I write this narrative on a national holiday honoring the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was once quoted as saying, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power of love.” In the meditation that followed, the author wrote, “We heal through forgiveness and love. We learn to forgive others by learning to let go of resentments. We learn to forgive, often by watching how others forgive us for the wrongs and hurt we have put on them.” (Today’s Gift)
I am the parent of two adult children, both of whom have suffered from mental illness and addiction, spanning the years 1998-2020. Both have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Both have used prescription and non-prescription drugs to manage their diseases. They have been suicidal, institutionalized, hospitalized, and benefited from inpatient treatment programs because of eating disorders, alcohol, and marijuana addictions. Addiction and mental illness are a family affair.
My husband and I have been married for 47 years and it was fifteen years into our marriage when he chose to get sober. We shared his decision to seek treatment with family, friends, and our children’s teachers. Both children were in elementary school at the time where “Just say ‘No” and “DARE” were part of their curriculum.
I have attended multiple family programs for addiction, which affects the body, mind, heart, and souls of those who suffer. I could not understand why someone would cut their own flesh, cut off family relationships, or choose to become homeless. But then who can understand the mind, the hearts, and the souls of others? Or the power of mental illness and addiction? Not me. And so, I came to believe (Step 2) in a power that could help me and those I love.
I learned that despite my valiant and well-intentioned efforts, I didn’t cause “it,” can’t cure “it,” and can’t control “it.” Step 1 reminds me daily that I have no power over people, places, and things. While it was easier to detach with love from my husband, I realized that it was much harder for me with our children. After all, they are ‘flesh of my flesh, bones of my bones’ and as their “Momma Bear” I would do anything to help them. Fearing their deaths at various points in their lives, I would pray to the God of my understanding, “Please, take me, not them.”
I am a person of faith and I have prayed fervently and frequently for my children’s health and safety. Today, I live one day at a time, relying upon the tools and principles of the 12 steps. I try to focus on myself, my own mental health, my journey, and my choices, letting go of distorted thinking, unrealistic expectations, and guilt. I try to accept me and ‘them’ just as we are, often using the serenity prayer for guidance, and the power of forgiveness and love.
Our family has spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on inpatient and outpatient treatments over the course of the past 30 years. Although powerless, we are not helpless. Enormously privileged, we helped our loved ones recover with the help of many others. We know that our family members will never be free of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual “diseases.” However, relying upon a Higher and Greater Power, I place myself and those I love in that care. I remain grateful for the help and wisdom of the people who can be found in places like Spring Lake Ranch. Together, I believe we can forgive and love each other, one day at a time.