Al-Anon has saved my life, and I love sharing my experience, strength and hope. This is how I give back to a miraculous program that has given me a blueprint for living well and being happy.
I was decidedly UNHAPPY when I found the rooms of recovery. I was so miserable—and had been for so many years—that I was willing to try anything in order to find contentment and hopefully sleep at night. And I was absolutely certain that my happiness resided in the wellness of someone else. But I had a lot to learn…
So let me give you the short version of my 69 (Ouch!) years. I grew up in Massachusetts, the youngest of three children in a pretty dysfunctional household. My father was an alcoholic, along with his sister, his father and his grandfather. My parents fought all the time, mostly around his drinking, and my mother was severely depressed. This melancholia rubbed off on me and I’ve struggled with depression ever since I was very young.
Well, in 1948 “a fat baby was a healthy baby,” so mom never stopped feeding me. Before I knew it, I was a food addict growing into a fat child and morphing into an obese teenager, ballooning to 200 pounds. Mom was so embarrassed by my appearance that she took me to a diet doctor, who prescribed diet pills for me. I quickly became addicted to them mostly because they lifted me out of my depression. But, not having any spiritual recovery under my belt yet, I still turned to food for comfort. I struggled with both bulimia and anorexia for many years before I learned to manage my eating in a healthy way. They’re still around, my twin trolls I call them, sulking in a corner wondering why I don’t want to play anymore! But hard drugs? I never touched them again after I got married. I wanted to have children.
I married a guy I met where I was working near Boston and he joined the Foreign Service. So our marriage was spent traveling around some interesting places. Two of my children were born overseas. But there were stresses that went along with life in the diplomatic service. We lived through two assassinations very close to us and I grew afraid for my children. Also, I wanted a career in teaching, but that couldn’t happen with our moving so frequently.
So, after 15 years, I divorced my husband and returned to Washington, D.C. and started a teaching career. That worked out really well, but raising three kids on my own was hard. My middle child, Annie, was twelve when her father and I divorced, and she entered into a cave of depression I don’t believe she’s ever come out of. She also, just before the divorce, went through a brief period of anorexia. Somehow she held it together on the outside; she was in therapy and seemed to be okay. She did well in school and even graduated from college.
But when she was 21, she moved out on her own and that’s when she started using hard drugs. First methamphetamine, then cocaine, and then heroin. It’s been fifteen years now; she’s bounced in and out of recovery, in and out of four rehabs. But she’s still in active addiction living in San Francisco, and isn’t anything like the child I raised. Drug addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing, and it’s a particularly cruel thief. I miss my daughter so much, and I haven’t seen her in almost five years.
Fifteen years ago I joined Al-Anon seeking the magic bullet to save Annie. That’s why I joined, but that’s not why I’ve stayed. I was a very hard sell when I looked at the first three steps:
1. Admit my powerlessness? Never! I brought her into the world. It was my job to protect her and save her—or die trying.
2. Came to believe a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity? I’m insane? What’s insane about trying to save my child?
3. Turn my will over? Hell no! I’m firmly CSR: Compulsively Self- Reliant
Well, my best thinking got me into the rooms. With that attitude, I was just giving lip service to the program. And after six years of playing God with Annie, I had a complete nervous breakdown and had to retire from a job I adored.
This is where the rubber hit the road for me, and this is where I started reading the roadmap that was right in front of me. It’s a simple program, but it isn’t easy. My willfulness and stubbornness held up my recovery for quite a while, but I’m glad I kept coming back.
Looking at Annie was like seeing my reflection in a mirror: both of us with eating disorders, both of us doing what millions of Americans do all the time: self- medicating, in our case using amphetamines to deal with our depression. It’s always hard to watch a loved one suffer, but this hit very close to home for me. I had a lot of survivor guilt to work through.
I love the 3rd step prayer, “Relieve me of the bondage of self,” because I truly have been enslaved by my defects for too many years. When I turn them over, I feel the weight of the world lift off my shoulders.
And another thing that the program has given me is a sense of humor. I love to laugh now, at myself most of all, and see the comedy in things; there’s a lightness in me that I never had before. I am just a child of God, and I am worthy of happiness. We all are.
I’ll close with one of my favorite sayings, this one by Winston Churchill’s mom, Jenny Jerome who, despite all her fame and fortune, had her own personal struggles:
“Life may not be all that we want it to be. But to make the best of it as it is is the only way to be happy.”
I would wish that for all of my readers, and above all the humility to be grateful for what God has given us. Life can still be be a wonderful adventure. It’s all a matter of perspective. God Bless!
Marilea Rabasa is a blogger and author of A Mother’s Story: Angie
Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Maggie C. Romero (pseudonym)
published by Mercury HeartLlnk and available on Amazon. She can
also be found on www.recoveryofthespirit.com