Has anyone else loved someone who is struggling with addiction? I have. Love isn’t easy sometimes and there isn’t an instruction manual. Emotions can be difficult to process, especially when we are holding conflicting ones in the same space. Below, I share a piece of my greatest heartache and most difficult struggle.
Today, my post is originating from a deep longing to connect to the ones I love. This year I realized through a process of painful discovery that I had to let go of my sister and her adult children. My sister has battled with addiction throughout her adult life and as a result her kids were swept up in the culture and lifestyle surrounding addiction, and have not reached their potential. Two of her children have been in jail, one struggles with a psychiatric illness that began after Meth use, and none of them walked across the stage to graduate high school. Of her five adult children, only one of them is currently working. I’m not only grieving the loss of opportunities for each one of them, but also the connection I longed to create with them and the memories we would have made in time.
This issue has caused me more frustration, pain, and grief than any other in my life. My nuclear family is small consisting of just my sister, mom, step-father, and me. Because of my mental illness, Bipolar I, I never conceived children. I was always a little skeptical of quitting my medication in order to focus on a pregnancy and decided it may be for the best to not have any children. I still grieve over the loss of not being a Mom and have invested more instead in my sister’s family. She has five children. I realize that this is one reason the addiction in her family is particularly painful and distressing for me. I felt that as her kids matured and began having children of their own, that I could be involved in the lives of my loved ones. I could take my great nieces and nephews camping, ice skating, and to ball games. I was hopeful I could babysit, perhaps help with homework, and even take them on trips. That I would be a permanent fixture in their lives and part of the family. The only niece I have that has a child is currently living at home with her Mom and other siblings and is estranged because of the issue of addiction. All relationships are distant or nearly nonexistent as my continued confrontation regarding addiction in my family has only served to further fracture bonds and alienate me from my family. My Mother continues to enable and often will deny the extent of the damage caused relating to the substance abuse. I have raged and also have not been always productive in the way I dealt with this illness in my family.
In the end, because there has been little hope for reconciliation, I came to the conclusion to let go. It is a process that will take time. I still hang on and discuss my concerns with my mother, but in time, even these conversations will have an expiration date. Some things cannot be completely repaired, especially when accountability and effort are not part of the equation. I remain distant, with the door still ajar. I still miss my sister and her children, but I also know that until things are more stable it is best for me to disengage as the stress has caused me to relapse in my illness several times, becoming extremely depressed.
It’s hard. All the messages, texts, conversations over the phone, were my desperate attempts to connect to my family. Often, I raged, screaming loudly into the storm, shouting in panic and desperation to please get help. I was screaming so loudly because I knew they were in danger. I was screaming so loudly because I knew I was losing them. I tried everything to get their attention and I stood alone refusing to accept that they were simply not there, even though they were standing right in front of me. Years past and I still fought for them. In every single way, I fought. Sometimes it was sending a nice package of goodies, or bringing over tons of clothes from my closet that I no longer needed, or it was long messages of hope, encouragement, and ideas to help them. Other times, it was confronting the drug use, insisting they get a job, and telling them they could do better. I sent resources and websites to provide them with access to programs where they lived. These were my attempts to help them, but also to connect to them.
And, at the end of this journey, I was left completely and utterly alone with my Mom still enabling: buying my sister a new manufactured home, getting her a used car, paying for my niece’s lawyer to defend five charges that she incurred this year relating to her addiction. The cycle continues.
This long fight is almost over. My sister and her kids never call, never write, and are not involved in my life. What I desired, does not exist. My dream of watching my great niece and nephews has a high likelihood of never coming to fruition. My sister and I may never be able to repair things or trust one another. We are too different and live very different lifestyles.
Looking back, I was longing to connect. I wanted to share the holidays, vacations, and memories with my family. I wanted them to be healthy enough to fully participate, not just with me, but in their own lives. I wanted them to finish school and work so that they had more power and opportunities in their lives. I now am stepping down, disengaging. I am weary from nearly 2 decades of fighting.
I will hold on to the memories I have with my family. I will continue to love from afar and wish for the best. And I will show up in my life, fully present and focused, ready to take my life to a place of real healing and forgiveness.
The greatest lesson I have learned relating to this struggle is that during conflict, we are seeking connection. Sometimes, we have to clear a pathway in order to reach the place where we can connect. And ultimately, if people are unwilling or unable to connect, it is wise to honor yourself and do what is needed to continue on the path towards healing.
Today, I am connecting with myself. I am here. And I will do what I can to move forward, rebuild, and grow. Another seed planted in my garden.
For so long I avoided you, gave you the silent treatment, ran the other way. I wouldn’t let you stay.
I thought the layers of pain caused by abandonment, betrayal, invalidation, and neglect would be intolerable to acknowledge.
I sit with you now, pouring a hot cup of tea, my eyes brimming with tears as I watch the steam dissipating and I take a heavy sigh.
All the years of not knowing how to let go, constantly running, desperate to find safety, shelter, and security in the arms of another or some other noble endeavor. The more I pursued, the further I became lost, hopeless, desperate, and suffering.
Always feeling that something outside of myself would come and rescue me. Always searching for the validation needed to feel visible, loved, wanted.
And only getting farther away.
I’d like to sit down and have a chat with you. I know, I should have done so long ago. I was confused and uncomfortable. I was restless and bored. I was alone.
So, it’s time to say goodbye to certain people, patterns, and preoccupations. It hurts. But, you are here with me. You know my every hurt, my every pain… and together we are here in this space. You won’t leave. For you are a part of me. A part I’ve ignored, neglected for a long while. Even so, you are still here. I AM HERE. And I am ready.
And so I have a journey to take. In time, there will no desperate arguments with family. Arguing has been the way that I have been “holding on”. It is time to let go. I won’t remain engaged with people who do not wish to truly know me or nurture my spirit. I will not provide those who are unable to love and give to me a space to occupy in my life, my mind, or my spirit.
There is so much to forgive, to let go, and to accept. I could have spent my whole life invested in the pursuit of finding someone to love me and I would have missed this glorious opportunity to truly love myself.
You are a wise friend. A teacher. Allowing me to connect to what has harmed me, and to let go and breathe newness and life into what has dimmed my authenticity. By connecting, and feeling, I will be more in tune with my self and my needs, setting better boundaries.
I am listening, loving, and letting go.
I’ve been restless and running for years without direction or purpose, frantically putting out fires, and desperately warning others to contain their flames or they will get burned. It seemed that most around me were in danger or were stagnating and without considering my own downward spiral, I relentlessly pursued the impossible feat of helping those in my life who, at the time, had no real desire to change. I not only dove in, but was swimming laps around the lake, often alone, in the dark. It became exhausting, dangerous, and desperate. And ultimately, those who needed the help did not care that I was drowning as a result.
The two individuals in my life where I spent the majority of my time desperately seeking love were my sister and my ex fiancé. My sister’s addiction and the devastating impact it has had on her now adult children captured my time and attention resulting in intense strife between me and my entire family. I was the one confronting while my sister used and my Mom enabled. The abusive relationship with my fiancé, a Narc, set the stage for an intense decade of both physical and psychological abuse, gaslighting, stonewalling, devaluing, and discarding. It was a cycle that continued for nearly ten years and consumed me.
These two relationships taught me to listen to and honor my spirit. Initially, they stripped me of my dignity, self worth, and esteem. In the end, I felt broken, unloved, and devastated. I spent the last two years of my life in darkness due to the complete demise of these bonds, which resulted in severe depression and an exacerbation of my Bipolar illness. I lost employment and as a result I am in the process currently of potentially getting onto disability. My world came crashing down and left me in a space stripped of everything I had clung to for years. It took several months, but I began letting go and learning who I am within the stillness, without the chaos that had defined my life.
The confusion is slowly subsiding as I learn to embrace what is mine and let go of what I cannot control. There is the shame and embarrassment for getting too involved, not letting go earlier, and for the behaviors that resulted from years of rejection and alienation. There were days spent in agony where I was enraged and in despair for the love I could not make mine. If I learned nothing else in this process, I learned that holding on was more painful and destructive than letting go.
While at the same time, there is forgiveness and acceptance with the awareness that I was learning and doing the hard work of carving out my self esteem, fighting for my own self worth. I’ve spent time comparing my successes and failures to others which I have learned is a dangerous practice because it is impossible to truly know another person’s story and each of us have our own unique path to wholeness. My desire was to make myself whole, starting with the events in my childhood that had immobilized me, and left certain places in my life dark, desolate, and without care. I longed for a space of complete healing where no part of me from the beginning of my existence to the present moment would be left untouched, unchanged, immature. This desired growth would be my metamorphosis. I would not be satiated until I could spread my wings and fly, lightly, at ease, with joy and reverence for what I had accomplished.
And thus, I continue to touch those untouched places with kindness and compassion. I continue to come back to this place of healing after every distraction and derailing. I continue to forgive and focus on the goal of freedom. I continue to create boundaries that foster this growth instead of pull me away from it. And lastly, and the most difficult, I continually remind myself to only engage and invest in those who turn towards me, not away from me. My heart continually breaks for those I know suffering, and yet, I admit, my involvement does not change their situation, it has only left me feeling hopeless, helpless, and often discarded. I must heal myself, invest in myself, and be a lighthouse and safe harbor when and if they are ready to heal. In this stillness, my garden will grow and I can rebuild. My intention is in light and love and the energy and investment is in creating this space for myself. It’s my most challenging and rewarding work.
I have started this blog as a way of healing. In the past decade, my life became increasingly chaotic and frustrating, much like tangled yarn that even with hours of attempting to disentangle, appeared hopeless and muddled. Through the torment of an abusive relationship with a narcissist, the loss and strain of family bonds due to my sister’s addiction, and the fight and failure to remain employed due to my mental illness, I became despondent and in despair. All of this caused a physical struggle of chronic pain, anxiety, and multiple somatic concerns that I still struggle with today.
The events in my adult life which have rendered me unemployed due to an exacerbation of my illness, Bipolar 1, ADHD, and PTSD, have left me completely unraveled and dependent upon others for the current time for survival. There is nothing more humbling that losing your ability to maintain employment due to an illness. The loss of independence is crushing, and yet, I’m still hopeful on most days I will bounce back, and this time, it will be after having the space and time to heal and to learn skills that will support my health and success.
It has been messy. I’m standing in the thick of it all with eyes mostly open. I’m accepting my responsibility to play the cards that have been dealt, no matter how difficult or challenging. I am also aware now that I’m alone in holding the cards. There will be some that judge every raise, every fold, and every discard. And there will be times I will make a mistake, but I’ve learned that often mistakes are necessary to be more skillful with the next hand dealt. Even so, this game is filled with times of suspense, boredom, joy, and despair. I’ve learned we need them all.
Initially, I felt compelled to separate the issues of my life and write a blog related to each one. But, I’ve decided the interplay between the three is necessary to demonstrate how often times we live a complex life with many competing forces and it is the combination of all of our struggles that can render us immobilized, often overwhelmed with fear, grief, and anger. As I heal, I am beginning to see a thread tying all of my struggles together and I hope to speak to this force as a means to forgive, grieve, soothe, and ultimately love. The road is difficult and so much pulls us away over and over from the reservoir of love and stillness that resides within us if we are able to let go and focus on what we are willing to control.
I named my blog “land undefined” because life, for me, is a process of definition. Just as a sculptor starts with a lump of clay, it takes time, dedication, skill, focus, and even love to mold something with no true definition to a piece of art that has to ability to resonate with others and elicit emotions of love, admiration, and joy. This is the challenge in our own lives. We are forever defining ourselves, placing boundaries to keep us safe, and molding what we desire for ourselves, our lives, which is a work of art. Our spirits are housed in a temple that again, we have the ability with focus, love, and work to define over and over throughout the course our lives.
Throughout this journey, I will go back to the challenges that have helped to create and form my impression of the world, and the healing that is taking place to redefine my spirit and life after the lesson. Often we forget that we are not in a static world, and that we are meant to adapt, and change with time. Our transformation can only be as dramatic and beautiful as our willingness to let go and be molded once again. I will keep coming back to this concept to demonstrate in my own life how stagnation and despair occurred when I would not heed the urgent call to let go and change! This is paramount to my healing process and I am continually working to achieve this.
I hope you someday join me on my road of forgiveness and self love. It has taken me decades to wake up and to acknowledge the many mistakes I made that led me further away from myself and to a place of rage, despair, and deep regret. The only real gift we have is the present moment and we often spend our lives escaping it in some form. Thanks for standing in this space with me. More to come as I am all unraveled and learning and am hopeful that sharing will help others and me stand more lovingly in this space!