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I Feel Like I’m Drowning…Will I Live Through this?


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.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. We love our children deeply and unconditionally. We want them to succeed and have happy, healthy lives. My reality is that my child is an adult man who has a right to his own life and whatever that life brings with it. A meeting newcomer recently said, “There are only two kinds of business, mine and not mine”. Hard to accept, but really, that’s where true peace lies.

    1. There were many people that probably saw I needed help dealing with the SUD of my LO, yet basically thought “this guy is a grown man and he SHOULD see the light”. Yet I didn’t until someone was skilled, careful and brave enough to actually help me see, during moments of clarity, the destructive nature of my actions. So many people were telling me, “let him go to jail”, “detach w/love, and that means lock him out and have zero contact.” I hate that there were not more people with actual wisdom yet so many with foolish notions filling my head and distracting me for too many years in Al Anon.

      Don’t get me wrong, I still go to Al Anon and yet I never parrot “Detach with Love” without also going into the detail of: “appropriately engage appropriate behavior and appropriately disengage with inappropriate behavior” as in the Allies in Recovery message.

      I also think it’s worth noting that it takes humility, courage and clarity to ask for help. My thought is we’re not here to exist alone and also that the world is created in a way for us to help and be helped, from time to time. My problem before CRAFT was I wanted to help and was “helping” in ways that were not helping. Everyone was telling me to “detach” and it was clear they were saying, “Lock them out, block their calls and texts and never lift a finger when they ask for help”. Fortunately a few friends said, “you have to find a way to help your son” and so I admitted I didn’t see a way and somehow found CRAFT and Allies in Recovery.

      I think it might be worse for SUD when the LO doesn’t know they need help and so CRAFT helps them “see” the difference between being appropriate and in control and out of control drinking and abusing people, substances or themselves.

      Seems like the model of humanity is to get into CATCH 22 type situations, where at the time the circumstance we willingly chose was seemingly or actually necessary and perhaps even the right thing, yet now, we’re basically slaves to that same circumstance or our emotions around it. Either way we need help and asking for it isn’t “dependency/codependency” but simply human decency. I have a higher purpose and vision as a gift from my Higher Power and working CRAFT.

      To me CRAFT is a method to subtly coax a LO into the highest probability of “seeing” a tiny bit of clarity from the way I distinguish their behaviors. This comes from my own clarity about appropriate engagement based on whether or not they’re abusing me, my “trying to help” (although not knowing how) or a substance. The clarity allows them to reach ambivalence about their SUD and “wish” or “dip” which is asking for help and a subtle form of admitting the unmanageability of SUD.

      Moments of clarity happen and I choose to be relevant at that moment and thanks to CRAFT I am now. Thank you Allies in Recovery.

      Not everyone in addiction or other forms of slavery to emotions etc. has the humility or courage to formally ask for help in the moments of ambivalence.

      I was addicted to helping in ways that were not helping. That, to me, is the key to helping or not. It is not with them, but with me; “Am I actually helping them to see the light and take action or real helpful help, or am I only helping in ways that are not helping them become responsible?”

      I am eternally grateful that friends helped me find a way to help my son.

      A part of me realized “I’m in over my head” and I kept going to people yet very few gave me any actually useful advice. Thankfully there were a few people that didn’t just brush me off as if I’m a grown man and my choices had gotten me into a mess and I should be left alone to deal with it.

      Allies in Recovery and the CRAFT method has taught me to wait for those moments and be ready with a plan.

      1. This is a beautifully written piece. I appreciate your reflection on how you operated before CRAFT and then after you learned and employed CRAFT while living with someone with a SUD.
        It is very helpful information and I hope that new folks coming to AIR and these discussions can find your post and see the light that awaits them when they learn and practice CRAFT. Thank you.

      2. It was important for me to remember that “natural consequences” is a primary tenet of CRAFT. Because recovery is not a “one size fits all” process, those consequences can vary greatly in our perceived severity and in their effectiveness based upon the addict. CRAFT is a balancing act of finding what works for your LO. One person’s “foolish notions” of consequences may very well be same set of consequences that lead another LO to sobriety.

  2. I had a relevant experience to confirm this notion of Relax and Feel in order to engage the intellect fully. It’s a treasured memory, with wisdom around it, that I draw on to live my life.

    The experience I’m referring to was the night the true depth of the problem of SUD, and the consequence my LO was facing, was brought to my attention by a knock on the door in the middle of the night, awakening me from my sleep and bursting the “awareness bubble” I was living within.

    After confronting the facts fully and the hysteria of another family member, I realized I had two options. One, distract myself from the vastness of emotion, disrupting the bubble of false peace, or feel as fully and completely as I could, truly thinking that by completely feeling the emotion of that moment my heart might explode.

    I knew this from learning lessons from my earlier experiences, though I truly thought at that moment that feeling the emotion of it all might kill me (heart attack, stroke). I knew I had to feel the emotion of the moment completely and made a decision to do so.

    It seems odd writing this that these options came to mind and that I actually examined them, and made a choice… Yet it really happened this way. I imagine how the consequences would evolve differently based on the choice I made in that moment. I think there are many moments of shock when dealing with LOs and the trouble they find themselves in SUD.

    Shock is a difficult thing for me to deal with (and I really suspect it’s as difficult for every one of us), and the thing I realize in this forum, dealing with these problems, is that the worst trauma for families is shock and what we do at that moment.

    Like Annie shared above, relaxing and feeling fully, without resistance to truly and completely feeling the vastness of emotion, at certain moments, makes all the difference in the world. This is a priority and very important as well to learn to utilize: processing emotion by feeling them fully in the moment.

    Perhaps, we always have options and the specific consequences before us: good and life, bad and death, yet the consequences can be confusing when we think by fully feeling a momentous emotion the consequence will be death and yet in fact it is a path to life and blessing.

    I’ve now learned that running from feeling an emotion, by distracting myself with trivial distractions or emotional outbursts and other impulsive behavior, never spares me the task of feeling an emotion. Actually, once that emotion is left unfelt awhile, it becomes even more confusing and intense, and the contortions that I go through to deny the emotion are always worse than actually feeling that emotion in the first place.

    Distorted thinking tells me, “Fully feeling this emotion will kill me”. But not feeling every emotion that people, places and things stir within me, is not living wholeheartedly. I also realized that by feeling the emotion fully I am engaging my intellect with a wholehearted motivation.

    The time it took me to completely feel the emotion that had imploded into “my world” from the bigger world around it, is what I now know as poise. I controlled my impulses to follow a false notion of an easier path.

    From this I am able to not be dragged down into a world of impulses in darkness; I can be relevant in the lives of everyone in any moment where I find myself momentarily overwhelmed in emotion. First thing is to feel all I feel as people do all they do.

    It’s the key to unlock the door to the real world where shock and surprise await. It grounds me in reality yet frees me to live in an unpredictable and uncertain world. I believe it frees everyone around me as well as long as I remember this in the moment it’s most necessary.

    Science proves this “relax” notion is the true path to life – if we simply remember that the forensic term for death is rigor mortis. Where “rigor” is latin for “stiffness” and “mortis” is death.

    The value of our experience is in relaxing and feeling the emotion in the moment in order to engage the intellect and appropriately engage with people who are most in need of wisdom, understanding, practical solutions, kindness, encouragement, and balance. For me this brings the morale of resonating with the eternity of a Higher Power available to utilize so that we appropriately engage or disengage, within limits, based on detecting whether our LOs are behaving appropriately and within limits at any moment in time or not.

    I can appropriately engage or disengage my “wants” when I want something inappropriate or outside of limits as well. Running from an emotion isn’t appropriate unless someone can give me an example I don’t envision. I suppose its possible.

    Thank you Annie and Allies in Recovery.