Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I  chose this rather unglamorous title because recovery is really hard work. I know  progress in this effort  will  have great rewards, but I sometimes think the difficulties of getting to recovery and staying there is simply more than we can manage.. This applies not only to us but to our addicts as well.

The need to change our thought processes , our view of the addict and ourselves , work the 12 steps , and attend meetings, while actively trying to change much of our behavior  is a  fulltime job. I am not saying this to be discouraging. To the contrary I am a firm believer that it can be done. But none of us can possibly anticipate  the  time and effort that will have to be given to make our  recovery happen.
We often speak of our journey-that’s what it is and much of the  trip is up a very steep and uncertain incline. The journey and the its  process is the destination. There is no  last page or final mile. There is no finality in working the Steps. Our lifetime is the duration of the journey. Yes we have to work on recovery forever. That is why you see  recovering people in AA   who have 25 years of sobriety.  We  like the addict , need to continue  with meetings to keep our  own recovery intact ; and as important, we have to lend a helping hand to other who are struggling.  For me this is what Step 12 is really about. Step 12 is serious work. My son once said to me on a hot day as he was mowing the lawn:”I’d love an ice cold beer, but I know that would lead to the end of my recovery ; and most important I know I could never go through this again.” He didn’t say why, but I knew how many years he had struggled to find sobriety and  he was uncertain he could  ever  find his way back to  long term recovery  again if he relapsed at that point in his life. The statement was an eye opener for me ;I had not realized how difficult our journeys had been. I guess finding some peace and some resolution tends to blank out the years of pain and hard work. But he had not forgotten how much he struggled to recapture his life.

We often wonder as family members of addicts how much punishment they can take. But recovery, I believe, for them , is much harder  than staying lost  the in the chasm  of addiction . For us the chasm of despair and enabling is, for many years,  easier to manage than  the process of recovery. That’s why I refer to the “daily grind” of recovery. And I believe that is the reason so many  of us  struggle for years trying to get better. My experience has taught me that the truth upfront trumps  the “ embellished fairy tales” about  addiction  every time. I firmly believe that the truth ,while painful to hear, accelerates recovery. If we understand what we  are up against ,we  will be less disappointed over the many failures that precede  success in this process of recovery. And I know we can all succeed in this effort if we have the knowledge of the facts about addiction  and  understand why we need to change. The fuel  that propels us is this knowledge and the  hope  that our efforts coupled with guidance from our Higher Power,  will ultimately  lead us to  peace and serenity in our lives.
“The journey is the destination”

Saturday, November 26, 2011



I know that the quest for serenity sometimes seems unimaginineably difficult. This  is most  true when we are in  the midst of the chaos of addiction. There are 2 keys that help us navigate these difficulties. They are 1: understanding that serenity, when we first discover it,  is a small island in a huge  raging sea. I f we work on making the island bigger and the raging sea smaller  we will have more and more serenity.  If we think that serenity is a final state  and permanent in that form , then we are bound to be very disappointed and disillusioned.. The amount of time we are serene starts out ver y small. But it  will grow if we  understand the second key ; believing   that we are the gatekeepers of our heads and its contents.  Both of these two keys take time to find and embrace. If we believe we will find total serenity  in an instant, or if we cannot accept that we are the gatekeepers of our heads,then the process will take that much longer.
The first key is the easier to understand understand. Keeping people and their problems out of our heads is much harder and takes a lot of work. We must believe however that we have that power and that we can control what impacts us and our emotions. The issue is very much the same as what  I refer to as  the front burner,back burner  phenomenon. We all know how to move a pot from one burner to another, but we struggle to move problems in our heads from a big area to a small area. It does take practice and hard work. And I guarantee that it can be done if we  want it enough..
So often what seems impossible is really the result of our  unwillingness to make it happen. If we really love the chaos that the addict brings and love having the addict live with us so the chaos can be fulltime,then we will never find serenity. PERIOD. That is why we have to be WILLING and READY to make changes in our emotional needs and then in our behaviors. So often people complain  that none of the beautiful changes we talk about  are possible. But that is only because they are  getting something from the chaos generated by the addiction . EVERY BEHAVIOR HAS A REASON;THERE IS NO RANDOM BEHAVIOR. I BELIEVE THIS 100%. When behavior is crazy,some one is deriving a benefi (or a an emotional reward)from it. Find  the benefit,eliminate it ,and the behavior goes away. This has been demonstrated over and over in every clinical psych class and psych  book. And this can be shown to be true in addiction and in our codependent behaviors. We enable because it give us a psychologic benefit . Enabling give us pleasure because it fills the emotional  hole we created by  believing we caused the problem,or we didn’t show enough love,and on and on……… If you take away the belief through behavioral modification ,the reward  disappears and so does the behavior. I know it sounds simple,but because we are complicated  people, nothing is simple.

It is very much the same with belief  that you are the gatekeeper of your head. To get there you have to eliminate the benefit you receive from all the turmoil of letting the addict(and other problem people) control your head. Once you understand this  ,it is a lot easier to do what you need to do. Where does behavior modification  fit  in? Behavior modification is what we get  from going to meetings, listening to people with years of experience, and  studying  our  literature. The addicts gets  the tools for recovery(behavior modification)   from rehab, from living with other recovering  people,going to meetings and studying  their literature.

So if you really want to find serenity , you will  find it. So much of the difficulty,  as I said earlier, is within us. It’s in eliminating  all that nonsensical clutter and the  erroneous belief systems which   dominate our thinking  and blind  us from  seeing  the truth. When we are ready to change our lives  and find  serenity, we will gradually  clean out the mess in our heads   and move forward with our lives with the help of our Higher Power. And if we are lucky ,the addict will do the same.

 Looking back on all of this 22 years from the start, I find it hard to believe how incapacitated  I was and how much freer and better  I am today. I struggled for years over these same issues-just like everyone else.  But having arrived at a place where I understand what I went through and why I had so much trouble changing ,I hope to pass on some  knowledge from the  recovery  side of the battleground  to help others . By relating what I learned  from my struggle ,perhaps I   can l help you shorten  yours. And  I want to assure those  who are mired in despair ;there is hope  for all of us –and our addicts.


Sunday, November 20, 2011



Just as Hope is hard to uncover in the midst of the chaos of addiction,reasons to be Grateful can be equally elusive. We always try to think and  talk about Gratitude at this time of year. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is about
We really do have much to be grateful for. I know that the addiction tends to preoccupy so much  of our  thinking;yet  we must to  look  at the bigger world beyond the addict. The addict is not the only thing we should be thinking about. I realize in the beginning of the process of recovery,it is very hard to concentrate on anything else. However by attending  meetings  and gaining some insight,we can begin to move the addict from the front burner to the back burner and find room for thoughts  of of other things,other people and why we should be grateful. If we can focus on the other members of our family who are doing well despite the addict(the enablers are always the last to see the truth and detach)we must be grateful for them and learn to listen to them  and enjoy them. I realize that our preoccupation  cause us to consider our other children and spouses as less “into” the problems- but it's always as we see them. We  the enablers are too aware and too involved, and we tend to brush everyone and everything  else aside. However at this time of year in particular we need to be grateful for everyone else. We need to find comfort in the beauty that surrounds us - the sunrise,the sunset, the night sky,and  all the natural phenomena that move through  their cycles despite by our addict. Yes,it is true ,that there is a big world outside the addict. We simply have to learn how to find it. I know that this is very hard, especially in the early months after the realization  that we have an addict in the family. But we need to push past our preoccupation with the one person  and see  the many ,who are a source of pleasure and Gratitude-and Hope.

I said in an earlier piece that part of our problem is mind clutter.  We have opened  the gates and  permitted  the addict to  flood our heads, pushing everything else into dark corners. When we start to get better we clear out the mess and throw much of it away.  That is a large part of recovery. The sickness we have is the constant absorption in the addict’s issues. There really is a gigantic,often wonderful  world outside the addict and that reasons for Gratitude are  not hard to find. We wear  very secure blinders for years.  We will find Hope and Gratitude by throwing off the blinders and begin  seeing that there is joy everywhere. And it isn’t  impacted  one bit by our preoccupation with the addict.

Yes, there is so much to be grateful  for,if we learn how to look, and we are ready to see what is obvious. So much of our issue is our  inability to accept  this  reality :there is  wonderful  life  for us outside the addict.

 As we approach Thanksgiving  and, hopefully,  every good event in our lives, we must throw off the shackles and blinders  that we placed on ourselves. This is what prevents us from seeing everything that is right in our lives .When we progress with  our  recovery,we will find reasons  for Gratitude  everywhere. Our cup will truly run over as we move from the darkness  to the light. Recovery is a wonderful blessing! And for many of us it is the  primary reason for our  Gratitude.


Friday, November 18, 2011


This title is a great truth. Our program is very simple when we  finally get it. We have a great deal of trouble getting it because of all the stuff rattling around in our heads. The major stuff relates to our being a failure as a parent because we have an addict in the family. From this stems an entire belief system, usually at the subconscious level, telling us  how we failed and what we must do to make it up to the addict. I believe this issue is the root of our extraordinary ability to sacrifice everything to fix the addict,never seeing that  enabling is not  the source of our  redemption.It works out that this erroneous belief system  makes everything about drug addiction  worse for years. The more we enable, the worse the addiction and our lives get. This occurs because our premise is INCORRECT. We are not the cause of the addiction. It has nothing to do with us as parents. Our addict is sick because of a chemical disorder of the brain which I believe is present before  the first pill , injection , snort,or drink. I believe it is a genetic disorder,like so many other diseases. Unlike other diseases however,this one can only be fixed by the person who has it; there  is really nothing we can do about it. Similarly if we have an adult diabetic family member who refuses to take medication,is there anything we can  do  about it? Addiction differs because it is so visibly and rapidly self destructive. Diabetes takes years to kill. Drug addiction can be very lethal, very quickly.  And addiction has , in my view,  the potential to  destroy all family relationships over time. Diabetes does not have that potential.

The key for us lies in recognizing what we are dealing with and that we did not cause this disease. Once we see the truth we can detach,allowing the addict to be responsible for his or her recovery. And we can attend to our own recovery.

As I said in the beginning,it is our complexities that make all of this so tough. Yes addiction is truly horrible,but so much  of the driver of the horror is the garbage in our heads. Going  to meetings with people who have worked on these issues for years  helps us understand that we are not responsible for the addiction. The addict is responsible for the addiction and the recovery. We have our own recovery to work on. So much of our recovery is recognizing that what is in our heads is  not correct and  that there is another huge  part of our lives that has nothing to do with the addict.  As I have said  before ,when  we understand the truth about this addiction, everything gets easier. And none of this is beyond our reach.

Finally,there is a wonderful statement the source of which is debated. It says:"You shall know the truth,and it shall set you free." That is absolutely true!


Sunday, November 13, 2011


It is very hard to find hope in the midst of the chaos of addiction. We are all so mired in the slough of the addict hope seems unrealistic or non existent Yet we know that many families and some addicts do recover. But where do we turn for hope in the midst of our despair? Most of us realize eventually that hope can only be found if we are willing to embrace change . We must recognize that all the things we did simply did not help the addict or ourselves. The addiction goes on, as does our despair. We eventually learn from the Steps that the source of hope lies only in change. First we must recognize that we are powerless to fix the addict. This frees us from the responsibility of solving the addict's problems, allowing us to begin our own recovery. When we begin the recovery process we see the first glimmer of Hope. Understanding Steps 2 and 3 allows us to complete our emancipation from the addict's issues,placing those issues in the hands of our Higher Power. As we accomplish this extraordinary change we can see hope in it's full array . Hope is now tangible and we can grasp it more easily. Finding Hope through the above mentioned changes,enhances our ability to recover. We know that change is important for us. With time and hard work we see that change is not only the linchpin for finding Hope,it is the linchpin for finding  our recovery.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I know this is a confusing title. Powerlessness is hard enough to understand. But can it liberate? Step 1 says we are powerless over drugs and other people's lives and that our lives had become unmanageable It is clear that the unmanageability is the resut of failing to understand our powerlessness. No one I am sure ever envisioned admitting powerlessness. Power was fundamental to our thinking and our success. How could we separate ourselves from being powerful?

However after some years of struggling with an addict,most of us recognize(often reluctantly ) that we are indeed powerless. What is beautiful about the admission is that we are no longer responsible for the adult addict. What a relief! And we now have the freedom to make our live manageable. This is the precise method by which accepting powerlessness liberates us.We can now attend to our own lives and believe it or not,our own happiness. This is the reward for shedding the responsibility for the addict. It turns out to be a Very Good Deal! Once we see this all of our negative perceptions of powerlessness evaporate.Step 1 becomes a sure winner.

Powerless when understood is a powerful tool for restoration of the enablers life.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Part 9; Staying out of the Addict's Recovery

                       Part 9  Staying Out  of the Addicts Recovery
We have all experienced the 35th floor elation which I referred to in an earlier article. This is generated  by our belief system that does not recognize how long recovery takes for us and the addict. So when the addict gets cleaned up by rehab for a few weeks or months,we don’t know what to do to show how happy we are. Therefore we fall back into our old behaviors of trying to reward the addict for accomplishing something we see as monumental(the 35th floor) but which is in reality only the VERY BEGINNING of a long process(the first floor). I know I sound facetious but this is what plays out in our heads. That is because we too are in early recovery and don’t understand that  for us  too  this is just a BEGINNING. Recovery is a long arduous process for us and the addict. We start to forget the addict’s recent punishing behaviors which lie buried only skin deep. And we start to romanticize that they are now ok. So everything we didn’t finish doing for them before they went into rehab can now be resumed. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

I have often seriously said that the enablers live in a fantasy world. They have  heads cluttered with nonsense. I was the same way. I did not understand that one rehab is  just a nibble at recovery. It is only the very beginning- maybe. And was I wrong  and soooooo disappointed, not  just about  my addict but at myself for not understanding the any part of the truth about addiction. I must confess it took me about 10 years to really understand how bad things were going to be and what I had to do ultimately. I was an excellent denier of reality. Sadly we all want to believe wonderful things about all of our children. But the truth lies elsewhere when dealing with an addict. The only wonderful thing is honest –to- goodness recovery,which lies a lot further down the road then we want to believe.

Engaging with the addict when no one is ready,ie ,neither side is really in recovery, only leads to  more problems. We cannot control or manage the addict’s recovery –not one bit or one moment. We can manage our own recovery 100 %,however, and that is where we need to focus our energy. Bringing the addict home to  wonderful dinner and showering him or her with our love(or is it really control) and gifts, only tells the addict that they do not have to do one more thing for their own recovery. They see that we are going to do all the heavy lifting for them. Just like we always thought we were doing before rehab. The truth is we thought we were helping,but we were destroying the addict and ourselves, for good measure. That is the sum and substance of what our actions accompllish when we don’t understand the nature and longevity of addiction. And we do not understand that only the addict can fix his/her disease.

What is the moral? Before you engage your addict ask yourself”Am I in recovery far enough to understand that my old  relationship with the addict almost destroyed both of us”? And “am I ready for a totally new and different relationship with my addict”? If the answer is truly ”yes” and you understand how important honesty is,then by all means engage! But if the answer is “no” or” I am unsure”, politely tell your addict the answer is no engagement and no meetings. The addict will fully understand if he/she is in recovery and if not,you would have had a miserable time anyway.   


The Empty Chair at the Table -- Part 8

The Empty Chair-Coping with The Holidays
Our family  group often discusses this subject at this time of year. I have heard and learned a lot about the distress at Holiday time over my 22 years working in with families of addicts. My experience has taught me that there are at least two separate problems wrapped into this issue. Problem number one is that we have a total fantasy in our recollections of our perfect families gathered at the dinner table celebrating during our childhood. Accepting this fact offers hope of resolving why we feel so bad at this time in our lives.We envision that earlier perfect family and compare our present situation with an empty chair at the table,where we believe the addict should be seated enjoying our celebration. And without the addict (who hopefully is suffering the consequences of his/her behavior,)how can we have a celebration? This thinking diminishes us terribly and increases the overwhelming negativism we project on our perceived failures as parents.
This brings us to the second issue which requires resolution. The addict who is not in GOOD recovery, and 18 years old or older, does not belong in our homes, much less be celebrating the Holidays with us. We need to understand that bringing addicts into our houses when they are not in good recovery sends a terrible message to them . That message is"the old(very sick)relationships are in play once again". That is the last message we want convey to our addicts. Additionally the addicts who are not in good recovery should be celebrating the Holidays in the midst ofa the Recovering Community who know exactly how to deal with them because they are recovering from the same disease. The importance of our addicts' involvement with  the Recovering Community cannot be overemphasized.
We also need to take an honest look at our recollections of our childhood where the "perfect "family celebrated. The truth is that the "perfect" family was very imperfect-we just did not know who drank to excess or did far worse things to wives and children. Most families had all those problems;but no one talked about them. That is the difference between the perfect family of our childhood and our families. We are all flawed and so were they. The difference is communication. I am sure you have all heard the old adage:"we are as sick as our secrets." This is one of the main reasons we attend FA-to learn how to unburden ourselves,clear the air of denial, and open the door to our recovery.
What are the lessons contained in this writing? First stop comparing a fantasy world(our childhoods) with reality. What we face today  is reality ,I hope. No one gets better if we do not see,,understand ,and speak the absolute truth. That is what ACCEPTANCE is about. We see reality and we accept it. We move beyond the fantasies about ourselves and the nature of our addicts' disease. And no more fantasies about how we are going to fix that disease.by having the addicts join us for the Holidays so we can prove how much we love them. Haven't we already proven it a hundred thousand times?

Finally, we should all read Detachment over and over as the Holidays approach. When we have read it and Accept it the empty chair issues will go away forever as we all get better. Say the Serentiy Prayer at least 3 times a day and go to extra meetings. Use the phone list! It works when you work it! We need our recovering community- and the addict needs his/hers. We and our addicts cannot make this arduous journey to recovery alone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Part 7 Humility

Humility is not something we think a lot about when everything is going well in our lives. In fact so often the good life is marked by a lot of hubris. We sometimes think we have the world under (our)control. When a family is stricken with addiction , all those euphoric  feelings plummet and often we are left with nothing but despair.

We can first encounter humility when we start to work the Steps. Step 1 says we are powerless,and if that doesn't give us an inkling about  humility ,nothing ever will. However  our prior hubris and the rapid careening of our previous lives makes understanding powerlessness particularly difficult. We came down so fast from the 35th floor(my wife's favorite term) of our lives to  ground zero in what seems like an endless  moment of horror;.it actually takes months to get on a new track,because our egos don't want to let go of that picture perfect life we thought we were living. We thought we were really in control of so many things.. What we missed were the innumerable signs that the ground beneath our comfortable perch had been shaking for months or years. Denial is a powerful player in keeping us from seeing what is really happening.But the inevitable crash took place and then Step  1 can eventually open  our eyes to a different world-a different reality. It is a reality of  powerlessness. And this is our first introduction to a long lost concept and very powerful too(ultimately)-humility. In essence the world was never in our hands-ever. We just  thought it was.

Step 4 is the tool where we can really get a good  taste of humility. Taking a long deep personal  look inside for the first(unlikely) or the tenth time makes us see what is really  good and what is not so good about us. Our arrogance from the earlier life begins to disintegrate when we work Step  4 deep into our psyches. In it's place will rise humility.-but only when we are ready. For some of us it is hard to grasp what humility is all about. We have spent too many prior years immersed in our arrogance and self-assuredness.

Eventually with hard work on Steps 1,4 and ultimately 11 we will not only see,but live a life filled with humility.
Humility is probably the most visible  change when we and our addicts recover. Without humility there is only sobriety-not recovery for the addict. They are very different. I would estimate it can take 2-5 years to really become humble. Our world does not give high praise to being humble. We worship aggressivity,sad to say. Power is king in our world. So it is easy to see why humility is not easy to understand or embrace. But like  all things in recovery,"time takes time" and even small changes are never easy. But with persistence anything is possible.

 I have often said nothing helps me with humility more that stepping outside to observe a star-filled sky. When I really connect with my Higher Power in this setting I fully understand that I am a small(but important) cog in a very big wheel. And I have no more power to change another person that I have the power to rearrange the constellations in the sky. It really works for me.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Where Did We Go Wrong? Part 6

Every parent ask this question over and over when confronted with an unmanageable family member,usually an adolescent child. Deep down when our children have mounting and seemingly overwhelming problems we all question ourselves. I guess that is just parental nature,we think. But it is really more than that-,much much more. Parents tend to blame themselves when things do not go right in the family. So right from the get- go an addict child becomes our fault." If we had only"....... is the endless psychological intrusion into every parent's thoughts.It becomes a constant drumming inside our heads. "It must have been something we did or didn't do". And that's the origin of  enabling.  It is this dynamic that sets us off on the absolutely wrong path in dealing with addiction.
And this is where we start to go wrong. Many of us have raised normal and successful children already . A little enabling for them doesn't really interefere with their growth and independence. But with an addict everything we thought we know about parenting is turned upside down and we do not understand that inversion. We believe that if we keep doing what parents are supposed to do,help their children,we can solve the problem. But with an addict,nothing could be further from the truth.

It takes a lot of help and education to jump over the chasm of  total misunderstanding which belies  what we are supposed to do under this new circumstance.We do not realize that drug addiction is a completely different disease ;it is not something that follows the rules of normal parenting. It is a cancer that eats into the entire family destroying all relationships. It is not like diabetes or an infection. In those cases we would make sure our children received the best of care,all medicines appropriate and we would arrange for all of it. But when we leap into the fray with a drug addict,everything gets worse. And so much worse than we thought in our worst nightmares.It is our failure to recognize the presence of addiction and that  it is something we have never encountered before-that is where we go wrong. We cannot, without help, understand how bad this problem is and how important it is to stop trying to fix it.We need to understand  that we need help with this problem. No family can do this alone.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Making a Lifetime of Changes

                                                           Making a Lifetime of Changes

When I first  realized that my son was an addict,I felt like I was standing at the edge of an enormous chasm. I was attending meetings  for a short while and I heard people talk about serenity or peace of mind. I never thought that I would share in their conversations and I never dreamed that I would 20 years later have true serenity.I have thought a great deal about how this happened. It actually  didn’t just happen. It took years of work on my part. In the process I learned a great deal about myself that I had not previously  understood ,at  least at a  a conscious level. And that knowledge enabled me to work the steps successfully and most importantly make the changes necessary to lift me(a step at a time) across that yawning chasm,which I call the Despair of Addiction.

I view addiction as the following. We are all standing at one edge  of a very deep and very wide chasm with the addict. Across the chasm is a place called Recovery and at the pinnacle of Recovery is another related place called Serenity. There are only a few tattered rope bridges crossing the chasm ;but they look very dangerous and uncertain. Our choices(and the addict’s )are to climb down  into the chasm,or in the addicts’s case fall down the chasm. and then try to figure out how to navigate the dark terrain to get to the place called Recovery. It becomes very obvious  if we are realistic that we cannot carry the addict on our backs. The terrain is too difficult. We must each make our own journey. This is the analogy for letting go. If we carry or enable the addict,we will all be stuck in the chasm perhaps forever. If we let go of the addict and focus on our own path we have a chance to reach Recovery.

The tools for  successfully traversing  the tattered rope bridges lie in a toolbox called “Change”. Change works within us  at several levels. First are the changes that relate to our behavior in relationship to others,predominantly the addict in the beginning of the process. Detaching is a huge part of the change process. Then there are the changes we can make within ourselves. These changes  can all be mastered (a day at a time)  by working the 12 Steps,particularly Step 1,2,and 3 and subsequently  by turning our full attention to Step 4 . We must work Step 4 until we can’t go on and then we must work it all over again. The key to our success lies within Step 4 and extends ultimately  thru Step 9. This is where the guidelines for  the long process of change reside. They  are ours for the taking,but accomplishing  change within is a long road; and as with most roadwork  we need  to be prepared for  backbreaking  effort. Change does  not fall out of the sky. We must really want to change and we must be willing to work hard at the process.  We need to see that we can be much different and much  better people through this process of change. And  with these changes we can utilize  the tools that let us cross the  dark chasm of Despair more quickly ,rather than wandering in the depths of the chasm for years-perhaps a lifetime. Curiously,the more we change,the more we  actually repair the tattered bridges  across the chasm ,so that others may follow a bit more easily by our example. Perhaps some day we may find our addicts crossing  by the same paths.
None of this is easy. After working for 22 years on Change,I know how tough it can be. However I have learned there is no other path across the Chasm,and without change we can never find Serenity. While it would be easy to make this journey sound quick and  staightforward,that  would be terribly misleading and could generate endless discouragement.  Change is really tough,but incredibly necessary if you want to get better and if you want  to reach Serenity. Additionally and perhaps most important, when we change, we open a door for the addict to change. He/She  may or may not accept the invitation for months or years;but the door is open. Conversely,my experience has taught me that if we don’t change. the addict does not have a chance of getting better.

In closing I will reiterate what I learned from my son and many others in good recovery: Everone of them said “I went into recovery  when I fully  understood there was no one left to save me; I could only  save myself.” The power of Change is truly extraordinary!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Part 5: The 12 steps

                                                                The Steps and a Few  Missteps

The 12 Steps were written with great  effort and reflect enormous  wisdom. They have been the keystone of recovery since the early 1930s when they were published by AA. From many years of meeting and from numerous attempts to work the steps myself,I developed a somewhat different approach to the Steps which I would like to share in this article. I recognized perhaps 10 years ago that there is an aversion to working the steps in FA or at least working them seriously. Reading and rereading does not do the trick. The steps don’t drop into our hearts from the sky. They require real effort. And I think they require a shift in perspective to make them appeal to revering families in the 21st century.

When we do our Step meeting monthly,I introduce the Steps within the time frame during which they first were published. I also emphasize that they were written for AA and that we need to broaden our perceptions of exactly what they mean to us.I try to group the steps in to 3 categories:1-3,4-9,and 10-12. Our members do understand the they appear in their order for a reason;they were not randomly. I also urge our group to try to see  some of the the language differently because use of words has changed over the past 70 years. I also urge our members to find reasons to work the Steps regularly;many of us look for reasons not to work them because they appear so difficult. We discuss that fact the the Steps change; every time we grow spiritually we understand more of the meaning. Understanding the Steps is a life’s work. In the beginnning we read them and reread them without really have them get inside  us. Additionally many of our members are not at all spiritual  and some do not believe in God . This presents a real challenge to accept Steps which refer to God or the  Higher Power. Consequently many of the group look to the GROUP itself as the Higher Power;those with some spiritual background can translate this effective concept to the Higher Power doing it’s work through the group. This approach keeps many members from hitting a stone wall when working certain steps.

Steps 1,2,3
These steps have been summarized:”I can’t do it;someone else can;I will turn it over to the one who can”. I sounds so simple when read. However as we have discussed many times,accepting powerlessness is a real challenge and requires a great deal of maturity to accomplish. Step 2 bring us to the problem of accepting the existence of God or finding another higher Power who can help us. I referred earlier to how many in our group finally accomplish this feat. For those of us who are truly religious and/or  have a connection with their God, this step is infinitely easier to carry out. For those of us who don’t have this connection,finding and accepting the Higher Power is a lengthy struggle
Step 3 is the place where letting go come into play. That is exactly what 3 states. We need to turn it over. We need to let the Higher Power take on the role we have been attempting to fill for years. If we can do this,then we get a chance to focus on ourselves. This transformation is necessary to move on to Steps 4-9.

Steps 4-9
Step 4 requires us to finally take that ling careful look beyond the mirror and inside ourselves. If 3 has empowered us to look after ourselves ,then we are at least prepared to undertake 4. But looking inside can be brutal if we are honest. There will be many things we do not like within-but the Step wants us to use a balanced sheet of what is good and can be improved upon as well  what we want to cast off. If we view 4 as only looking for the bad within,we can never work I successfully. That is too painful! So we need to find good and bad and work with both.

Steps 5 -9 provide a framework for us to make change. We need to go thru certain mechanisms to make change really happen. We need to work with our Higher power and People we can trust. But unlike the exact way the steps are written we must take an active role in this process. No one can change us but ourselves in the long run. Always remember-God moves mountains but it helps to bring a shovel”. This view is definitely different from the exact wording of the Steps themselves and I am sure very far afield from how many recovering groups  look at this group of Steps. I have found over the years that our members need to look at this part of the process differently to make it reach into them and push them to take personal action. My approach to Step 9 is also different. I agree that amends are important ,but I see more in Step  9 than amends. I see a personal transformation ,a spiritual maturation ,and a humble awakening  to the new person we strive to become. My personal perception is that 4-9 are about change within us. It happens very slowly and may take 10 years for us to become different. Old habits die hard;we all know that.How many times have we heard”you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? I do not believe that is tue. I know we can all change. We have to be ready and we have to be willing. READY AND WILLING!!! That is the real hard stuff in this program. I would like to make another comment on amends before closing this section. Here we come to a real possible misstep in deciding who deserves amends and who is READY for amends. As to Who,we must put ourselves high on the list along with other family members,especially the cellophane children. As to readiness ,my experience has taught me that making amends to the addict too soon is a huge mistake. The addict deserves our amends but only when he/she is in good recovery-not before that time. Like everything else that we do involving the recovering person,there is no rush to make amends. And without change we keep making amends to the same people for the same reasons,over and over.

Steps 10-12

I call these 3 steps  the “maturation” steps. Some sound really easy,but they can be awful  landmines in our road to recovery. As steps requiring real progress in our journey,they take a long time to accomplish.Step 10 give us the right ,in my view to see what is wrong and change it without delays. And without needing to check with anyone. We have reached a level of confidance(but always tempered with humility) so they we do not need to look over our shoulder prior to every correction. 10 reflects the release to move on our own. Step 11(my favorite) is very complex. 11 takes us from a child’s view of the world and God ,to a mature adult’s view of Him/Her. We now understand that prayer is not about a list of requests. It is not about begging God to do our will. Step 11 is about listening, about humility,and and ultimately about receiving  an understanding of God’s will for us. This is the ultimate reward for our hard work. When we are ready ,Step 11 will guide to  a  place we never dreamed possible. For those who read the Bible, I urge you reread God’s declamation just prior to the conclusion of the Book of Job . If you see the purpose of that declamation,then you will have a much better understanding of what Step 11 can do for us. Step 12 has two very important parts. I did not understand the first part- “having had a spiritual awakening” and why it was so critical  to “carrying the message”. I thought carrying the message was the real crux of the step. However you really can’t seriously  carry the message without the prior spiritual awakening,. And this is the point of a second major misstep. I have seen many members who can regurgitate the message of the steps and think they can carry it to  others without any change in themselves. That approach, which I fear is common,leads to failure to make any progress in the program. The idea that an individual can carry the message without previously  undergoing some  spiritual awakening,I believe, is a fallacy. That is not carrying the message;it is self delusion ;ie failing to recognize that nothing from the FA program has gotten inside of us. Instead we want a pat on the back for  spouting the message as a  substitute for doing the real work in the program. I have seen this happen repeatedly. Some of the worst failures in our program occurred in people who thought they could carry the message, instead of working the program .
I know there are many more potential stumbling blocks in working the Steps,but I feel that the two I referred to  in this article are the among  most common and the most subtle.

Mort K Group 1318

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First of a series of information from a parent who has worked many years with families of addicts

Good afternoon,
I have been working with families of addicts for 22 full years. Over that time I have met thousands of families and hundreds of addicts in good recovery. I have learned a great deal over that  time frame and I believe I know what absolutely does not work for families of addicts. I do not have a precise formula for what does work,but I know that families can recapture their lives despite what the addict does or does not do. This involves looking for the truth about what addiction is and becoming willing to change based on our understanding of that truth.I have learned that most addicts have many features in common ,and most parents or enablers make the same mistakes repeatedly. There is very little that differentiates your addict from mine. The level of destructive behavior varies as does the level of recovery of addicts. The process of recovery for us is lengthy and is best accomplished in the company of other families working on the same issues.It is very hard for anyone(us or the addict) to do this alone. Therefore find a group of people who are serious about improving their lives and restoring destroyed family relationships; with persistence and the right group,  you will succeed-as I did. There are many such groups (Alanon,,Naranon,and Families Anonymous). Each meeting even within the same umbrella group  is different. All have websites with listings of meetings. Be prepared to work hard-this is a lifelong process of  Personal Change  and the issues can be very painful and hard to get your hands around. What is discussed in meetings  is usually the  opposite of what we all thought normal parenting was about. That is why this is so hard to understand in the beginning. In essence we have a recovery process to work through and our addict has his or her own recovery process. They are hopefully parallel but that may not be the case. And we recover separately. Our recoveries do not mix together! This cannot be overstated.. Usually the family has to begin the recovery process. I cannot emphasize this too strongly. Change must begin in the family specifically with the enablers. The enablers are usually the parents,but not always. The enablers are the people who cannot stop trying to fix the addict's problems.That is the easiest  way to understand  the players in this lifelong  drama. We all know who the addict is,and remarkably siblings and friends do not sacrifice their lives for the addicts. However the enablers will sacrifice themselves and everyone else in the family to fix the one person who cannot be fixed by them. I know this to be  the absolute truth. Enabling fixes nothing;conversely it destroys all hope of anyone recovering and often makes the addiction progressively worse and  often ultimately fatal. Enablers do not create the disease. The disease  belongs to the addict and is probably due to a genetic error in the chemistry of the brain. But those who enable are part of the reason the disease goes on,possibly forever. I have seen 85 year old parents taking care of 65 year old addicts. No one ever changed and as we say"when nothing changes,nothing changes" It is  actually that  simple.

I know there is a lot of information on this page and if you are interested in what I have learned over 22 years,keep reading. I will try to cover one issue at a time,but so much is intertwined that is not always possible. I will try to answer or respond to whoever writes back.

I hope what I have learned can ultimately help you. Hearing what I have to say is not easy. It takes time to process ideas that are not intutive to what we all thought parenting was about. Enabling in most households may not be the best idea,but rarely leads to problems. With an addict in the family , it always worsens  problems.
 Sometimes my comments seem  harsh. They are not meant to be. I go back to the issue of each of us finding  the truth which is incredibly obscured by our  thinking. If we are to get better ,we need to  disentangle most of our lifelong beliefs to find the truth about ourselves . And I know that is never easy to explain  or to accomplish.