turn Dylan's verse inside out a bit and, applying it to the relationship we have with our children who have brought us to recovery. Perhaps, to truly love our addicts while hating the addiction that brought them down there are certain things we need to know, certain things we need to own and believe.

Imagine if for just one time we could stand inside the shoes of our children who have succumbed to addiction. We would know and feel the misery and terror of what it is to be … them. To step inside their shoes we need to consciously trust that no child wakes up one day and declares, "I'm going to throw everything away and live my life for an addiction."

We need to know in our hearts and believe and own that addiction is a disease, not a character flaw or punishment. We must allow ourselves the gift of accepting addiction as an affliction as random and devastating as childhood leukemia. Standing inside our children's shoes, we can feel the conflict of the highs and euphorias brought by self medication and lives chosen but never wished for.

We've all seen this. We've all seen this in those quiet times when our children attempt to reach out, but cannot, attempt to escape, but cannot. There are those lucid moments when The Addiction might lose its hold for a moment and our children may express that longing for days past before hope and accomplishment were replaced by addiction's call.

What a drag it is to be our our children.

Now we can see this, we can feel this. It is sad, yes, simply feel this, don't attempt to fix or own this feeling. In that overarching universe of despair we encounter while in our children's shoes we can also discern a faint glimmer of hope for little victories to come, a chance for our children to pull themselves out of their mire.

How many times have we heard our children say, "I was really good at …," or, "I know this isn't the way I want to …," or, "I'm gonna do … ," or, "I think I'd like to be a … ."

For some of us, standing inside our children's shoes may be our first move toward openly and honestly loving our children while being just fine with hating The Addiction. It is a mindset change and a heart tenderizer paving the way to the continuation of our recover journeys.

These shoes are not comfortable. There is a reason for this. We can put them on when we are ready, we can feel the sorrow, slip them off and give them back. We can breathe and let go of the pain that is not ours to hold and move on with a new-found love for our children in our hearts and souls.

"Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins."         ~ Sioux Indian Prayer
… keep coming back