Step 1: Admitted our powerlessness to change our past—that our lives had become unmanageable and became willing to surrender to our love and not to our fear.
—The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children
Like many of you, I keep pondering the question How did we get here? While this is a question best settled by elections, it does little to guide how I need to care for my family and myself day-to-day.
To try to settle myself, I took my rescue dog of two weeks, a female of indeterminate breed and age, for a solitary walk. We ambled through the mist, up and down hills that surround a nearby lake in this rural community in which I live, a place of few people and few resources that is usually quiet. Now it is full of the tension felt in many rural communities: so many businesses owned by those I know are shuttered; neighbors are terrified about the health of those they love who live in other areas already being hard hit by the virus; we all watch the virus creep toward us, ready to leap. As I listened to the birds calling, feeling the coolness of the air and smiling at my dog’s lurching at chipmunks, I was again searching within myself for how to manage this crisis of COVID-19.
My mind was elsewhere. Not in the present, but in the past. It was then I realized an essential truth: I cannot change my past, decisions I’ve made in my own life, what I wish my country had done—is doing—differently, but I can take some control of my present. But how?
The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting for Adult Children
I recalled my book on self–parenting, which Publishers Weekly judged as one of the ten best books about recovery, written thirty-two years ago and is still in print. I thought, I will begin using it today, for myself. It may seem strange to you that I walk around conscious of a process I created that governs how I live. But, like you, I am only present to some parts of who I am at any one time. For me, today, this is a time to begin be present to all of the various parts within myself, to self-parent each of them in earnest. I wish to encourage you to do the same.
Those of us in recovery are blessed to have a program that works to give our suffering meaning: The 12 Steps. My first book on self-parenting uses these steps to help heal the part of you that is wounded in times of crisis—your inner child, your vulnerable, young self.
It was inspired by the then burgeoning children of alcoholics movements. As a nation, we were just beginning to confront how we deal with the impact of addiction. Today we are facing another crisis with COVID-19 and how we deal with its impact. It occurred to me that it may be the same process.
The message in the first step is to let go. As I reflected on this step on Palm Sunday, which is usually a time of joy, as I looked forward to the eve of Passover, a celebration of redemption, I realized that I need to create joy in my life. And I could do this by letting go of the past and focusing on the present by being grateful for the gifts in the present, yes, just as Jesus did on Palm Sunday, even though he knew what was coming. Joy was possible for him. Why not then for us as well?
How can you help your inner child today? Try helping him or her focus on what is wonderful that is right in front of you. Use the adult voice within you to become curious about what is working. Access the voice of your higher parent, that part of each of us that is connected to the divine, to reassure you that you are not alone.
Exercise for Today:
Come into the present. Instead of worrying, instead of berating yourself by shoulding on yourself for what you wish you had done, think about what is working, however small. Do this by creating a daily gratitude list. Look for what is going well in your life, however routine or insignificant those things might seem.
A friend of mine shared that she was grateful she had an old, rarely used dishwasher that uses too much energy, but which she realized could help disinfect her dishes.
I am grateful that I rescued a dog who is now my constant companion as I do telepsych and who encourages me to get out and walk early in the morning.
And I am grateful for my husband and his team who are continuing to provide inpatient and outpatient services to those still suffering due to the opioid epidemic. https://www.stjoestreatment.org
Join Us, Please
So, what about you? Make a list of things you are grateful for. Journal this—on your phone, computer, in a random notebook—but memorialize it.
And if you’d like, please share it on my new Facebook Group, Self-Parenting in the Age of COVID, which I invite you to join by clicking on the link. There you can post your struggles and solutions as we create community. I invite you to share the blogs and posts you find on the Facebook Group by tagging those you know and care about, whether they are in recovery or just loved by you.
This is the first of a twelve-part series based on The 12 Steps to Self-Parenting. I invite you to subscribe to receive updates to this blog—look for future series where I apply my existing work to dealing with the specifics of COVID-19 for those involved in or interested in aspects of recovery—a parenting series based on The Lowdown on Families Who Get High, then one for those dealing with trauma based on Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting, followed by (of course) more on resiliency and girly thoughts.
Learn more about my work as a consulting psychologist and speaker at www.patriciaogorman.com