We Are a Recovery Family
“We’re all recovering from something.” Dave Brisbin
And that something is the same thing.
Walt Wordsworth wrote:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
The interpretation of this eloquent poem is that we all experience a dream from which we must awake. The alternative is a never-ending state of disappointment and pain. This dream state is filled with illusions. Illusions that stem from fear. Fear manifests as worry, anxiety, anger, self-deprecation, depression and the list goes on. We treat or numb these fears by reaching out for alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, relationships, pornography, and other outside things to quell the fear. And it’s never enough.
Our human condition is all that is required for recovery. Our human condition is the thing. In the illusionary dream, we look outside ourselves and compare. This comparison leaves us feeling sorrow, loneliness, despair, separate, not enough and the list builds. For those grappling with the family disease of addiction, patterns of trying to overcome the effects create insane nightmares. The irony is that our own denial of our need for recovery keeps us in the same illusion that imprisons those we would pity. Or there are some that deplore the human condition and seek to rid themselves of their own or rid themselves of others. We only need look to social, digital or mainstream media to be reminded of those who have dreamed hatred and superiority and sought to erase others from the human experience.
Wordsworth further writes, “Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close, upon growing Boy.” I have witnessed the prison-house closing in on the growing child within myself and within my family. This book is dedicated to millions who have felt bound by the conditions that would imprison. My story is not unique. My message is simple, never ever give up! There is always hope. It is my intention that as you read these pages, you will remember from deep within you– your calling, your purpose, and your recovery of the truth of who you are. You are already free. You simply need to remember.
~”Miracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first.” Principle #7, ACIM
On September 11, 2001 the divorce from my first husband after 16 years of marriage was finalized. In June of 2003 I married my current husband, Mark. I have permission to share our family story. We share as often as we can with the hope that others may find hope that healing is possible. Three years into our marriage, Mark and I realized he was an alcoholic and I was a classic co-dependent, enabler. We had blended a family of his, mine and theirs (10 children in total). The complexities of the dynamic were challenging enough before adding the darkness of this disease. Two of our children were dealing with undiagnosed reactive attachment disorder. Mark and his daughter were wounded from a toxic separation and divorce spanning over 3 years. The other children were trying to make sense of their lives as well.
All the strategy, planning, organizing and collaboration that had been the bedrock of my corporate success wasn’t working in my small family corporation and I needed help. I was gaining weight. I had been admitted to the hospital for heart attack symptoms and was free falling into anxiety, depression, and anger. I felt like I was losing my mind.
My physician referred me to a therapist and that is when my journey of practicing and owning responsibly for “urgent self-care first” began. I am an information junkie so I read everything I could find about addiction. I became a master student of the idea of a physical and spiritual disease fed by substances and behaviors that destroy us physically and mentally. I found an al-anon group of women who taught me a platform for “knowing my part and sticking to it.” I worked with an amazing therapist who helped save my life.
On April 1, 2008 Mark left for in-patient rehab in Southern California and I went to my first al-anon meeting. I heard people verbalizing the thoughts that kept racing inside of my head. After 11 years of daily self-exploration, I now understand that while I may not have created the entire play, I signed up for the cast. And the prison I was living in was due to my forgetting. And that is my recovery journey. As I showed up for my meetings 3 and 4 times weekly. I understood Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous. I admitted I was powerless over alcohol, people, places and circumstances, and my life was unmanageable. I also began my journey of recovering from my true identity. I missed Mark, but I also enjoyed the peaceful solace of our home.
As Wordsworth says,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Recovery had found our family. We had found recovery. I had hope once again that we could all find our way home. The next few years were spent trying to find solace for all of us. I vacillated between anger and desperation most days. My own addiction of attracting and saving the wounded was in full play. And I was either pitied or applauded for holding it all together.
Our son, Shawn, was the all American, blond hair, blue eyes, charming boy. Mark and I adopted him on July 16, 2003 after we married. Shawn walked into the room and his eyes would dance as he embraced each person he met with his love and charisma. However, as the dark of night would settle in, so would Shawn’s internal hell. Each night as he tried to sleep, he would be awakened by night terrors from his past. The first months would find him sleeping next to our bed where he tried to work through the dreams that plagued him. We sought multiple counseling solutions. His nightmares began to follow him into the daylight. Throughout his short life, he too had found salves for his pain. He soon returned to destructive behaviors, including drug and alcohol abuse.
On my best day, I was desperate to help us find a solution and on most days, I was angry. I was angry that Mark and Shawn lacked the willpower to get it together and contribute. Our other 9 children were in various stages of life and all caught in the vortex of light and darkness simultaneously. At times the black hole we lived in did create stars of brilliance and hope that were flung out only to return to the abyss.
The growing child in all of us was imprisoned. In recovery circles, it is often spoken that addicts experience moments of clarity and if enough moments are put together over a period then recovery is possible. We all clung to the moments of sanity as a fearful child clutches a parent in a thunderstorm. However, the moments were allusive and illusory. It was easy to blame and judge Mark and Shawn for the chaos and imprisonment I felt.
In June, 2008 Mark’s mother, his daughter and I spent a week at the Betty Ford Clinic. We were privileged to sit among some of the most brilliant, compassionate, and well educated minds who had given their professional lives to the work of recovery. In their week-long programs, family members are taught about the disease of addiction and given suggestions and practice for healing. Mark had just returned from treatment and joined us for the family reparation and forgiveness work sessions. While I found it all so helpful, I knew we had a long way to go. Shawn had returned home in February after another year long stay in a treatment program. While I was at Betty Ford, one of our daughter’s called me frightened, because Shawn was having a rave in our home.
We returned home on Father’s Day 2008. I met with Shawn and Mark and extended apologies for my lack of understanding around addiction as the primary disease and asked if we could begin a new journey as a recovery family. Mark agreed, but Shawn stated that he wasn’t ready. Shawn moved out the following day. I saw him 3 more times and spoke with him for the last time on July 31, 2008.
On August 1, 2008 Shawn became one of the statistics of those who lose their lives to the disease. The circumstances are not important. What is important is that despite the sorrow, we know that Shawn has reconnected to more light and is working through his soul’s unifying, redemptive process. Shawn’s life, not his death is the reason I have chosen to make recovery and remembering the light and love that we are my life’s work. I often say that Shawn and Mark had the tougher road. Their physical addictions showed me my spiritual amnesia.
Our family was in Hawaii on vacation when we received the news. We had tried to encourage him to come with us. He wasn’t interested. He said he had to figure things out on his own. The next few days were blurry. We were distraught. I was angry, sad, depressed, heartbroken, and in despair. I was trying to console my children and make sense out of a senseless situation. I hardly slept worrying that sleep was evasive for all of us as I heard the other children crying.
By the evening of the 4th day after his passing, I was finally able to sleep for a few hours. As I began to awake, I had another mystical experience. We were still in Hawaii, but in my experience, I was in our home in Utah in Shawn’s room. I hugged him. He greeted me as he always did, “Hello Madre!” He was joking, teasing, and laughing as he always did. He often told me I needed to laugh more. I told him I was so happy that he wasn’t at the mortuary. He smiled, his eyes twinkling. As I turned to walk across the game room and started to ascend the stairs, he called out to me. “Madre, live your life so mine matters.” What did that mean? It took me 8 years to begin to understand what I believe he meant.
I was taken back to my experience of 3 or 4 years old when I woke up and was confused to my surroundings. I have since witnessed other children whom I believe are having similar experiences. A waking up to the illusions they will create. The further we journey from where we came, we tend to forget our soul’s state and replace it with illusions of earthly distractions and attachments. When we look back, we have given meaning to things that don’t matter and minimized that which would more nourish our spirit. This is the condition from which we all have an opportunity to recover.
As we travel, we are attended by earthly and spiritual beings who gently offer our awakening, our return, our recovery. As sun bathes and caresses on the first day of summer, so the light enfolds us when we begin to experience the return of our vision to our soul’s purpose. Through daily remembering and the collection of moments of clarity, the illusions “fade into the light of day.” Although our path is never linear, our earthly journey continues and eventually leads us back to our “east”. Along the way, we slowly recover, we slowly remember.
Like Step 2 of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.” All of this truly was insane and I need restoration. I believe Shawn was given to me to remind me to embrace the journey of remembering where I came from. That is all I need to do. I simply need to keep remembering where I came from to lead a fulfilled, enriched life. And we all came from the same Source, so we are all intricately and forever connected. This is the hope I can share to encourage us to never, ever give up.