I believe that alcoholism is a family disease. My father was an alcoholic, one of those unfortunates who never found recovery and died destitute and homeless at the age of 50. I swore I’d never become an alcoholic, but at the age of 50 myself, my two glasses of wine had become 4 or 5 and I wanted to “cut back.” I tried. I couldn’t. I also swore I’d never marry an alcoholic, but I did. When I found the Laundry List of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), I learned adult children marry alcoholics or become alcoholic. That’s what we do. Not “bad or wrong;” it just “comes with the package.”
So today I need three twelve-step programs to keep me sober and sane. At the risk of being over-simplistic, I can summarize the three programs this way. AA taught me that alcohol was not my “problem.” It was my solution. In order to stop drinking, I had to accept the need for help from a higher power, even if that higher power was only the AA group. I had to learn to accept people, places and things as they are in order to know peace. Al Anon taught me that I can easily obsess about an alcoholic in my life. I must detach with love from them and be responsible for my own happiness. ACA taught me that growing up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional family results in shared characteristics, such as fear of abandonment, the need to control, and overwhelming feelings of shame. ACA teaches me how to notice triggers in daily life that cause me to react based on these characteristics and how to change them by recognizing and caring gently for a valuable and loveable inner child within me.
Here are Eight Daily Practices that I try to use to help my recovery in all three programs:
- Restraint of tongue and pen [and “send”]. I try to listen rather than be listened to. This is hard for me as I often think I have a solution that would make any problem disappear. I also have many opinions. As the mother of three adult daughters, I often want to give “helpful advice” about their dress, their relationships, how much or when they drink, how they speak to each other, how they do or don’t resolve disputes. Al Anon tells me “we don’t give advice.” Somehow, I decided this did not apply to mothers, but I have found that things go better when I do not give my opinions to my daughters [even when asked]. The same was true when I was working. I frequently sent emails to people that I wished I hadn’t. An email or a text leaves no room for compromise, conciliation or seeing the other person’s point of view. I try to reserve texts for logistics only [where shall we meet? when are you free to talk?] and leave content for the face to face.
- Pause when Agitated. This is related to #1. It requires patience. Agitation is an emotion. It means I am stirred up by something. If I pause, I can ask my inner child if she wants to tell me something or if there is something she wants. If I pause, I can often see that the person in front of me is usually only a trigger for a bigger problem from my past – a feeling of fear, of not being good enough, of being left out, or making a mistake. In that pause, I can realize that agitation is actually my friend, asking me to pay attention to something, not an enemy I need to fight. A drink won’t make the agitation disappear. Feeling my emotions is a gift of sobriety.
- Trust God that everything will be OK. I once had a minister who said “the good news is that even the bad news is good news.” This paradox used to puzzle and perplex me. This is because as an Adult Child, I could not trust my parents to take care of me. I painted my higher power with the same brush. In a world filled with pain, suffering and injustice, how can I trust God will take care of me? I can’t. And I often don’t. But I can ACT as if I believe this. And given the alternative, it is simply a better way to live. As I sit here typing this, I can honestly say that for me right this minute everything IS ok. I relieve myself of the obligation to try to change things if I accept the way things are. When I feel challenged, I can “breathe some God into it” as my sponsor says.
- Accept that I Don’t Know What’s for the Best. I am like the person in the Big Book who is the playwright, the director, producer, AND all of the actors, frantically arranging the show according to my plan. I’m sure I know who should stop drinking, who should get a job, who should get their oil changed in their car, who should stop shopping, save more money, lose weight, stop talking, start talking, that I FORGET that I don’t know what is for the best. What is definitely NOT for the best is my forcing everybody else to follow my plan. I am so afraid that if I don’t try to control the show, everything will turn into chaos. But that is the old story I lived at my family dinner table. I don’t have to live that way today.
- See the Child in Everyone. All of us in recovery are emotionally children. Page 66 – 67 of the Big Book asks me to pray for anyone I resent. It asks me to show this person the same “tolerance, pity and patience I would cheerfully grant a sick friend.” I have combined this prayer with looking at photographs of myself and people in my life when they were children. I can see the innocence, openness and wonder on our faces. That helps me treat those around me as the sweet children they once were and honor the spirit of their inner children. It reminds me that the alcoholics in my life aren’t drinking to disappoint or hurt me. They drink because they are alcoholics who have not found recovery.
- Pray and Pray Hard. I recently visited a family friend in prison. I faced my fear of the prison itself, what he would look like or say, and the large gray metal door in front of me. I have always been afraid to open any door when I don’t know what’s on the other side, which I learned as a child coming home to a dad who might be rageful. I prayed all the way there. My friend said to me “every morning I wake up and for a moment forget where I am. Then I see the concrete walls and I know.” Now I wake up and my first thought is gratitude for my freedom. I say a prayer for courage and recovery for him.
- Be of Service. I believe God’s will for me is simple. It is to be flourishing and fulfilled. If I am self will run riot, I may look like I’m flourishing on the outside, but the hole inside me will tell me I am not fulfilled. The only way to fill the hole is by loving the people around me without conditions. I need to establish accountability and ritual to force myself to be of service, because without it, I rely on what I think I know and I’m right back trying to control people, places and things. Accountability means having a sponsor and calling her, having committed meetings in all three recovery programs, sponsoring women, and using the tools in my spiritual toolbox.
- Write it Down. I have written poems about my childhood and every phase of my recovery, converting pain to insight and my personal story to service. I’ve put them into a book called “Beneath the Steps: Writing for Recovery,” and use them in a group that meets monthly to write and share. I believe that my Higher Power controls my pen. I trust the process of writing will help me heal and become whole.