What does it take to do nothing?


one day at a time
In my recovery from enabling, without a doubt the hardest action to me to take, the hardest thing for me to do...is nothing.

You see, I am the oldest child. I am the oldest of four. My little sister was sick all of her life. From the time I was six years old, I was asked to step up. My childhood was basically over. I was my mother's helper. I was a doer. I learned that what it takes in this world to be valued is to do something. To accomplish something. To take action.

For all of my life, I have prided myself on my ability to make decisions. I can describe my process to you and have described it many times to people over the years: You have a problem. You survey the possible solutions, doing your good homework, you make a decision, and you take action.

Simple. Right? Just do it. It's a clear step by step model. It works in business, it works in volunteer work, it works as a mother running a household. It's the American way. It's the get-it-done way. And get it done is what we want, right? Let's get it done.

Until I met alcoholism and drug addiction. Nine years ago, I realized---found out---my husband at the time was an alcoholic. I had no idea. I know that sounds actually stupid, even disingenuous, but he was extremely high-functioning, an infrequent binge drinker, and he hid a lot of the drinking from me. Until I found out.

I was in his face 24/7. He was going to stop, and stop NOW. We had knock down, drag out arguments. We said terrible things to each other. He did dramatic things, like take all of the alcohol door to our neighbor's house and say there would no longer be any alcohol in this house. If I can't drink, you can't drink. He drove the car to Atlanta at 100 miles an hour with me screaming stop this car now. It's a wonder we aren't dead. We were both crazy. I was going to make him stop and he wasn't an alcoholic.

Then came Al-Anon, and I got a little better, but only a little. I stopped going after 18 months. You see, I am a very stubborn person. I didn't know how to stop doing what I had been doing all of my life, and I quite frankly, didn't want to stop. Because it worked in every other area of my life, and I got tremendous accolades from "getting it done." Getting it done was WHO I WAS.

Until drug addiction with my son. I guess my HIgher Power saw it all coming. Not that he orchestrated, but he could see the road ahead. He could see the dramatic collision that was coming. Not my son's self-destruction. Mine.

I had to learn how to be a different kind of person. I am still learning how to do that. It will take the rest of my life.

I am learning how to stop.

When you first start learning how to stop, it feels awful. Terrible. Miserable. You almost can't stand it. Because there is a huge, huge void that appears---where all of the "get it done" once was.

That huge void feels very very uncomfortable, almost unbearable. It is a physical, sick, anxious feeling. At first, it feels so awful that you just go back to the tried and true, the "get it done." But you find out once again that doesn't work.

So back to the void. Try it again. And if there is a system you have built---a strong support system---inch by inch you start to---even for just a few seconds---you start to glimpse the incredible peace that exists in the void.

The relief. The incredible relief. You don't have to be in charge. You don't have to fix other people. You don't have to solve all of the problems. You don't have to have it all on your back, you capable person, you, just because you can see what needs to happen, YOU KNOW what needs to happen, but....you can't make it happen. You can actually let go. You can say I don't know and mean it. You can be silent.

It's an on-your-knees experience. It is a flat-on-your-face experience. But unlike despair and grief and deep pain, there is redemption in this kind of humility. There starts to be a yearning for more of it.

And more and more. The glimpses are so wonderful, that it starts to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You start to be willing to spend more time on it, because it is amazing.

Learning how to do nothing is a journey. A long, hard journey. I believe it is the journey to true maturity and true peace and true respect for other people.

I wish this journey for all of us, because I believe it is the only true path that leads to good things for all of us. For our difficult children and for us.

Two friends and I met earlier this year. One had read the book, One Word. She challenged us to adopt One Word for our lives for this year. Mine is silence. I looked at a lot of other words, but I chose silence. It will be the biggest challenge of my life, to see and to understand when silence is the answer. And then to practice it.

Holding you all close with this wish today.


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My word is still Bastion.

I'm doing 'nothing' regarding my mother. (I posted about her in the Watercooler)
I slept last night and had coffee and took my youngest to school this morning before she even entered my head. I was surprised when I thought of her, surprised that I hadn't woken up thinking of her.

Doing nothing is working for me. It's quiet and peaceful. My brother's also busy doing nothing. He's been busy doing nothing about our mother for ten years, so he's more expert at it than me.

I'm not doing 'nothing' regarding my son. But that's another story. I'm facing that head-on and getting more involved than I've ever been. 'Nothing' isn't the right course of action there, for me, at the moment.


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This is powerful.. thank you, CoM. What I learned about doing nothing, when it comes to my difficult kids: the outcome from my doing nothing, is typically the same outcome from my doing something.

There is indeed peace in doing nothing - a wonderful peace in taking back your own life, and letting others live theirs.

I'll have to think hard about the "one word" though. I'm too ADD these days (darn menopause) to settle on just one :)


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I had to learn how to be a different kind of person. I am still learning how to do that. It will take the rest of my life.

I am learning how to accept.

Not sure I know my One Word. Silence is a good one. Accept is a good one. Kindness is a good one. Breathe is a good one.

You can say I don't know and mean it.

Maybe Humility is the one word.

Thank you for this thought provoking post.


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Wonderful, inspiring, poignant and oh so true post COM, thank you for sharing your journey so eloquently.

My word was presence. I am still practicing it daily. For me it means staying grounded in the now, not racing down that road to meet what is next or to languish in the past, but to be here now, right here.........

It sounds so simple, be here now, almost ridiculous in it's simplify, however I have found it a challenge. Like you COM, I was bred to be a doer as the oldest in a highly dysfunctional family, fixing, helping, accomplishing, succeeding..... there are so many accolades for that role.......part of that role, for me, was making sure the future was as smooth and as crisis free as I could make it, lists, figuring it out, being prepared, always making sure everything was taken care of.....fear that if I missed something, there would be dire consequences......worry.......lots and lots of worry.

Well, if I am not future tripping, or visiting the past, I am living in the now........present. It's a training for my mind, pulling myself back from the edge, from the relentless thinking about what could happen, what might happen, what will happen and what I need to do right now to prepare for that.

I don't have to do anything. Nothing. Just show up in the moment.

Doing nothing has not come easy for me, it has been a tough experience and like all of you, it has been a journey worth taking........ and brought to me by... first my bio family... and then my daughter.

The odd and yet just awesome realization is that in doing nothing, everything gets done! Not in a frantic, stressful, have to do it now, worried fashion, but a thought in the moment, "oh yeah,today is the day I do that." For me, doing nothing has everything to do with me living in the present moment. I slip a lot, I fall out of the present into the past and into the future. My mind runs away with me with crazy controlling thoughts.........but now I know, 1. that I am on that train and 2. how to get off. Knowing I am on it, is most of the battle, then I just quietly and quickly step right on off.

That is a miracle. To be able to observe myself tripping out, say to myself, "hey, cut it out," and stop it. Once I could do that, doing nothing and staying in the present moment became a place I could inhabit a lot more. In fact, most of the time. It brings a sort of melancholy just saying that because I remember so vividly how miserable I was when I was everywhere but in the now and doing everything........it's an odd irony that to be in the now and do nothing is what brings peace of mind as opposed to what I believed and lived.........do, do, do, do and do some more and that will bring peace-------someday. Only someday, never, ever comes.

This has changed every single facet of my life. Certainly with my daughter and my family, but in my career, with my friends, with how I view the world and how I spend my moments. There's an inner core of space, space where not only does "nothingness" live, but possibility as well. In that space is presence.

So it turns out that uncertainty........not knowing........letting go.........doing nothing.......is really what it's all about, not fear, not control, not doing and knowing........well, who would have thought that?

Not me.

And, yet, I am intensely grateful to have traveled through this maze and lived to tell the tale.........and to have shared that journey with all of you. What a privilege.


one day at a time
Accept is a good one. Kindness is a good one. Breathe is a good one.
Maybe Humility is the one word.

I love all of these words. One of the friends chose Gratitude. One chose Peace. For me, peace is the destination and gratitude is one of the tools. Practicing gratitude. Remembering to be grateful. Silence is one of the tools.

And I don't practice it enough, still! It's March, I need to be silent more. Last night, I was in a small group of four people. One is a professional coach. We are meeting with her for three sessions with our goals.

One of the women is 37 years old. She shared a lot of her story. She is a master accomplisher, and from a broken family, and she sees herself doing what her mother did and what she detests, with her own six year old son. She is broken about it. I saw myself in her. I was hurting for her as she talked. I was able to be silent and just let her talk. I didn't need to rush in with my story. I was able to honor her story with my silence. That was one time I was able to do it. I have many more opportunities that I don't take now, but I am trying to recognize them first, and then allow silence to take me over. It is an incredible thing when it happens, even once in a while.

And again last night, I had a call from my mother. One of my first cousins died yesterday. She was 74. She had a car accident last week. My dad was very close to her---his niece. Her own mother, my dad's sister, died very young stepping off a bus in Atlanta. She was hit by a car. Irony. So my dad was trying to see if he could go to the funeral, and we were trying to see if we could help him go, and go ourselves. He is in Oklahoma. He is 83 years old. My sister, who also lives there, is still a master controller. She spent some time last night showing me that it is "up to you, kid" to go with dad. She puts her pressure on. She is I think somewhat angry that she is there, taking care of my parents as they age, and I am not. I looked at all of the ways to go, and I seriously considered it. I would like to see my cousins. But once my dad said I just can't go, even if you go, I decided that was my answer. I was also silent in the face of my sister's pressure. My husband said, you need to give it back to her. I said no. I told them I would decide today and let them know but it was going to be hard to go right now. People need to be allowed to make their own decisions without manipulation and pressure from others. I see now how much I have manipulated in the past to get my own way, or to make something happen. I don't want to be that person anymore. It is very unappealing in other people.

be here now,

So simple and yet so difficult. It's the simplest things that are so worthy and so challenging, RE.

The odd and yet just awesome realization is that in doing nothing, everything gets done!

Doesn't it though, and in surprising ways. People actually can figure their own problems out! Amazing!!!! And they come up with solutions that I never would have thought of.

We learn how to do what we do to survive. And that is okay. We are only children, trying to survive. We learn how to, all of us, due to our circumstances. And when we grow up, we find that those ways just may not be very useful anymore. In fact, they may be damaging to ourselves and to other people.

I always sought my dad's attention and approval growing up. He was a hard person. I finally figured out, deep within me, that accomplishing is what got his positive attention. A little girl needs a dad's glowing approval and I never got that. It was a void inside me, that finally has been healed in the past few years. Accomplishing is how I got any approval from him that I did get, which was still meager.

Figuring it out! What a goal in life. Figuring it out for me, and for everybody else. It worked when I was little and growing up, but today it doesn't work in relationships with grown people. Even if I can see something ahead for someone, it doesn't mean I get to wow them with my brilliance. It's their life.

do, do, do, do and do some more and that will bring peace-------someday. Only someday, never, ever comes.

That's what I thought too! I thought, once this happens, then my life will really start. Then everything will be great. Only that day never, ever comes, and one day you look up and most of your life has gone by, and you're still waiting to be happy and at peace.

So it turns out that uncertainty........not knowing........letting go.........doing nothing.......is really what it's all about, not fear, not control, not doing and knowing........well, who would have thought that?

Not me.

Yes!!!! And such a great guidebook author is Pema Chodron. I think you, RE, are the one who recommended her one day many months ago. These ideas are great, once they take hold in us, but HOW in the world do we do them? She is so good at breaking it all down and making it sensible, so many steps, one by one.

And others. It all works together, this moving into quiet, and peace, and uncertainty, and humility and letting go, it is a giant web of such a good way to live life.

I guess I could have never discovered it. Or discovered it much later. That is where my gratitude comes in.

Like I said last night in my coaching session, it used to be all about my son. All of it. Now it's more about me. And that started well before his recent progress. I am very very grateful for these lessons.


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I didn't remember the name Pema Chodron, so I was just looking her up on Amazon. All of her books sound perfect for where I am right now. Do you have a recommendation on which you like best, as a start? I was thinking of getting "When Things Fall Apart" first.


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CrazyinVa, I read Comfortable with Uncertainty first, and I just loved Living Beautifully. I read them in quick succession and they helped me so much. The places that scare you and When things fall apart are wonderful too, I bought all 4 of those and refer to them often. When I went to get the books to share the titles with you, I had put all my favorites in a little cubby. The others are The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, The Power of Now and The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Those 3 authors gave me so much support through some of the darkest hours of this journey.


Do nothing is a totally alien concept for me! Everyone, friends and family know that I will move heaven and earth to help them. Because of my current state I can't do it anymore & friends and kids are shocked even angry. You're so right though. Iam going to try hard & really yearn for peace at last!


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Just placed an order for one of the books. A bit religious/spiritual for me, but my husband is very religious--and a workaholic--so it would be good for us to read together. :)
Thank you.


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COM, good work with holding steady under the pressure of your sisters manipulations, your practice of silence is working well for you. I'm sorry about your cousin, may she rest in peace.

I think there is a similarity in silence and presence, the words we chose at your invitation awhile back. When I am present, it is easier for me to be silent. When I am here in the moment, present, I think silence is a natural result.

I have many 'opportunities' to practice presence and silence. My daughter texted me this week asking me to help tow her car to another location using my roadside service. Usually, I respond immediately to any requests, even if I say no. This time I chose to not respond. I stepped back. I was silent. It just felt right, I was allowing it to all "percolate' within me to see how I felt about it. No rushing to save the day. We went to the ocean the next day. I gave it some thought and talked to my husband about it and decided I didn't want to do it. But my husband said he would do it if that was okay with me, he has more time and he felt willing. It was okay with me. I texted her our conditions which were very strict and all about my husbands convenience. I approached it more like how you would deal with a business proposition, just the facts. She declined the help saying she had found another option but she was so appreciative for our help, she stated how much she loved me and how much my support of her through all these years "meant more than she could put into words."

The irony did not escape me. Years ago I did everything for her and she was disrespectful, angry, unappreciative and demanding. Now I say no with major boundaries, she finds her own way and is respectful and grateful. What a difference.

My granddaughter is in college. She has a sum of money from her Dad's estate which at 18 is in her possession. It was a point of control for me, I had it all figured out how she SHOULD spend it, the RIGHT way. Well, I made a hard choice, instead of taking control of it I let it go. That was not easy for me. I thought, this will be a lesson for her. Not to say I didn't worry, I did. But slowly I began to let it all go. She made some choices I would not have made, but she also made some good choices. It's her money, she gets to do with it what she wants. I got to observe my thoughts during the process. My judgements, my "rightness," my control........and then one day, I just let it go. I actually can recall the exact moment. It was so freeing! It felt like a weight had been lifted off of my chest.

The experiences of letting go and allowing, of staying in that space of uncertainty, over time, offers a really enormous amount of freedom, liberation from the self imposed tyranny of the illusion of control. I didn't really understand or know how much power there is in being aware of your thoughts and being able to change them....to let them go...to change the trajectory of how those thoughts of control, of rightness, of judgement or blame or whatever, squeeze the life out of you........ to allow spaces between those thoughts to offer peace........the same concept in meditation..........the spaces between thoughts, where there is an emptiness, a nothingness, a void.......a silence........a presence.......and peace is born there.

I've stepped back in all areas of my life, including here on this board......just observing myself and my reactions.......feeling more quiet and calm........not a lot of doing going on around here, there are vast amounts of time of NON DOING....just being.......I am new at this, so there are times it feels a tad shaky, but I'm committed to being present, to living here in the moment, in all the uncertainty that life truly is.......

"It all works together, this moving into quiet, and peace, and uncertainty, and humility and letting go, it is a giant web of such a good way to live life.

I guess I could have never discovered it. Or discovered it much later. That is where my gratitude comes in"

I feel that way too COM, there is so much gratitude. I am grateful to my daughter. I am grateful to my parents. I am....... well......just....... grateful. It's a good place to be.

Tanya M

Living with an attitude of gratitude
Staff member
Great post COM. It got me thinking about 'one word' and I would have to say Grateful. I have survived so much in my life and have managed to keep my sanity. Somehow I am able to hold onto a calm feeling. There are times that the calm is replaced with a wave that comes crashing to shore but it subsides and the calm returns and for that I am grateful. I have so many, many things that I am grateful for. I'm even grateful for the hard times I have endured as those trials have held lessons that I have embraced and grown from. I am grateful that I am able to live in the present, to truly appreciate the moment I am in. I am grateful for this site, the fellowship, the wisdom, the brutal honesty, the caring.
My one word is

Thank you COM for starting this thread. It's very profound. I think all of us are on a spiritual journey and we have lessons we need to learn. Some of the most difficult experiences are opportunities for us to learn those lessons. And it can be really, really hard to see them. Lots of people have told me over the years that I am a very patient and understanding person. I thought that was who I was. Then I remarried and my experiences with my new family made me realize that I was not a patient person at all! I was often angry, frustrated, very impatient - wanting to do and fix. Like many of you, I thought I knew what should be done and I wanted everybody to just get on with it and do those things! But they didn't. Sometimes they just weren't ready and they couldn't move. Sometimes they were angry and mean and my life felt like hell. So the past few years I have learned patience, real patience. I'm still working on it and I'm still stepping back. Now I'm at the point where I'm focused mostly on me and what I need to feel good. Most of the time, it doesn't depend on my family and what they're doing. I have days when I mess up, but I'm getting better at it. I think my word is JOY. I am looking for JOY. I am working on bringing JOY to my life this year - taking walks in nature, putting up a bird feeder and a bird bath, spending time with friends, going out to dinner with my husband, clearing out stuff I no longer love and bringing things into my home that make me smile.


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This is a thought-provoking thread. I have such a hard time, doing nothing. I am trying. I haven't actually heard from my son since his court date last week and have not contacted him until today. We have to have him file an amended tax return (costing us several hundred dollars, but netting us a few thousand because he filed first, not saying we could claim him as a dependent). So today Jabber will be taking it by. Of course, I had to ask if things were going okay. Because - reflex. He said, "yes and no". In the past I would have said, "What's wrong?" because I have to "do something". Today I said, "Well, I guess that's good and bad. I love you. I'll have Dad call."

That was hard. That was really hard. Every mother's instinct I have wants to know what's wrong.

I miss him. I miss what we could have had. Jabber and I go out to dinner and I see a family with teenagers and I stare, wondering why that isn't us. I see TV shows or hear songs that drive home that teenagers are so immature and erratic...and I have to keep telling myself that what he has done is far beyond "normal" teenage stuff. It is SO HARD to not try to fix this.

It is so hard to do nothing.

I had a talk with a "lifestyle coach" from my insurance carrier yesterday. She asked about diet, smoking, exercise...and stress. I explained a bit about why my stress has been an 11 on a scale of 1-10. She asked if it was constant and I explained it this way: "Some days it's off the chart. But we'll do days without hearing from him...and that's better...but it's never gone, it's always there, in the background, a constant low-level hum that never really goes away."

I have tinnitus. I constantly have a ringing in my ears and there is a lot of time I don't notice it much...but it's there. Some of the time I notice it quite a bit, but I manage it. Sometimes I wish I could just rip my ear canals out of my head to get away from the noise that seems like it's going to slowly drive me insane!

I've just realized, my son is my emotional tinnitus.

I need a word. There are so many I should work toward.


I think, maybe, the best is Liberation.

Liberating my son from me. Liberating myself...from so many things. From the need to "fix" my son. From the clutter and mess of my home. From the extra pounds that weigh my body down. From the worry and the sadness and disappointment that weighs my soul down.

I need to work toward liberation.


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"Well, I guess that's good and bad. I love you. I'll have Dad call."

Lil, that is great. What an amazingly powerful statement. Just perfect. I feel so happy for you.

I've just realized, my son is my emotional tinnitus.

wonderfully said. That is spot on. It is a background noise that exhausts our brains. And our hearts.


Good word. Good aspiration. I hope you find liberation, Lil.