Needing Support

How important is support? I believe nature reveals to us that we are meant to support one another along the journey of life. Dolphins, for instance, are known to work together to catch fish, save sick friends, and play. Recently researchers have recorded the clever cetaceans ‘talking’ to each other in order to solve a complex puzzle. The discovery suggests dolphins use a language dedicated to problem solving. I read an observation report about one dolphin becoming paralyzed. When others saw that it was unable to swim, they gathered to form a bridge of support under it, carefully raising their injured friend to the surface for air.

Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at Mahidol University in Thailand, and primatologist Frans de Waal, director of Emory University’s Living Links Center, have shown through a controlled study what those who work with elephants have always believed: the animals offer something akin to human sympathetic concern when observing distress in another, including their relatives and friends. Elephants in another herd were once found solemnly gathered in a circle, weeping together over the body of one of their herd who had died.

Along with dolphins and elephants, gorillas, dogs, cats, certain corvids (the bird group that includes ravens), and squirrels among others, have been shown to recognize when a herd mate is upset, weakened, or injured and to offer gentle caresses and chirps of sympathy, according to a study (published February 18 in the online journal PeerJ).

In nature, lending comfort and support seems to come, well…natural.

Some years back I personally observed comfort and support from nonhumans when my beloved Cairn terrier injured her spine, became paralyzed, and went through major corrective surgery. She recovered, yet never regained full strength. For the next four years of her life I tended to her every need as my other dog and our cat watched over her closely. They stuck by her, ever present at her side, especially when she grew weaker or sick. I often found them sleeping one on each side of her, lying close against her.

When she died, for months the two of them would sit with me in every room I occupied, something they hadn’t done together before. Every day they would lie at my feet, one on either side, as I worked my way through the sadness and misery of losing my closest companion. That little dog had been like a baby to me. Because of her many health issues, I took care of her like a child. In some ways, caring for her had even become a distracting comfort when my son moved across the country. Losing her was a traumatic shock. I was touched by how aware the remaining two were of my grief. Their loyal presence helped me get through that difficult time. Animals somehow sense when we are in need of extra comfort.

Another example I read not long ago was in reference to Redwood trees having surprisingly shallow roots compared to other trees. Redwood trees are some of the tallest, strongest trees, yet they have short roots that grow more wide than deep. However, these roots have an amazing ability to latch onto one another, growing tightly together as a strong force underground. The linking of roots allows for added strength, causing several trees to unite as a whole, standing together as one when storms come.

  1. Love. That.

Nature gets it. So if support and comfort are vital in nature; what message does that send to us?

What a beautiful thing if that kind of support came naturally in every family and group setting. How much different would our lives be if we instinctively came together to raise each other up, without considering fault, blame, or shame, without thinking of our personal issues or awkward feelings? How wonderful would it be if we didn’t hold back, but instead showed up, putting opinions and differences aside to offer comfort and encouragement, rallying around someone in need? How much stronger we would be when the storms come?

I’ve most often found unconditional support in rooms of recovery. Managing the adversities of life feels crushing, especially when you feel like you have to do it by yourself. Having reliable group support can provide great comfort in challenging times.

For most of my life I’d taught myself to have a stiff upper lip and push through trials. Therefore, support was most often reserved for a small handful of friends, Google, or the self-help section of the Library. It was by chance that I started attending family recovery meetings. We had already come through so much of the storm by the time I started going. But once I went, I never left. Supportive meetings were the final puzzle piece in my walk forward out of years of misery and dysfunction. They were a perfect fit.

After experiencing the profoundly healing effects of attending a good, solid support group, I now admit I regret the nights I walked the floors alone, agonizing about our circumstances. I regret not having a safe place to vent my frustration or hear how others coped when dealing with their own. How I wish I had a room to go to from the beginning of the journey, to gather with people going through what I was going through. I would have found safety in those numbers and strength from others who could say “Yep, I’ve been there. That happened to me too. You’re not the only one. I get it.”

I did have very good friends to call and I was lucky enough to personally know a few professionals I could contact in a pinch. Yet, had I also been rooted around those going through the same dark waters I was drowning in, I believe it would have made navigating my way through them a lot easier. There’s just something about someone who has walked the same road telling you “It will be okay” that is truly worth its weight in gold.

We are some years past the havoc of addiction first raging through our home. But I still regularly meet with a group for support. Now that life is more calm and stable, I believe listening as well as giving comfort, encouragement, and hope back is a great way to keep a stream of kindness flowing. No one should have to go through the harsh times of life alone. That’s when we need others to build a bridge under us and raise us up, especially when we’re feeling paralyzed. There are also times we’re called to be part of that bridge and help lift someone else up. Support is give and take. We all need it; we all need to offer it.

Its not weak to admit you need some support, actually its strong. Its real. And thats not always easy; it takes courage. Being real is not for the phony or faint of heart.

The epidemic of addiction our nation is experiencing is not stopping or even slowing down. I believe it’s awakening us to our need to be open, honest, and to compassionately support one another. Thankfully support groups are becoming more available. I strongly encourage everyone to research and find one that is a fit for you. Online or in person. We need all the strength available! Life can be brutal; it helps when you’re not alone. Support can make all the difference.

We need people to understand and care. That is where healing happens and strength develops. It’s as simple as that.

“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Rooting for you,


Author of books: Unhooked, and Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache

Host of:  The Unhooked Podcast

* * *

For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support – TAPU

Family Recovery Support



A House Divided Stands No Chance

Divorce, Division and the Disease of Addiction

I think any respectful, right-minded person would agree that it’s important within a group or family setting to be on the same page when making decisions and navigating circumstances. This is especially true as it relates to managing crisis.

While we all may agree that unity is critical, this ideal is useless if our actions don’t corroborate our claims. We can all find ourselves locking horns with those we’re called to unite with for a common cause.

When the goal is centered around a loved one who struggles with substances, united not divided is of utmost importance.

If division is occurring within the home (or homes), it’s crucial to resolve differences in a fair and honest manner in order to obtain peaceful solutions.

Concerning alcoholism, addiction, and SUD, most people have stories of division. Some occur within a marriage where everyone in the household is pulled in different directions. There can be a good cop/bad cop situation in play, siblings played against one another, and so on.

Coming to terms with the huge importance of having a united front is crucial.

In families where there has been a divorce, it would seem division may be already in place, but from my own experience I know that unity is possible.

Division may come from well-intended family members or friends. Division can come from people pulled in or perhaps outsiders taking it upon themselves to become involved. Division can be motivated by fear, guilt, or more sinister motives such as selfishness or a hidden agenda. Whatever the case may be, division is an area of weakness that allows the disease of addiction and the manipulation it needs to survive, to wreak absolute havoc within a family.

Cracks of division, similar to cracks in a foundation, will bring a house down. Wherever those cracks appear, deception and manipulation can get in, which will deter truth and peace and can postpone the path to recovery.

My personal experience

I don’t write as an expert; I write from experience. The following is my experience with solutions in place for division:

– Divorced not Divided

My ex-husband and I kept a pretty good truce going for the decade we shared the responsibility of raising our son after our divorce. Of course it was awkward and even hostile in the initial phases of separating. In the early days we were prone to heated conversations and blame (never in the presence of our son) and it made for discomfort when our paths crossed.

Two years after the divorce, we met in person to have a conversation that cleared the air. We put our issues to rest moving forward from them with a commitment to positively parent our child. We set clear guidelines to prevent our exchanges from becoming cluttered with issues.

This allowed for strong unity when SUD and crisis came roaring through our lives later.

The following are a few ways we avoided division going forward:

Decide on goals and ground rules


Having common goals: peace, health, happiness, and well-being for every child you share is of the highest priority. Never forget, it’s about them.

Giving our shared child a fighting chance at the life of stability we felt we didn’t get growing up was important. Giving our son a strong sense of family despite having divorced parents was crucial. These goals were important as a lifestyle for the years prior to crisis, and they became priority during.

Ground Rules:

Anything you do or say (within reason) wont be held against you. We can choose to not have paper thin skin in dealing with one another. Cooler heads must prevail. If you make a mistake you are still respected as an important part of the family. It’s not going to get rubbed in your face. Moving on is constant.

Lets not demonize one another. It is never healthy to say negative or destructive things about someone your child half-identifies with. If a child is not under threat of serious harm, truths will come out if they need to. Attacking one another and shoving poison in the ear of your shared child(ren) causes confusion, negativity, and will pave the way for unneeded struggles for them down the road.

Lets not rush to react, pounce on, or punish each other. Not everything is an ordeal to freak out about. Making a mistake does not classify you as the villain of our equation.

I prioritized this, having come from a condemning, shaming, punishing background. Which is a very difficult culture to be a part of—it makes it impossible to relax enough to just be. If one lays in wait for another to mess up in order to pounce, there can never truly be peace.

No petty, spiteful moves. That would only be wounds from the past manipulating current behavior. That includes not passive-aggressively planting negative seeds about one another in the mind of a child. No competitive parenting, such as good guy versus bad guy mentalities. If one needs to lose for the other to win, not only does no one really win, but the shared child, group, and goals are the real losers.

Incidentally, its good to remember that the behavior we engage in may turn up later in our sons and daughters. If I am engaging in (or accommodating) spiteful, manipulative, game-playing, or unfair tactics, chances are my son will grow up to date, marry, or become someone like that. By virtue of this behavior being woven as if normal into the fabric of his being, he may come to believe its acceptable and okay. Its not acceptable or okay.

Those things will always come back to bite.

Agree to approach things humbly and bypass childishness. Our sons and daughters are way too important for us to engage in arrogant, right-fighting immaturity. It really helps to be a proud “I dont know-it-all.” It’s not about just one of us, our history, our unresolved feelings, or who is the better parent. Its about the goal: the well-being of our kid(s). We must compromise, come to agreement as much as possible, and unite for what is right, fair, and true. This is about what is best for the greater good.

White flags go up immediately. When it comes to our sons and daughters, cease-fire should be quick, regardless of how we may feel about one another. If we are at odds, a peace treaty can still happen by virtue of having a shared mission.

Many times in our situation we could be aggravated with one another or at odds, yet still always have the safety and ability to call and say “I have to tell you what just happened.”

Loyalty to the goal, to the truth and to what is fair and right. We don’t need to fight just to win. Logic overrules emotion.

These standards greatly mattered to us when our son was young.  They later became the strength from which we navigated him to a healthy place when our lives were in crisis.

* * *

What do the earlier years have to do with the disease of addiction? Plenty—addiction is a family disease. If the time ever comes when we might deal with issues of addiction within the family, we have a great running start against the behaviors fueled by SUD. With goals in place, we have strategies ready for managing crisis, manipulation, and division in the future.

And that can prove to be life (and sanity) saving.

Will we ever fail when it comes to abiding by the ground rules? Absolutely. Sometimes miserably! We don’t always get it right. But the foundation laid is always there to return to no matter who drops the ball. You live, you learn, you do the next right thing and keep going.

* * *

What if it’s not possible to agree and unite or if the efforts are one-sided?

Understandably, there are people we all have to deal with that refuse to play by the rules. Some operate with low-blow behavior, don’t care for the greater good, and can’t be trusted to be sincere. Other times, too much damage has been done to have safe, vulnerable communication. There are people not motivated by logic, fairness, or peace. Some folks prefer to keep the fires of conflict and discord burning.

In these situations, the reality is they are probably not going to change behaviors or become less difficult. However, we can set good boundaries and remain healthy enough within ourselves that our reactivity is not negative alongside them.

Personally, in those cases I believe it’s a thing of honor to choose to be the one who still does what is right, staying committed to integrity, boundaries, and decisions, holding hope for a peaceful outcome, despite anyone else’s decisions. Their journey is theirs to figure out—we are responsible for our own.

Show kindness, don’t ever interact with vitriol, respond with dignity, and keep moving forward.

* * *

Nelson Mandela lived by the “Ubuntu” principle. The concept is, “I need you in order to be me; and you need me in order to be you.”

We need each other. We need to be kind and respectful with one another because we need each other.

“A family is supposed to be our safe haven. Very often it is the place where we find the deepest heartache.”  Iyanla Vanzant


I am thankful my ex-husband and I were able to establish unity when there was so much opportunity for division. It’s possible if we all do our part.

Our mission is to give our sons and daughters a strong family which in turn will give them a fighting chance for a healthy adult life.

Our responsibility is to not further discord, conflict, or chaos.

Our outcome can be the creation of a unique family unit that will become a safe haven, which in turn makes it easier for our sons and daughters to choose a healthy adult life in which they can thrive. 

My story is not a beautifully packaged family tale. It is raw and real. But it is a true story of reality, recovery, hard work, and hope.

Peace is possible!

Still learning,


Author of books: Unhooked, and Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache

Host of:  The Unhooked Podcast

* * *

For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support – TAPU

Family Recovery Support


CRAFT Method, True Stories and Rewards Part I

How do we focus on the good, reward non-use and functional behavior…and how do we not?

I am happy to say I have come to learn a whole new way of dealing with the struggles of day to day life.  Whether it’s ordinary stress, conflicts that may arise, or issues with a Loved One struggling with mental health, alcoholism, addiction or SUD. I have found a bottom line method for managing those demanding life issues within the power of the CRAFT Method.

CRAFT, Community Reinforcement and Family Training Method is a set of scientifically proven, softer yet powerfully effective strategies for interactions with those we are involved with and are affected by.

I often refer to CRAFT in blogs, podcasts and regular conversation, what better time than now to explain it as applied to true life scenarios.

Taken from a recent discussion on the Coming up for Air podcast, this week’s article applies methods of CRAFT to true , real life examples (with details modified for the sake of anonymity), sent from families from all over the country, who are feeling the effects of a Loved One.

Each scenario is followed with suggested expert CRAFT responses from the Allies in Recovery team, beginning with the first two:


Our 26-year-old daughter had an absolute wrecking ball heroin habit.  She got below 100 pounds, couldn’t be left alone with anyone’s purse or jewelry and caused turmoil and chaos everywhere she went.  It was a nightmare as much as it was devastating.  She went into treatment and has been off heroin for 16 months.  But things are still shaky.  She moved back home with us, doesn’t work, sleeps all day, lives to drink excessively with her friends, is miserable to be around.  She has become lazier and sloppier than ever, burning through her savings on clothes and shoes to wear to clubs.  She seems to think she’s a Kardashian!  However, we almost feel like this is better than when she was putting a needle in her arm and we didn’t know where she was or who she might be around.  Life is miserable for all of us.

While we understand the sorrow and terror everyone suffered when your daughter was in active IV heroin use, to an extent the disease of addiction and resulting at risk behavior are still calling the shots within the family. The acceptance of drinking would be the first issue to address.  Applying CRAFT to the alcohol issues would be the beginning.  Are we going to allow the behavior or remove rewards*?  When ready, you may have to swallow your fear that you are driving her back to “worse” behavior and let her know when she chooses to drink to excess, she can’t stay at home.   You will need a lot of support and comfort, be sure not to isolate yourselves within the home.

The starting place is for family members to decide they are no longer okay with the drinking. They can set a line that reinforces moderate drinking but that discourages serious drinking episodes. Or, the line can be set with abstinence on one side and any amount of drinking on the other.  The choice is informed by what the family feels is needed and what is possible, given how their loved one behaves with alcohol.

Abstinence or moderate drinking equals rewards; drinking or serious drinking equals removal of those rewards, disengagement, and allowing natural consequences.

As the family you change your behavior in the moment, in the day, so that it aligns with what you’re seeing.

Nothing changes over night, we want to get the family moving forward, but it’s a process.  Frequent conversations to open up communication are necessary.  Sometimes a 30 deadline for immediate change is more overwhelming for everyone, than it is helpful.  Think in terms of today, today we can begin with a conversation geared toward goals of changing some of these dysfunctional habits, setting boundaries and limits, making progress toward your daughter working and getting on her feet.  Perhaps suggest rewards* for every goal she meets, including attending meetings, working a program and possibly, revisiting the idea of treatment for the disease of addiction and alcoholism, even though IV heroin isn’t the immediate need she may still need a treatment program that fits the current situation.


My 23 year old son is in currently active use, we believe heroin, meth and anything else he can get his hands on.  He is living on various friends couches and sometimes sleeps in his car, so…pretty much homeless.  We haven’t seen much of him in a year.

The pain of separation from a child, particularly one in a high risk lifestyle can be engulfing, it sometimes feels impossible to endure.  Yet peace is possible, one breath at a time.  Tending to our own needs is vital!  Therapy, support groups, helpful books and a support system are crucial.  No one should go through it alone.

As often as possible, extend a bridge of loving communication.  If you are in contact with your son or daughter, sending texts, calling or visiting (when they’re not high, just maintaining) to let them know that they are always loved, you are in their corner and will be there as soon as they decide to go for treatment.  Leave them with specific encouragement such as “You fought hard to make the honor roll freshman year, I know that fight and strong will is still there.  I can’t wait to see you fighting again!”  Or perhaps “You always have the ability to warm a room with your eyes when you smile, I just wanted to be in the presence of that again, even for five minutes.”  These statements are more powerful than we know.

An invitation to coffee, breakfast or for pizza is suggested.  If your Loved One appears high, cancel the plans – remove the reward: no pizza, no you.  If they seem lucid, reward them with pizza, you, and loving encouraging conversation that doesn’t approach their use or their current circumstances.  Keep the conversation light and loving.

Loved Ones in active use will have times (dips and wishes) with moments of clarity, even if brief.  Reminding them of happier days, vacations, holidays etc. will sometimes flood their memory and make them long for days before they were in the grip of this disease.  Their lucid moments may pass without our knowing or often don’t happen when we are present. If they happen in your presence, you’ll know them by statements that sound like a wish or a dip.

Planting seeds of love and hope will not go unnoticed.  Show up and reach out when they are not high, protect and care for yourself when there are signs that they are using.

Always have a researched list ready of suggested detox and treatment centers with their phone numbers.  This comes in handy when a Loved One has a moment of clarity and mentions wanting a different life.  It is then we can present the list, this is an effective, soft intervention. Don’t push your agenda.  Wait for these moments of motivation to open up and be ready.


CRAFT has helped me maintain calm and sanity in the midst of great turmoil and trials as much as in my mundane daily life.  I hope these scenarios are relatable and helpful for you as well.

More on this topic can be found on Allies in Recovery and in our podcast conversation on Coming Up for Air!

Still learning,


Author of Unhooked


Expert Description of CRAFT: 

CRAFT was designed for Loved Ones struggling with addiction who are resistant to stopping or to getting treatment help.  CRAFT is based on the belief that family members can play a powerful role in helping to engage the Loved One who is in denial to submit to treatment. CRAFT is designed to teach families how to communicate effectively and how to behave around someone who is actively using drugs or alcohol. Learning these skills not only engages 70% of Loved Ones to enter treatment but helps a family member lower depression, anger and anxiety around the situation. It cleans up the mixed messages, the anger, and the frustration, by using positive reinforcement and steers clear of any confrontation. Family members know their Loved One best.  In addition to teaching families how to intervene, by applying the skills of CRAFT, families decrease the stress in the relationship and provide a way forward towards recovery.”  Dominique Simon-Levine, Ph.D.


*Rewards don’t have to mean $500 in cash, cleaning up after anyone or buying them a new car.  Rewards can include family activities, outings, special dinners, praise and encouragement, a pat on the back, or a face that is lit up at seeing them (non-using) etc.  Additionally, buying a gym membership, signing up for a 5k together, or a canoeing adventure are great rewards if they like these things.  Other suggestions if you are rewarding them might be helping clean up the room or car, or looking into a reward debit card, such as Integrity Care Card which is geared toward rewarding family members working hard on recovery.

Desiderata – by Max Ehrmann


My favorite, definitely worth reading daily, every single point is valuable.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


Max Ehrmann c.1920

Air (Allies in Recovery) Holiday Article

Fast Forward to February: On Getting Through the Holiday Season with an Absent Child

Guest author Annie Highwater shares ideas and strategies for making the most of this often emotionally charged time of the year.

allies in recovery addiction recovery holidays annie highwater unhooked inetervention alcohol opiates

© jill111 via pixabay


Beginning mid-October, a holiday dread begins threatening my soul like a shadow lurking around corners. I know the holidays are coming, who doesn’t? We see the signs everywhere, from the grocery stores to social media: pictures of ugly sweaters and perfect family celebrations. Radio stations change format to holiday themes, shopping ads and Christmas music. As for me, depending both upon the condition of my relationship with my son and how many miles are physically between us, I begin measuring how much gloom I can expect to wrestle in the weeks from Halloween through January.


For a parent far from their child, those weeks can feel like intense, lonely drudgery.

Unfortunately, as has been the fate of so many others, my son developed an addiction to opiate pain medication after a football injury nine years ago, and our lives have never been the same. Neither have the holidays or birthday celebrations. Through the worst of holiday seasons, I have found myself literally forcing a smile as people joyfully wish me season’s greetings in passing. Meanwhile, my heart weighs a thousand pounds and my mind is a million miles away.

Familiar smells of cinnamon, apple and pine remind me of the holidays long ago when we looked forward to every light, ornament, favorite Christmas show on TV and special holiday dinner. Those warm traditions are now replaced with Skype and Facetime calls. Or… if our relationship is strained due to conflict and consequences caused by the disease of addiction, I instead brace myself for silence and sadness.

I have to force myself to believe the most tender, magical of years are behind us.

Could it really be that I will never again bundle up and walk the streets with a pack of kids in Halloween costume ‘trick or treating’?

Would I really spend another Thanksgiving not having him to make knowing eye contact with when familiar family oddities play out in front of us? We call it “Eye-lish.” It’s our secret eye contact language when things are awkward, weird or funny. My son always knows what I’m thinking. We can communicate a whole conversation with just a glance. One look could say anything from ‘Let’s go!’ to ‘How cute is our new nephew!’ to ‘This turkey is raw’ as well as ‘Can you believe she just said that? How rude!’

Would I really never again wake up Christmas morning to my young son running in to wake me in pajamas, excited to see what gifts are waiting for him in the glow of Christmas tree lights?

My birthday is in November and my son’s is in January. Those are days we looked forward to making fun and special. So the twelve weeks from Halloween to February can sometimes pack a whole lot of gut punch.


It can be tempting to hibernate right through the festive months when everyone seems so happy, and wake up in February.

I find myself wondering how it could be that I would have to replay these moments as memories instead of experiencing them again? Sometimes I relive these memories so many times in my mind, like movies playing on loop, that I worry they’ll fade from me. Sometimes moments and voices seem distant and blurry and I wonder if they really even happened. The mind can play tricks on a Mother missing a child and your heart can hallucinate. When I’m wondering how happy those days really were, I often look with nostalgia through our old pictures, for hours… tears rolling off my face. ‘Tis the season.

I miss my son not just as my energetic, excited child but also as I would miss a long lost friend. Our Mother/Son relationship didn’t trespass appropriate authority – we were never best friends as peers would be. I knew I had a job to do and a responsible role to fill as a parent. But we were friends. Always. Our bond and connection especially through humor, or how we both always just get it in relation to life, family and experiencing people, is something I have had with no one else quite like I have with my son, my only child.

Missing him again this year with so many miles between us finds me wondering how another year could possibly have swung around so fast to find me again without his presence? How am I slammed with the reality of the holidays again being so far from what I hoped they would be?

William Shakespeare said “Expectation is the root of all heartache,” and I would have to agree, my heart often throbs with the disappointment of holiday expectations.


So how do I move along with the season without moping through the days like it’s raining only on me?

I have to first decide I will find a positive outlook. I must intentionally decide to find a way to see around corners and know that not every year is depressing, just like not every year is magical. Whether good or bad, no moment lasts forever. Such is life. As hard as the reality of loneliness and disappointment hits, the return of Spring and future joys around the corner are just as promising.


I must stoke the fire of motivation within me by accepting a few fundamental truths.

First of all, I am not the only person to mournfully endure a lonely, depressing holiday season.

Many people experience great grief, loss and pain through the holidays. Knowing I am not alone makes it easier to not take on a “poor me, it’s just little me against the whole happy world” mentality. Recovery support groups are extremely helpful for realizing this. Sharing stories is a great reminder that this life is give and take, someone always has it worse, or better, or maybe they went through a similar struggle, came out stronger and can speak encouragement right to my heart about it. I know I am able to do the same for others when it comes to adversities I’ve come through.

I’ve lived long enough to know there have been both painful years as well as years that exceed joyful expectation. This is the ebb and flow, the yin and yang of life, as much as the rising and setting of the sun and all four seasons are an expected part of it.

Second, I know I can sit down in the drudgery long enough to push through it.

Facing and feeling the misery like a wave crashing yet eventually subsiding is much healthier than resisting it, numbing it or acting out because of it. Sometimes I need to sit in that silence and grieve my way through those moments with the memories. I may even fall asleep in it because an impromptu nap in a moment of meltdown always seems to help. I often wake up twenty minutes later a little less dreary, feeling stronger, more hopeful, ready to get up and proceed through that day. No matter where it falls in the calendar, I only have to get through that day. And if I look hard enough, I find a lot of special moments and joy along the way.

During the coldest winters and darkest of times, I always find myself buoyed along by the kindness of strangers. If I open my eyes to it, I find kindnesses around me daily. At first this can feel like trying to plant flowers in ground that is frozen solid. It’s work to be hopeful and positive. It’s work to not give up! But it’s by far some of the greatest, most crucial work we’ll do.

Third and finally, I believe that turning my misery and energy outward into kindhearted service is a no-fail guarantee to take me outside my private world of personal circumstances.

There is nothing more uplifting than focusing on someone else for a while. There will always be someone who can use some loving kindness from me, whether it’s a card dropped in the mail, a call to say “I was just thinking of you,” or a visit to let someone else know their life matters and I want them to tell me all about it. Sometimes all one needs is a comforting reminder that they, too, are not the only one. These are things I can do to not only get through, but give a boost to others as well. We are, in fact, all in this life together.

No, Halloween wasn’t what it used to be, this year. But the day was exactly what it should have been: a beautiful Fall day with plenty of moments to appreciate and enjoy.

And yes, Thanksgiving this year was void of my son’s presence. I had no Eye-lish to convey my thoughts with him, but I did spend the day with family and friends and there was much laughter.

Christmas is just days away and it feels more like a regular day off than a holiday filled with lights, gifts, lots of guests and warm traditions. But I know I will make the very best of it. I have great hope that next year we will all be in a different place – just like we are now. Just like we are every year. Life ebbs and life flows, the sun rises and sets. In that, there is hope, as well as the reminder to stay mindful in the moment and cherish every good day without letting it slip by unnoticed.

I refuse to have an attitude of ‘wake me up when December ends’ or ‘fast forward to February!’ I want to stubbornly look for, and find, the kindness and joy within each day and plan for the future with a childlike hope. This awareness and hope feel more like being alive and holding the magic of the season than just about anything.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite the darkness.”
– Desmond Tutu

Until next year, season’s greetings of hope, joy and gratitude,


Since 2003, Allies in Recovery has addressed substance abuse in families by providing a method for the family to change the conversation about addiction. We use Community Reinforcement & Family Training (CRAFT), a proven approach that helps the family unblock and advance the relationship towards sobriety and recovery and to engage a loved one into treatment. Learn about member benefits by following this link.


*Annie Highwater is the author of Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction. She is a long distance runner, health and wellness advocate and researcher of behavioral science, specifically including family pathology and concepts of dysfunction and conflict. Annie resides in Columbus, Ohio where she has worked in the insurance industry. She also enjoys writing, hiking, the great outdoors and visiting her son in Southern California as often as possible. Learn more about her and the book on her Facebook page.

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Codependent Comfort won’t help me finish the race!

Codependent Comfort won’t help me finish the race!

Comfort:  a state of physical ease and freedom from pain.  The easing or alleviation of a person’s feelings of grief or distress.  To ease the distress of; console.


Many years ago I suffered a dislocated shoulder in a minor car accident.  A paramedic pushed it back into place but it was never quite the same.  Over time the damage done and the pain it caused became excruciating.  I was advised by a doctor to have the shoulder repaired with surgery.  However, I tend to have a strong tolerance for pain and delayed that for as long as possible.  But when my shoulder joint began going in and out of socket regularly and the ache from that became too unbearable, I decided I had to go through with it.

Pain left unhealed may lay dormant temporarily, but it will inevitably return and usually with a vengeance.  Eventually comfort will become your only focus.

I went through shoulder surgery, titanium anchors were inserted to repair my labarum and I was advised by the doctor to rest for eight weeks. But not being one who can stay down for long, I was determined to return to my love of running as soon as possible.  However, the injury, the surgery and time off had taken some toll (and added some weight!).  Stubbornly, I signed up for my favorite 5k race anyway and set my resolve to finish strong.  I had two weeks to prepare!

The day of the race my son, Elliot a junior in high school at the time, drove me to the starting line, gave me a quick pep talk, said “See ya at the finish!” and off he went.  Nerves immediately hit, worse than previous races.  I knew I was not in the physical condition to do well.  Discovering I was late for the starting line didn’t help.  Being that it was a large, community event I had to make my way through thousands of people chatting excitedly.  Some wore bright costumes, hats and ribbons, some were running in place, others stretching against one another.  Some wore shirts proudly displaying previous races, signs of experience and love for the sport. These were always my favorite familiar sights.  Yet in the midst of it all, I found myself feeling alone and insecure.

I realized I wouldn’t be on time to make my way to the runner’s starting line so I decided I would line up with the walkers and weave my way forward to reach those who were running.  The race started and we were off, I stumbled forward with groups of women pushing strollers.  Realizing I was surrounded as far as the eye could see by those who were walking while I wanted to sprint, I made my way to the side to run around slower paced folks.  Jumping curbs, dodging dogs and yelling “Sorry! Excuse me!” over my shoulders.  As I neared the end of mile one I realized how out of breath, out of energy and exactly how out of shape I was!  I stopped to walk a few times, hating myself for it.

Finally, accepting that this whole thing was a mistake I began believing the voice in my head screaming “This race was too soon!  You only trained for 2 weeks!  You’ll never finish!  Your running days are over.”  I stepped away from the crowd and called Elliot from my cell phone that was tucked safely in my pocket for such a moment as this.  “No.”  He answered immediately.  “You are not calling me to quit.  Are you kidding me?!  No.  Mom you’ve run a marathon…the year after you lost your Dad! You raised me by yourself, you made a life for yourself out of nothing.  Alone!  You’re not quitting.  This is nothing for you, you can do this!  I’ll see you at the finish line even if you don’t get there until midnight!  Keep going.” He hung up.

My mouth fell open and tears tugged my lower eyelids threatening to spill over.  I stood there holding the phone to my ear as the crowd moved on in front of me.

But something resident inside of me, a familiar strength began to rise up and I realized he was right.  I had been through worse and kept going! I would try to finish.  Besides, I had no choice!  Elliot wasn’t coming.  I wouldn’t see him until I did finish!  I took Elliot’s words to heart and told myself to keep going.  Slowly I jogged back in with the crowd making their way forward.

As I continued winding my way through the throngs of people, a woman came running alongside me, she was moving right along with my own slightly quicker pace.  “Oh you are running this too?”  I asked, striking up a conversation.  Runners are some of the friendliest people!  “I got a later start myself.  I’m trying to find the runners; do you have any idea how far we are from the first wave of runners? It seems like a sea of walkers to get through!”

“Oh I already finished the race today.  I decided to run it again so I started the route over.”  She said, barely out of breath as I struggled along next to her.  Shame hit me like a gut punch.  “Well, I ran all the time before this injury.”  I said pointing to my shoulder.  “I recently had surgery and I’m just getting back to it.”  I caught myself overcompensating to explain my deficiencies.  Never being one who cared to create an illusion of who I am, I quickly dropped the first instinct to have a defense mechanism and got real.  Real is where the magic happens.  Real is when the breakthroughs come.  “To be honest with you, I’ve been a runner for quite a few years, I’ve run a marathon.  But I had this injury and it brought me to a standstill.  I’m so out of it lately and today just feels like one big failure.  This 5k feels like pushing a bus up a mountain.  Barefoot.”

She pulled me aside and stopped running, facing me she said “Listen you are a runner.  That means you have heart and you know how to push through.  That’s still in you.  I was injured a few years ago myself.  I lost my home, I went through a divorce, depression, weight gain…I wanted to give up.  But I didn’t let myself.  I started again and day by day, because I didn’t give up and here I am.  Back to it, stronger than before.  You’ve got this.  You can do it.  I know it for a fact, I’ve been there.  You can do this.  Just don’t give up, don’t ever give up.  Keep going.”

She lightly tapped me on my injured shoulder, nodded in the direction of the runners, turned and ran off.  “Don’t quit!” She yelled back as she disappeared into the crowd.  I was so moved by her compassion and comfort that I stepped up my pace, smiling to myself through most of the next mile.

It’s been almost 9 years since that race.  I have added many more 5 and 10k’s along with half marathons to my running resume since.  I even ran another full marathon.  But none of them compare to that 5k race. That memory still speaks into my life. I learned a lot about what comfort really means that day. I’m so thankful for the tough, “suck it up” pep talk from my son when I called him determined to quit.  Had he said “You’re right, Mom.  You can’t do it.  You poor thing, you shouldn’t have to, it’s too hard!  I’ll be right there.”  I would have sat down on the curb waiting for him to come for me, climbed in the car and most likely continued on down a path of defeat and easy resignation.  I didn’t need the codependent kind of comfort that coddles me into giving up.  Not if there was any chance I could do it.

And my fellow runner, what an amazing picture of comfort, empathy and true human connection.  I don’t remember what she looked like, I forgot the color of her clothing and what type of running shoes she preferred. I didn’t even catch her name.  But that moment with her will be with me forever.  People truly do not forget how you make them feel.  The kind words of a stranger telling me “I’ve been there; I know you can do this. Just don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”  fill my mind every time I am tempted to quit.   Someone who can say “I’ve been there.  I know this path by heart.  I know you can do it.” has weight in their words.  Whatever hard thing I’m facing, that memory powerfully comforts and encourages me to take a few more steps, to not give up but instead…to just keep going.

I’ve had many adversities to persevere through in my life.  Mental illness and addiction run rampant within my family.  I’ve struggled through many a defeat, failure and tragedies I never saw coming.  I have had my heart so broken that there were times I wore sunglasses in the grocery store to hide my red, swollen eyes.  I’ve lived through excruciating loss.  It’s not been a cake walk by any means.  I know myself that not just anyone can spur you on through the hard times.  You have to be careful who your encouragers are.  Well-intending friends or family may say flippant, unhelpful things that may wound you further and hinder your progress.  Someone, however who has been through it, who has run the same race, who knows the pain of the struggle telling me I can handle it if I just keep going, makes me believe I can.  Coming alongside me with comfort like changes the trajectory of my thinking.  Before I know it, I’m past the moment of giving up and heading toward the finish line.

Had my kind stranger not decided to run her race again, coming back through to run alongside those of us enduring it for the first time she wouldn’t have been there to encourage a weak, insecure runner needing fresh hope.    Reaching back to those coming through what you have endured to say “You can do this” is a picture of comfort at its best.

I pulled it together and finished my race that day.  Though more labored than usual and slower than ever.  I finished.  I give credit to the inspiration of my son Elliot who spoke to the fighter within me as well as to the kindness of a stranger who took a moment to ease another’s distress. When I finally reached my finish line, seeing the proud face of my son was an incredible moment, one I will always cherish.  But more than that, proving to myself that I could keep going was worth every hard, heavy step it took.


“Surround yourself with people who are rooting for your rise.”  ~Brene Brown




Annie Highwater Author Bio

Writer Annie Highwater, Author of “Unhooked, a Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction” is a long distance runner, health and wellness advocate and researcher of behavioral science; specifically including family pathology and concepts of dysfunction and conflict. Annie resides in Columbus, Ohio where she has worked in the insurance industry. She also enjoys writing, yoga, hiking, the great outdoors and visiting her son in Southern California as often as possible.

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