When you think of the word compassion what is the first thing that pops into your mind? People may frame it as sympathy, pity, love or empathy. In my experience, if I were to be honest, I defined compassion as sympathy. It was natural for me to feel bad for people; which gave rise to me wanting to take care of people and help them. My perspective has changed over the years.When sympathy is shown to me, it doesn’t personally afford me much comfort but rather it keeps me in a mode of self-pity. I now define compassion more as empathy. When I can be empathic, I can be more connected because I feel with people rather than for people.Sympathy never truly allowed me to be connected; in fact it made me feel disconnected and better than.
Growing up in an alcoholic family, I wanted people to feel bad for me and show me attention because of my difficult circumstances. I thought that was how I was valued and it was the best way to get noticed.I learned to be filled up by others and living life from what others perception of me was.
After many decades, I found that to be empty and unfulfilling. I needed other people so much that I lost me. I became a chronic caretaker and never figured out how to take care of myself. My focus was primarily on others. The impact alcoholism had on me was that I felt alone, different from others, and on the outside.
I isolated from others and did not pursue connection with people.I had a ton of shame and did not want my middle school friends to see what my family life was like so I never invited friends over to my house. We were a single parent family due to the sudden death of my mother. We were different. As I look back over the course of life through middle school, high school and college and into my professional career, I did not have any continuity in my relationships. I kept to myself based primarily out of fear and insecurity.
Prior to finding my own path to recovery, I was tired and burned out. I had lost my true sense of self and was barely holding on. I was running a family member around to work and meetings because she didn’t have a means of transportation and had lost her license and I was the life -saver.I also had my alcoholic father living with me on a temporary basis and I was falling back into old patterns of behavior. I was exhausted and it brought me to a place where life became unmanageable.
It was not until I managed to find my way into recovery, that things started to change. I found people who could relate to me and my circumstances and a new world opened up to me. I found friends who were real and talked about real stuff.I found true and meaningful connection.
Connection and community are important to me. I have to continually find ways to make room for them. We live in a fast paced world and we struggle to fit everything in. The demands of work just seem to be more and more, we have longer commutes, the needs of kids and aging parents have increased, we are involved in parenting groups, play groups, self-help groups and the list goes on.
So how do I balance life?Making time for friends and family has become more important to me in recovery.I had always prided myself of being independent and not needing others. That wasn’t really my truth; it’s just how I survived.
I love having coffee with friends, going for walks, sitting with my Dad and just letting the conversation flow in a natural direction. I love relaxing at home, baking and watching my favorite shows with my wife.
The Seeds of Self-Compassion
If I know one thing it is that you can give what you don’t have. I cannot be a giver of compassion to others if I don’t have any for myself.
Self -compassion was the first step for me. I embarked on a journey of self- appraisal and I realized some truths about how I was conditioned around certain issues. I became willing to put old ideas to the side. By getting quiet, going inward, contemplating, assessing and praying I began to find clarity. In doing this, I took responsibility for my behavior. I did hurt people along the path and I had the opportunity to make corrections.My family was damaged due to the sudden death of my mother, the death of my brother, and my Dad’s alcoholism.We didn’t know how to be vulnerable with one another and share our hearts. Our hearts were broken and hurt people – hurt people.
Brene Brown says it perfectly “ You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness”.I hustled for my worthiness for decades and I came up empty.
Leaning into Empathy
It takes courage to own your story and to begin a new chapter. I did not want to live in regret, resentment or anger any longer.I was tired. Trials and struggles make us relatable and human. Life can be hard, but I can make it a lot harder by trying to go it alone.
When I open my eyes and my heart to other people’s pain, compassion becomes natural. Listening to people’s hearts through their stories soften me.I get to just be and let them be.I believe I am called to meet people where they are at and not have expectations of where I want them to be.There is no longer a need to control others.
Reverend Greg Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles and it is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. He teaches about community, kinship and erasing dividing lines. To quote Reverend Boyle from his book Tattoos on the Heart “Close both eyes; see with the other one. Then, we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments, our ceaseless withholding and our constant exclusions. Our sphere widens and we find ourselves, quite expectantly, in a new expansive location, in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love”
Being in recovery and leading with empathy with my family and friends has been a gift that has changed my life in every respect and for that I am grateful. Compassion is sympathy
These are just some examples of things I see when I am scrolling through instagram.I am not sure when wine became necessary to parent, but it seems to have a big role in the lives of many.You should see the looks I get at playgroups when people find out I have two kids under the age of two and I DON’T drink.sober parenting.
I am a sober Mom. I feel very blessed to have entered recovery before I had my children.It is not like I am saying that every mom that drinks alcohol is an alcoholic; but, the rise of day wine drinking and comments about mixing liquor into morning coffee to cope with the terrible twos is all over social media. There are many blog posts that outline day drinking as a stay at home mom and justifies it because “momming is hard.”
Having my second child really changed my recovery.Getting to meetings was no longer easy and that meant a lot less connection with other people.I found myself on the brink of being close to postpartum depression.I felt alone, overwhelmed and in way over my head.Again, I am very grateful for my recovery and the tools I had because it kept me a sober parent and the thought of picking up never occurred to me.After a couple of months of struggling, Finding balance and a way to nurture my recovery while being a mom has been very helpful.
Tips for Sober Parenting
Here are some tips for being a sober parent:
1.Yoga- Yoga is something that I have always loved.I love the asana(postures) but I also love the lifestyle. Practicing yoga on a regular basis and many times with my children is a great way to connect with myself and my kids.As a stay at home mom, I don’t get immense amounts of alone time. Every morning after breakfast my toddler and I roll out our yoga mat and start our practice.The baby lays on the mat or I wear her during this time.
We have an awesome book that we read and follow the yoga routine in it.We then look at our ABC yoga poster and my toddler picks out a few more poses to do.This is not what I thought my yoga practice would ever look like, but it is pretty magical.It gets me on my mat and it gives my toddler a chance to learn and grow in his own way. Yoga helps me to be a sober parent.
2. Mindfulness- There are so many types of mindfulness.After yoga we sit and take deep breaths.This is a way for me to be present and it just slows us both down.We come back to this practice of deep breathing many times throughout the day.Deep breathing is scientifically shown to slow the brain.So throughout the day when either of us get frustrated or upset we will practice this again.
Another way I practice mindfulness is to just truly be present in each moment.This means putting my phone down and just being.When I am truly present in each moment all my “problems” and “worries” instantly melt away.In the present moment my problems don’t exist. Being a sober parent means I have to deal with the array of difficult emotions and the sense of being overwhelmed at times. I have found mindfulness to be effective tool in being a sober Mom.
3. Nutrition- This has been another big one for me!With two small kids it is SO hard to find time to cook healthy meals.So in our house we do a lot of meal prepping.We plan our meals so there is very little work to be done throughout the week.During the week my toddler helps me to prep vegetables which helps to occupy him while we get to make healthy food choices.We also do lots of smoothies, homemade green juices and healthy muffins!When I eat well, I feel better and I am less likely to reach for a negative coping skill.
4. Connection- Connecting with other adults is so important to me.I can’t always just race to a meeting when I am feeling the need for connecting with people.It is very helpful for me to practice being vulnerable with others and so I reach out to others more easily than I used to.
I have wonderful friends that have become family that I met in AA.It is a blessing to have these people to connect with because they live in the solution and we can talk about that and live it together.I also have made some amazing friends with Moms who are not in recovery.This has been crucial for my happiness too.It is so nice to be able to talk with people who are experiencing similar things in regards to raising kids.There are so many local groups in different areas to join and ways to meet people.They even have mom apps to meet other moms!
Being a mom is hard!Being in recovery has its challenges as well.Drinking and parenthood do not have to go hand in hand.Find the tools that work for you and take care of yourself.You deserve it.Being able to utilize the tools listed above has allowed me to find true happiness even through the sleep deprived, messy and chaotic life of being a sober Mom.
One of the first shocking phrases I heard at my loved one’s detox center was “ You know? You need help as well. You can recover.” I needed help too.
I could not believe what the nurse was telling me. How could I need recovery, if the addict was my family member, who had been struggling with substance abuse for a long time and had just been admitted to the center? And what exactly did she mean by recovery for me? Was I supposed to be admitted there as well?
To tell you the truth, if being admitted to the hospital would have taken away all the pain and sorrow, all that worry, and all the fearful and sleepless nights I had been having for years, then I would have been packed and ready in a second. Unfortunately, my recovery looked like something else; it involved something new, something that included an understanding of life in different terms, and most of all, an understanding of love in a deeper way.
Having a loved one who struggles with addiction brings family members to a whole new way of living, and no one is ever prepared for it. We keep trying to convince ourselves that things will get better if only we made ourselves clearer, if only we tried harder; if only we said the right thing, at the right time; if only, if only …
We delude ourselves, in our despair, to believe that this situation is temporary, that our loved one could straighten things out if he or she wanted to. We are so eager to see this chaos end, that we might even allow abuse and neglect without knowing it. More so, we turn to believe the promises we are told over and over again, in the false hope that everything will be ok soon. But our desire cannot fool reality. The addictive behavior comes back again and again, and an overwhelming feeling of despair takes over one more time. Realizing this, I saw that I needed help too.
This cycle can go on for years and years. Little did we know that our actions had the power of interfering with our loved one’s sobriety because we were actually enabling. Our demanding or begging, cursing or threatening, offending and manipulating were just reactions to the fear we were we experiencing and in reality, we were only contributing to the chaos. Changing this pattern of action and reaction is what recovery looks like for me.
These automatic and well intended reactions are ultimately impeding our loved ones to accept what they are doing to themselves and others, to face the consequences for their actions, and to finally seek help. As much as we struggle to admit it, it is our wish to be helpful that is counterproductive, and at first, it’s very difficult to understand and to accept because we have the right intention and a lot of love to give. However, we will need to learn a new way of loving; a new way that will allow us to communicate with the person we love, without engaging in their chaotic needs.
We will need to learn to overcome the emotional loss, and begin slowly to understand and accept this new way of loving, (that seems so unnatural to us at first). This is what recovery looks like for me.
We Need Recovery
We need recovery, as family members, if we still believe that our love will be enough to overcome addictive behavior. We need recovery if we still believe we have the power of controlling what other people do and say. We need recovery if our thinking has become distorted as a consequence of having a loved one who struggles with an addiction we can neither understand nor cure. And we need recovery because we cannot do this to ourselves any longer. It doesn’t go away just like that.
Today, many years after that episode in the detox center, and many meetings, prayers, and self-reflections later, I can say that I deeply understand what my recovery means to me. It really saved my life and my sanity discovering that, to my own awe, I could still live a serene life in spite of what my loved one does or does not do. It allowed me to reconfigure my perceptions of what I thought my life would be, and be more accepting of what life has brought me. Not just as a punishment (the way I first thought of it), but as an opportunity to participate in life more fully.
My recovery showed me how to love in a deeper and more compassionate way, and to be less judgmental of others. It allowed me to build a whole new relationship with family members who struggle and to include those who don’t. Today, I know I can love more fully and have a sense of acceptance and compassion I never dreamed of having before. I am so grateful that I realized that I need help too.