by Beth Ayers, Family Peer Support Lead
August 1, 2023
I began going to Al-Anon because a family member’s alcoholism was affecting my life. They had found sobriety, but their behaviors still bothered me. The only way I knew to deal with the situation was control. The more I tried to control what I couldn’t, the worse the relationship got. My thought was, “If they would change, everything would get better.” The problem was they weren’t changing, no matter how hard I tried! The tools I learned in Al-Anon and the recovery I experienced prepared me for the challenges I faced as a parent.
In fact, parenting a child with behavioral health challenges put my recovery to the test. I knew that I couldn’t control anyone but me. But isn’t it different when it’s your child? Nope. I still could only control me and change what I could, which was me. My choices. My actions. My attitude. My reactions (or responses when I could remember to pause). In conclusion, me. I love the visual someone shared with me of putting a hula hoop around my waist and only what was inside the hula was what I had control over. But even when I accepted my lack of control over my child, I still thought, as a parent, I could fix it for them. I set out on a mission to do all the right things; to put all the right supports in place; to make all the right appointments with the best professionals. There were two problems with my plan: 1) I could do all those things, but my child still had the choice whether to utilize them, and 2) there was no “right” way that would guarantee things would turn out okay. Trying to control and fix what I couldn’t left me irritated, angry, scared, hopeless and my life unmanageable. My laser focus on fixing also kept me too busy to process my feelings and fears. It was a destructive coping mechanism I learned early in life. And one that I can easily still slip back into.
The solution, for me, is to strengthen my recovery. When I am well, I am better able to deal with life’s challenges. When I take care of myself, the less I need others to take care of themselves by doing what I think is best for them. Al-Anon didn’t just leave me accepting that I had no control over life; it gave me a God that I could turn to. A God that was big enough for all my fears and grief; that I could trust would always be there for me no matter what life threw at me. My God fills me with peace in chaotic times, hope in dire straits, love for those whose actions hurt me, grace for my imperfections, and serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I strengthen my relationship with God by spending time daily with him. Also, I can change my attitude by naming what I am grateful for. Some days only my coffee with creamer makes the list but man am I grateful for it! I quiet the worry in my head by staying in the present moment. I remember simple slogans that bring me clarity such as “Let Go and Let God” and “Pause When Aggitated or Upset.” I use the last one a lot! I have found that a good cry (in the shower if you don’t want anyone to hear) somehow makes me feel better even though nothing has changed. Other things I do for my recovery and wellness include taking walks, playing frisbee with my dog, spending time with friends, forgiving others, being gentle with myself, watching a movie, having an accountability group that I trust and can be honest with, journaling, exercise classes, being in nature, and giving back by supporting families as their peer.
Of all the things and people out of my control, my children are the hardest for me to accept. Because I love them so much. Because I desperately want the best for them. Because I feel judged as a parent. Because the thought of losing them terrifies me. But I have found that accepting that I can’t change them has allowed me the ability and space to treat them with dignity and respect, to give them the same freedom I have to make my own choices and be responsible for the outcomes, both good and bad. Accepting I cannot control my children draws a clear boundary of where I end and they begin, freeing them from the pressure of being responsible for my feelings. It also gives them back their right to struggle and learn and take pride in their successes in life; the same right recovery has given back to me.