Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Family disease

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.

Nothing is hopeless no matter how it may seem at the time.  I once felt doomed to a dire existence.  Yet, I have learned to be a kid again.  Sure,  I still feel a sense of responsibility, but I can also slide out from under the mantle of self-restriction by doing those things that give me immense pleasure these days.  I am grateful for the chance to let go of the gloom and doom feelings and move into the sunlight of the spirit.


  1. Syd. You are a light in the path.


  3. I come from dysfunction, too.

  4. you have come a long long way...

  5. Hi Syd and Happy New Year! Thanks for sharing some of your story. While it is sad that you had to suffer at the hands of our disease of alcholism, that sadness is greatly outweighed by the miracle of your recovery. Through your recovery, you've broken then chain of dysfunction and God only know how many others you've helped on your recovery journey.

    So, a sad tale becomes an amazing process of redemption. I am grateful for your recovery Syd.

  6. Very profound description of 'the journey' - - - the best path through life is NOT straight, but has many forks and curves, even an occasional pothole. You have managed to manuever beautifully through the path of life!

    Anonymous #1

  7. learning to be a kid again...i like that...i grew up around it as well...even still socially when i go home...but i want none of it.

  8. As your friend, I am glad that you have happiness and contentment in your life.

    Love you,


  9. :) Thanks for this, it was intuitive. In the light of the post I wrote today ;oP

    :) The disease that starts generations back for me, is allowing more and more layers to be revealed and discarded for a better experience in time thanks to the programs of AA and Al-Anon.

    Like a friend said, the epitomy of the disease of the mind in alcoholism was reflected as I knew that alcoholism ran rampant in my family and I found a reason to pick up the first drink surpassing all of the glaringly sufficient reasons not to... because I couldn't control and enjoy my sobriety.

  10. I couldn't find anyone labeled an alcoholic in my immediate family, and then someone remembered a brother of my Grandfather's who was kept for long periods of time in a locked room. He had what they called "spells" but my Mother remembers that he loved his toddies. !!

  11. Alcoholism is, indeed, a family matter. I wasn't exposed to excessive drinking when I was a child. But I was raised "old fashioned" where the women take care of their men. I had five brothers and was the only girl. I was taught to take care of them all. It was a natural step to marry a man who needed "taking care of". For us non-alcholics, it's not always just the alcohol, but other life lessons that we must overcome.

  12. I am always glad to hear your larger story; very poignant that you are the one to heal generations of your tree. Of course it is humbling. And of course, your healing only buys you the power of your own presence and compassion.

    Only is enough for me too. Now Syd, I am the daughter of a person who fits most of the criteria for borderline personality disorder and also has narcissistic traits. Such a person functions a lot like a dry drunk who refuses to look in the mirror, and do their own inventory around their life story, as you have, and as I am doing.

    None of the extended family on my mom's side have issues with alcohol that I can see; I may have one lone cousin on that tree. And my mom's blood father. (Her step father was a rage aholic and abusive)

    My father's family history is a mystery. I know you will appreciate it when I tell you how blessed your are to know so much of your family story on both sides. But your sharing what I don't have.... is a blessing for me.
    Thanks, Syd!

  13. Growing up with alcoholism being the important member of the family is sad indeed. It takes some of us longer to come to terms with the past and to begin to live completely in the present. What a shame that your father, his sister and niece were alcoholics. Wonderful to be a kid again. Good for you for all you have achieved in your recovery.

  14. I was an child making adult decisions at 10 years old. Being robbed of my childhood I learned to hide out by never being home and my anger was projected back into myself.
    It feels good to sit and relax in a home I have created in Alanon.


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