12/10/2012 02:32 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Taking the 12 Steps in Stride... Again

My name is Martha, and I am a woman in midlife. Almost 10 years ago my mother died in my home, and in my arms, from the complications of alcoholism. I was 50 years old then. As I look back at my awareness of my mom's dive into self-annihilation, it seemed to begin when she was around 50.

Despite her accomplishments at age 50 -- graduating magma cum laude with her college degree, having raised seven beautiful children into adulthood, being vibrant, intelligent, and amazingly creative -- her life was overshadowed by a series of midlife events that descended upon her seemingly all at once. I will name just two of them, but there were many, and all were devastatingly painful. My grandmother, my mom's mother and unyielding support, died suddenly. My father, my mom's husband of 30 years and father to her eight children, divorced her.

I was 28 at the time and in the throes of my own failed marriage. My divorce was finalized on Christmas Eve, and when I asked Mom to not get drunk that night so we could talk, it ignited a rage in her I may never forget for reasons I will never know. I realized in that moment that I had a problem too, alongside my mother. I was emotionally pushed off a cliff that Christmas Eve.

When I finally "hit bottom," I was battered, bruised and broken. I searched for a place to rest my weary heart. I knew about Al Anon but always found an excuse not to go: already have my pajamas on, too tired, too hungry, too late, too dark, too cold. Until one night a friend of mine threw me into the car with my pajamas on and delivered me to the door of my first meeting. That's right. I went to my first Al Anon meeting with my pajamas on. No one seemed to notice. I got the feeling they understood. I was afraid. I was vulnerable.

I began attending Al Anon meetings weekly, and over the course of five years I pulled myself out of a swamp of confusion and shame. This helped clear a trail so I could journey forward into my future. Mom, on the other hand, chose not to address the power alcohol had on her life, and her path spiraled down into self-doubt, self-hate, and self-abandonment. These are the less-obvious complications of alcoholism yet in my experience the most powerfully destructive.

When my mom died, at age 78, I turned my broken heart back toward the 12 steps of Al Anon to guide me. Actually, I ran as fast as I could back to the 12 steps. My own midlife losses and "challenges" began in earnest, and between friends, family, health and finances I made the midlife rounds of experiences. All I can say is "Wow, what a ride!" Thank goodness I know how to pray.

I am starting to relax my shoulders again. I am starting to relax my expectations, and my fears too. I am not as anxious for unknown reasons and I am never depressed or feeling alone like I was when my mom died. I still grieve. I may always grieve the loss of those I love.

I am starting to live in the present moment more often than not. I can put my contact lenses back in because I have stopped crying constantly. And I hear myself laughing out loud again. I know time helps us heal. I also know the magic of the 12 steps helped me to take myself lightly and sing in the shower, and I feel immense gratitude and appreciation for all life.

Addressing the power of living in the fog of alcoholism is not an easy path. It is, however, profoundly simple. Sometimes the more simple something is the more complex is appears to be. Each day I open more to the complex potential within me to simply heal. For that I am grateful. I am grateful I have lived long enough to get to this point.

Midlife is like being 12. We are not young anymore, and we are not old yet. In midlife our souls have different yearnings, different passions, different ways of expressing the depth of who we are at each moment of our lives. What we pray about, what we celebrate, what we fear, how we love all change in midlife. I love being able to experience the depth and breadth of midlife. I am fortunate to have been able to update my understanding of how powerful the 12 steps can be in my life. I am very different from the 28-year-old I used to be.

Midlife is a perfect time to step into the brilliance of our creativity and dream with our eyes wide open. Midlife is a perfect time to continue unraveling the mystery of self-love as we express our confidence to love at all. Today, being a woman in midlife, is a very good day.

I see the world today through different eyes and hear and feel in ways I never would have imagined. I am excited by the opportunities for us all to use our experiences to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of the people and things we care about.

I care about my life and am excited to be herein this place.

I have said this to my children a thousand times: "Let's leave this place better than we found it."

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

For more by Martha Pasternack, click here.

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