Experience, Strength, Hope as of 2013

A recent Daily Prompt asked for reactions about public speaking. Overall, I enjoy it – provided I get to think about what I will say, and test it aloud in advance. Recently I gave a short talk that was important to me.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that last spring I had numerous posts about SILD, Someone I Love Dearly who is a heroin addict. Confronting SILD’s condition has sent SILD and me on related journeys of self-discovery. As part of mine, I have joined Al-Anon, an ill-named organization for the loved ones of addicts of all flavors. (Al-Anon originated as an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous, which slightly explains the name.) As part of Al-Anon, I took my turn leading a meeting recently, which meant I was supposed to talk for 10 minutes about my “experience, strength and hope.” (Al-Anon has many buzz phrases. That’s one of them. The idea is that when you share what you have gone through and how you have improved things, you might help someone else.) Below is approximately what I said.

I am an advanced beginner in Al-Anon. I started attending meetings maybe last April. That period of my life is so blurry I will never be one of those members who knows precisely when they first arrived.

I am the xxx of a heroin addict, now 6 months sober. SILD’s drug use is my motivator and qualifier to be here. But also, watching SILD’s evolution over the last few months has been an inspiration to me to get a sponsor and practice the steps myself.

My recollections of last spring become blurry from the moment when, doing online banking, I found a succession of $40 checks I didn’t recognize. I pulled them up to view and found checks on my account, made out to SILD, written in SILD’s handwriting. When I confronted SILD about this, I learned the money had been used to buy heroin. I learned SILD had begun using heroin two years before, but had been almost continuously high for a few years before that, an omni-addict who used whatever was available. The first time SILD tried heroin, all the other highs became irrelevant.

Looking back now I see so many signs, but I was in a spectacular state of denial – which surprised me. Usually I’m the one who points out the emperor has no clothes. But not this time. SILD had convinced me odd behaviors resulted from daily heavy use of strong varieties of weed. I didn’t like that but there was nothing I could do to stop it. (I convinced myself of that by making many and varied attempts!)

When I discovered the checks, SILD said “I’ve stopped using, it’s been a few days since I used heroin, I want to stop.” Shortly thereafter, SILD snuck away to get high, then spent the evening pretending to be in withdrawal, and expressing relief to be stopping.

I went on fast fact-finding missions by phone and internet and started to learn about addiction. By the next afternoon SILD was in detox at a hospital, and from there a few days later went into treatment. For a month SILD was in treatment wall-to-wall waking hours (with some very scary free time, nights and weekends). SILD had many rocky periods, where it seemed that SILD would leave treatment or relapse. But the general progress was forward and up.

During that time, on the advice of counselors at the treatment center and internet sites, I went to Al-Anon meetings. I was put off by the bleak stories: years of relapse; terrible choices to come, like ceasing to provide the help that only enables drug use, then watching loved ones disappear to prison, or life on the streets. Or the morgue. I wasn’t ready to hear those things.

My own healing began in meetings for codependents. It was a revelation to learn that I am a codependent, with SILD and in many other situations. I learned about enabling and detachment and setting boundaries. Initially I could only manage detachment with anger, then with exhaustion, then with numbness.

The concept of setting boundaries was huge for me. It led to my saying no sometimes. Saying no reduced resentments about being pushed and manipulated, and that has made detachment with love seem possible.

A pivotal moment for me was understanding that when someone you love lies and manipulates you over time, it is a form of mental abuse. SILD is a master manipulator. But you already knew that because I told you SILD is an addict.

I had been thinking and acting like an abuse victim. This explained so much! I could see those changes in myself: the meekness, the uncertainty, the sense that I didn’t deserve – anything, that I had no right to good treatment. I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t ask for help in a store. Didn’t want to bother the clerk.

Another revelation was coming to this Al-Anon meeting. At SILD’s treatment center, during the breaks, the addicts were so lively: talking,laughing, charismatic, vivid. Their loved ones were off in corners alone, dull and shut down and closed off, stooped, hunched over. Oh god was that who I was? I felt like an appendage, a parasite that had to suck  color from my addict. Then I came here and I discovered that what I had witnessed were loved ones caught up in the addiction. I got here and found that the loved ones in Al Anon can be every bit as vivid and lively and interesting as the addicts.

Nowadays SILD has become a big book thumper – meaning the AA Big Book. For a while SILD was doing so well I stalled out in my recovery – I lost my sense of urgency. But now the changes in SILD have inspired me to seek that kind of transformation. SILD is a sponsor now and when I catch SILD’s conversations with sponsees, I am so impressed. SILD is so wise and insightful. I want more of that for myself. I want to be that comfortable in my own skin. In our disagreements nowadays SILD is the one who leads us away from bickering and back to the high road.

I have a lot of work to do. I still don’t trust SILD much and of course relapse is always a possibility, forever. When events remind me of the Old Days those are triggers that really set me spiraling. I know Al Anon can help me work through such triggers, yet I’ve been resistant to Al Anon. I have many reasons. I am not a joiner, I’m 100% agnostic, everyone using the same slogans and jargon gives me the creeps, doing Step 4 sounds scary. I fear getting involved and joining a cult. Even more, I fear joining the cult and finding it can’t help me after all. Also I hate reading non fiction. I am especially proud of that last excuse, I think it’s an original one.

But you know sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff and not think about where you might land. So that is what I’ve done. I now attend meetings regularly, have a sponsor and am working on Step 1.

From meetings, what has helped me most so far has been the “Dos and Donts” list and the concept NO IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE.

Over the last few months I’ve kept returning to a quote by the great playwright Eugene O’Neil (who by the way came from a family of alcoholics):

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.

I’ve been thinking about what breaks and what mends. Me. SILD. At home. At work. And I see that Al Anon and AA give a lot of glue.

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