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Stories

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
— E. M. FORSTER

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Rosie M. A family disease

When the cases of liquor arrived before Christmas, my mother and sisters and I would hide half of the bottles, especially the Lambs Navy Rum, around the house — linen cupboards, the attic, the basement. This event was not out of the ordinary and we never asked why we were doing it; we just did what Mother told us to do and it seemed reasonable, given who our Dad was and given that she was always trying to control everything. This was just more of the same.

My Dad used to shut himself in the kitchen at night and rant to unknown (to me, anyway) beings — long soliloquies punctuated by colorful swearing diatribes. Mother would be busy doing something — laundry, harassing her three daughters to do homework or get to bed — or she would be talking on the phone to her mother, whom she apparently hated and feared. I was 10 years old.

At the family "do's" at Auntie Betty and Uncle Bruce's, there was always lots of singing and music made by "the Boys" — my Dad and his brothers, all musicians — and lots drinking, smoking, laughing and, as the evenings wore on, fighting on the front lawn. This was the 1950s and then the '60s and we — my sisters and cousins and I — were kids and later, teenagers, drinking what the adults left behind in the kitchen. It was wickedly delicious and tasted awful. Those were the days of Dean and Frank and Sammy, our Dad's idols. We lived in a mix of Fancy Houses, Fancy Cars, Fast Boats, Beautiful Mothers, Handsome Fathers — all fueled by alcohol and money — heady times.

In the photos and home movies of those times we, "the Kids," all look shell-shocked in our party dresses and bow ties, and we were.

Most of us made it out alive. We have very funny and very scary family stories. We are like survivors of some weird camp where we were held prisoner by "the Family." Because it was all that we knew, when we finally, one by one, slipped through the gate, we were astounded by what we found: Adults who were predictable — wow — who knew? A world that expected us to behave in a reasonable fashion to normal life events, be they happy or sad — yikes, we couldn't let anyone know that we didn't have a clue how to do this.

Most of us gravitated to other survivors of similar backgrounds who, unconsciously, just felt familiar somehow: lots of drinking and laughing and partying and crying and sometimes fighting on the front lawn — extreme everything — and lots of sports, money, houses, cars, lifestyles. And we created families of our own. We didn't think at the time that they looked anything like our "camp" of origin. In fact, they were the same — lots of laughing and drinking and smoking and yelling and fighting and making-up and extreme everything — plus politics, art, love affairs, holidays, spiritual seeking, and the added thing of drugs.

I am the eldest of the cousins and sisters and hence should always have "known better" or so I was told. I am the only one in Alanon or any AA program, for that matter. I have had three husbands, all fine men and all addicts of one stripe or another. Some of my children are alcoholic and some are members of the AA community and, thank God, clean and sober today. They are living proof that the cycle can be broken.

I know for sure that Alcoholism is a family disease.
Knowing this doesn't make it easier to deal with, however. It just
helps me to forgive myself, and others, a little.

The challenge to do the next right thing, to access circumstances and respond in a rational and honest way, is ongoing. The challenge to trust is a life-long journey for me.

I am grateful every day for the grace delivered to me by the design for living of Alcoholics Anonymous, my touchstone. As a survivor, I know that my life depends on it and so do the lives of those around me. Being co-dependent makes me very dangerous to addicts. I will help you to kill yourself with whatever your substance of choice happens to be — drugs, alcohol, self-pity, or any other worrying ailment. I will enable you until you can't think for yourself or have any self worth left. It's interesting to me that I have such a large family. It just feels familiar, I guess.

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