If you’ve spent any time around Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, or other recovery-oriented groups, you’ve heard at least a few slogans and acronyms. Most of them seem to fall into one of three categories, and they include our relationship with:
- Our addicted loved one.
- Our Higher Power.
This month, we’ll look at a few of my favorites that can help us handle seemingly overwhelming circumstances.
Is everything okay right now?
I woke up night after night and lay sleepless, worrying about my alcoholic son, wondering if he was okay. I often texted him just to see if he would respond. If he did, I knew he was alive. My fear and worry escalated exponentially after another son died of a drug overdose. How could I possibly handle it if a second son died of alcoholism? One day, as I listened to a recording of an Al-Anon speaker, I heard her describe the same fear for her children. And then she said her sponsor asked her, “But is everything okay right now? Right this minute?”
Hearing that marked a turning point for me. Because although I have received the dreaded “your son is dead” call, during almost every other moment of my life, the answer is, “Yes, everything is okay right this minute.” Since hearing that question, when I start to freak out over a possibly dire situation, I stop and ask myself if everything is okay at this moment. And nearly all the time, the answer is yes. That helps me find serenity in the midst of fear. The next slogan helps me keep the correct perspective on who owns those dire situations.
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
When I start worrying about situations and what I need to do to fix them, it is usually a reminder that I need to take a step back and evaluate who owns the situation. This works well with any situation, whether it involves an addict or not. Recently, one of my sons signed up for a three-month training course. Soon, I began to wonder whether he followed through with all the details of enrollment and getting the pre-course homework done. Suddenly I realized that his training course is not my circus, and the things he needs to do to prepare for it are not my monkeys. What a relief! Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I need to step back and ask, “Whose circus is this, anyway?” But there are times when it is my circus, and they are my monkeys. What then?
It didn’t come to stay; it came to pass.
Sometimes life gets hard and bad things happen. There have been times when I have felt I can’t breathe because soul-crushing worry, fear, or grief engulfed me. In that dark place, one thing that helped me survive was to remember that even if the circumstance was permanent, as with the death of my son, the overwhelming grief would not last. Gradually, the day came when I could laugh again. Time heals, and life’s joys and sorrows ebb and flow.
Of course, the flip side of that truth is that just as grief lessens with time, the peaks of joy are not permanent. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned along this recovery journey is to try to accept the emotions and feelings that come with each stage of life’s journey. The best way for me to live life to the fullest is to recognize that nothing is permanent; everything is fleeting. I am grateful that I have begun to understand that and accept things as they come, because I am learning through that to appreciate the beauty and the pain of life. Without sorrow, we would not know joy. Remembering that tough situations didn’t come to stay helps us weather them until they pass and the sun peeks through again.
Over time I’ve learned the value of these slogans as I understand them and find ways to apply them. They are now an integral part of my own recovery. I encourage you to find slogans that are meaningful to you and work them into your daily life.
Courage to Change, Al-Anon daily reader
Codependent No More, Melody Beattie
The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, Martha Beck
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown