Monday, 24 November 2014

Giving up the fight in order to win the war

Years ago I went along to a meeting held in a small community hall, to find out how to stop someone I loved from drinking.  Years later I am still to be found in such meetings.  My mission proved fruitless, but I stayed and learnt some invaluable lessons for life.

Addiction is indeed cunning and baffling.  It is also chronic, and progressive.  It is pernicious and insidious.  And it destroys far more than the afflicted individual.  It wreaks havoc with anyone who cares.  And those who are forced to stand by and watch those they love fall foul of addiction's grasping stifling tentacles can suffer worse than the individual who self-medicate in a self-defeating other-injuring attempt to manage.  

I am powerless over anyone else's self-harming behaviour.  I know that now.  But knowing is not always enough.  For I am forgetful, and old habits die hard.  Which is why I need to be reminded.  There will always be a temptation to try a little longer, to fight a little harder, to rage against the illness that has the power to tear families apart from the inside.

For someone whose middle name might as well have once been, 'Responsibility', some of my education has been hard won.  Today I understand the maddening paradox that it is only when I give up the struggle that I can in fact achieve anything.  For it is only through full awareness, deep understanding, and genuine acceptance that I can truly claim to be 'responsible': to have the ability to respond.

By coming to understand how addiction works, I can stand back and see the person I care about hugely as separate from the illness that has for so long threatened (and occasionally been successful in its campaign) to come between us.  

Only in this way is it possible for me to release myself from the claws and jaws of this vile family dis-ease, and move into a position of serenity from which it is possible to make informed choices, rather than hopelessly and helplessly waste time, effort and irreplaceable emotion on a battle I am doomed to lose against an almighty opponent: denial.  

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations, though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
but little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

Addiction thrives in the dark shadows of the family system that has not learnt how to recognise its devastating effects and remains embroiled in the chaos it maintains.  There it lurks until someone awakes to the realisation that there are choices - there are things we are capable of changing, but most of us will need support from elsewhere if we are to stand a chance of rewriting the script, and relearning patterns so deeply engrained we know nothing else.  

Spending time around others who know how the story ends is simultaneously humbling and empowering.  Crucial is the reminder that just as we did not cause another's addiction, neither can we control it or cure it.  Only when we are clear about this can we start to focus our precious energies on saving the only life we can: our own. 

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