It’s a question no one can answer. In fact, I think it’s a question that no one wants me asking. I’ve watched eyes glaze over or people becoming uncomfortably uninterested when I give the rundown of the darkest time of my life leading to the writing of my book “Unhooked, a Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Rollercoaster of Her Son’s Addiction.”
When it began I found myself first asking only the inky black ceiling above my bed at night; “I’m sinking, I feel like I’m drowning…will I live through this?” Silence. Warm tears made their way down my temples into my hair as, night after night, I wondered where I’d find hope.
In less than a year I found my life gutted along with my heart, my hope, my plans. Despair, hopelessness and fear hung over every moment of everyday, as a season of grief is want to do. Crisis and grief for me can feel like drowning. I can’t find my footing. Life feels groundless, bottomless, overwhelming as I fight to stabilize, to breathe, all the while sinking. I remember these feelings of terror as a child a time or two in the neighborhood swimming pool. Finding myself in water too deep and knowing quickly I was in trouble. Once I realized I was in well over my head, panic would hit. I never forgot the feeling of being totally out of control, it was a feeling of terror, of primal fear. I seemed to struggle with the panic almost as much as I fought to make my way up and out of the deep water. Once I found solid footing (or a more skilled swimmer would grab my arm and pull me to safety), relief would wash over me like a warm bath. I was suddenly thankful and aware of every breath I could take.
Recently again faced with an overwhelming season of life, I found myself answering the question “How are you…really?” that those closest to me were asking, with “Well, honestly I feel like I’m drowning.”
I often research and study metaphors of life and nature that may relate to the circumstances I’m in. Sometimes that will lead me to clues on how to cope. I began researching “What happens when you drown.” I discovered several survivor stories from people who had almost died from drowning. To my amazement all of the experiences I found had something in common. The survivors told how, as soon as they had stopped resisting, almost the very second that they ceased violently thrashing and flailing about or trying to grab ahold of anything they could find in their desperate struggle to survive, a calming peace overcame them. It was described as a peace like no other. Peace that was as hard to explain as it is to believe one could even experience, in the midst of a fight for your life.
I found my message in a bottle within this description. When I continue struggling and fighting the circumstances that I have done all I possibly can to change or improve, I sink further into them. Continuing to resist and struggle is when I become stuck in misery and madness. Notably anything (and at times anyone) I grab onto for rescue is often a slippery disappointment, taking me further down.
Resisting circumstances that I am powerless to change perpetuates my most acidic of emotions. Especially when I am drowning in the deep, horrendous waters of grief and pain that may involve loss, betrayal, or fear. These waters may include worries about my son now living across the country from me, or my desperation to resolve a conflict that has consumed my thoughts. Sometimes it’s a financial burden that jolts me awake in the middle of the night with panic and dread, or possibly a health issue that brings life as I knew it to a screeching halt. It can be a relationship or family issue that is in miserable condition resulting in repeated heartache and anxiety. I’ve experienced them all (sometimes all at once). These are deep, dark, icy waters to navigate.
“Will I live through this?” I find myself asking those closest to me. “Will it get better? When? When will it get better?” The various “I don’t know” answers feel like weights added to the struggle, sinking me further into dark waters I can’t seem to make my way out of.
Life has seasons and seasons change. The sooner I stop thrashing about within the one I’m in or lashing out for rescue and comfort, the sooner I find myself at peace. The sooner I stop fighting and resisting the things I cannot change and instead accept life on life’s terms – as it is –, the sooner I am able to allow myself to float along with the current and find my way forward.
Acceptance. I find that is when peace will come. I can take a full breath once I stop fighting. That is when stable footing appears. And sometimes even rescue.
“Accepting the things we cannot change will bring us the peace we long for.” ~Unknown
Wishing you acceptance and peace (sooner rather than later!),
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Annie Highwater is a Writer, Speaker, Podcast Host and Family Advocate. She has a particular interest in family pathology and concepts of dysfunction, addiction, alcoholism and conflict. Annie published her memoir, Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction, in 2016. Her story sheds light on the personal challenges facing the affected parents and family members, and illustrates how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process. Annie’s second book, Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache was published in August of 2018. She resides in Columbus, Ohio and enjoys writing, long distance running, hiking, the great outdoors and visiting her son in California as often as possible.