One of the things that I have heard people talk about in Al-Anon is how they came to be affected by alcoholism. Many had a parent who was alcoholic. I believe that I was one of those, although my father never declared himself an alcoholic. But I know that I surely came from a dysfunctional family when it came to alcohol abuse.
My father was a weekend drinker who generally didn't leave the house. He would sit and sip whiskey. Occasionally, he would go to a friend's restaurant and have a few beers. My earliest memory of the effect of his drinking was when I was around 5 years old. He had a single car accident, driving while impaired, that resulted in his breaking an arm. There were other childhood memories of his drinking. I recall to this day the night that I asked my mother to talk to my dad and ask him to stop drinking because I was afraid that he would be an alcoholic. I was in the fourth grade at the time.
I didn't like going to visit my father's sisters because they were drinkers. It was generally a free for all when he and two of his sisters would get together. One died early of a massive heart attack and the other died of alcoholism, as did her daughter. I remember visiting them when I was in college. They were a couple of sad people living together in a large house and drinking from late morning until way into the night. The daughter was found dead in the house after her mother died. Sadly, she had been a beautiful young woman, but years of alcohol abuse had done its damage internally and externally.
The fall out from all of this was that I grew up to be an adult at a young age. I was already feeling responsible for others when I was a child. I think that alcoholism robs children of their childhood. It took away a lot of the carefree feeling that most children have. I learned early on about walking on egg shells and about feeling anxious because of the shame that I had around drinking.
Some people who come into Al-Anon did not have an alcoholic parent. But if one shakes the family tree hard enough, a lot of alcoholics are bound to come tumbling down. Alcoholism may have been "second hand", but it really doesn't matter. It is a family disease because it affects so many--parents, children, siblings, friends.
My exposure to alcoholism came first hand. I grew up with it, married it, and have friends who are in recovery from it. It doesn't matter though whether the effects of alcoholism were from first hand experience or not. What matters is the hand that was extended to me when I sought relief from my pain. I came in broken but have achieved a degree of being repaired by what I have learned in recovery. Many have reached out to me. I grasped their hand and eventually extended my hand to others through sponsoring.