Last night I woke up to news I am sick of hearing: someone I grew up with, someone I loved, had taken too much or gotten bad batch. This was someone who at one time told me that I was her hero. I took it for granted and cannot help but feel that I did not take care of her the way a hero should. I no longer have the opportunity to thank her for the inspiration she gave to me to push on even when I didn’t feel like it – because I knew I had people who looked up to me.
I’m not sure if it just happens that an unusual number of people who I love have turned to drugs, or if it’s that everyone is turning drugs in general. But as my life goes on, addiction to opiates especially has hijacked the lives of cousins, uncles, aunts, friends I knew since childhood, former classmates, my own brother. And more and more, the addicts in my life (or who are no longer in my life) are succumbing to this disease. Even for someone who touts being a strong woman, it is increasingly difficult to bear every time.
Anyone who knows anything about addiction, recovery, and relapse knows the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I knew this prayer before I started going to Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, programs for the loved ones of addicts. But I knew a different iteration:
God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
And the Courage to change the things I cannot accept.
The second iteration has become a social and political call to action; one that I had admired, and in a way, continue to admire. In fact, I saw a picture the other day of a Trump protester holding up a sign proclaiming this version. When it comes to remaining civically active, this is something to aspire to. But today I want to tell you that if universally applied, it is a surefire way to drive yourself insane. In order to return some normalcy to my out-of-control life (the one everyone who loves an addict knows), I had to unlearn that irresistible and embedded drive to attempt to change the things I cannot accept.
If I had not reached the point of absolute desperation that brings people to Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, I would have rejected the prayer as prose for the weak. In fact, the first time I visited Nar-Anon, I went home and pledged to never go back. I swore it was a place for people who had given up on their addicted loved one. For quitters. For the weak. For the selfish. Surely, one has the power to change any unjust and unfair situation in the world if they want it and work hard enough. This is the toxic mindset that led me to lose control of my life in the first place and desperately land right back in these programs.
Addiction is a family disease, and one of the things that makes the family most sick is the fallacy that if they just love the addict enough; if they just continue to “drill it into them” and show some tough love; if they stage enough interventions, they can change and control the situation. It truly drives you insane. It drove me insane. The desire to apply logic, strategy, and control to my brother’s addiction literally made me mentally and physically sick. I nearly became immobilized and incapacitated by it. Every day, my life was consumed by what was consuming him.
It may seem extraordinarily hypocritical for a professed “strong woman” to advocate for the relinquishing of control. But for the wisdom and motivation I want to offer to my readers, the Serenity Prayer and what I have learned from it is a vital context and backdrop.
Without learning (and every day continuing to learn) that there are things I truly cannot change in this world, I wouldn’t be able to take action on the things that I can.
So today I mourn my cousin, who once upon a time called me her hero. I also mourn all those I know who have passed of this horrible disease before her, particularly my childhood friend Adam. But I think my cousin would want me to recognize that I couldn’t have saved her. I sadly cannot be sure, because she’s not here to ask anymore. But I can’t change that she’s gone. The only thing I can control are my own choices and my pledge to never, ever miss an opportunity to tell someone I love how I feel about them.