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Adult Children of Alcoholics
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  1. #1

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    Adult Children of Alcoholics

    "Seventy percent of children of alcoholics develop a pattern of compulsive behavior as an adult such as alcoholism, overeating, or drug abuse."

    So begins the article here:
    http://www.livestrong.com/article/14...of-alcoholics/

    There's a wealth of information out there. I picked this article to start the thread 'cause it doesn't promote any particular organization although it does give references (ignore the sponsored links and don't whine about 'em-just sayin'), and it doesn't have a copyright warning.

    For those of us in that 70%, we struggle not only with our demons with respect to addiction but underlying issues stemming from our heritage. No excuses, we still have to be responsible for our own behavior, but it may be helpful to learn and share.

    Some traits we may have in common from that article:
    - control freaks, heightened sense of responsibility
    - care-takers, people pleasers, seeking approval
    - low self-esteem, low feeling of self-worth
    - stressed and depressed
    - feeling guilty
    - self-critical
    - seriousness, difficulty with intimacy, avoidance of feelings
    - fear of abandonment

    Ok, just typing that much is bringing up strong emotions. I thought I'd coped with all this crap and moved on. Bummer. Looks like confronting this again may be my next growth step.

    Thanks for the idea of starting this thread, Erin.

    Chime in if this resonates with you.

  2. #2
    _Erin_'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by carol View Post
    "Ok, just typing that much is bringing up strong emotions. I thought I'd coped with all this crap and moved on. Bummer. Looks like confronting this again may be my next growth step.
    My sentiments exactly! My mom died almost 2 years ago, and I mourned losing her long before she actually died... shouldn't I be past this already? Obviously not, if I'm continuing to carry on some of those traits that I acquired along the way!

    I went to Al-Anon for a year or so, several years ago, and these common traits were looked at as "coping mechanisms" rather than character flaws. At one point in your life, you NEEDED to be able to shove feelings down, or you HAD to be detached from your loved ones - sometimes in order to survive, or you HAD to keep the control in your household, because no one else did. I think it was approached that way to help people look at themselves as "human" and "lovable," because I don't know about you all, but most of the time, I am the last person I think of and the first person I criticize. I relate to every one of those traits, some more and some less as I've grown over the years.

    Carol, thank you for starting this thread up! I'm excited to see how it goes and how many people can relate!
    Last edited by _Erin_; 12-12-2012 at 12:55 PM.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  3. #3
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    I feel so blessed to have found Spiritual River and now having this thread truly makes this the best website by far!

    I like Tim have never heard about ACA but now it explains soooo much. It's NOT an excuse but now explains a lot for me.

    I remember a couple of years ago when I was in search of professional help to sort through the way my life was going......I was really at rock bottom. I found a therapist that started asking me about my childhood.....I was so turned off by her because I couldn't see how my childhood had anything to do with my life today that I stopped seeing her. So I just continued to self medicate.

    Well through some insightful posts here and so many self help CDs, I sought help again a couple of weeks ago. I was open to anything. Within just a few sentences of me talking to my new therapist, she suggested Al-Anon meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics. She said it would be like tag teaming.....therapy and meetings.

    I have gone to two meetings and I feel like a new person. I have feelings.....never knew that......they had been stuffed sooooo deep that I did feel "unhuman".

    At my second meeting of ACA they gave me the book "How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics". They said they give it to all new people. I am reading it but slowly. It is really hard for me to read the pain in the words......I can only take a little at a time.

    I have so much I want to share about my experiences that I am getting out of this new lease on life but really didn't think the main thread was the place to do it. So Thank You Carol for starting this thread!

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    Hey, Beth, thank Erin, it was her idea, I just facilitated it!

    Oh, the second time around I married an ACA so we are both way over responsible. I do get to enjoy being the recipient of some of his people pleasing! We're both retired, do a LOT of volunteering (too much?), enjoy each other and are content, but are really bad at making time for and having fun! Hmmm, maybe this all has something to do with that.

    It will be interesting to see where this thread leads.

  5. #5
    Beth's Avatar
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    Thank you Erin!

    Just curious, when you were attending Al-Anon meetings, did you get a sponsor? I don't think I want to for whatever reason but interested in seeing your opinion on it.

    Just an FYi, my parents were in recovery since I was about age 14........so finding this resource (ACA) is incredible for me. I have lots of memories of when they were drinking but I have many memories of them sober too. I think that's why I thought I was never "damaged" by their disease.

  6. #6
    Beth's Avatar
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    I want to change my word "damaged" to affected......that's more accurate.

  7. #7
    _Erin_'s Avatar
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    Hey Beth... yes, I did get a sponsor. But not right away. Actually, when I first started going, I thought I had a pretty good handle on things myself. A friend of mine suggested it to me, so I went to see what it was about. I was really turned off by the idea of a Higher Power, because in my head I thought "Higher Power" meant they were forcing religion down my throat, which wasn't the case after I read and learned more. Once I opened my mind to it and committed myself to the first 6 meetings, it really started to make more sense. Eventually, I reached a point where I wanted a more intimate conversation about my experiences. Some things you're just not comfortable sharing with a room full of people. The woman I chose to ask was the mother of an alcoholic son... seems more significant now that I look back on it, because maybe I was looking for a mother figure.

    Another ironic note is that I lost my mom 2 years ago, and she lost her son just this year. We still keep in touch even though we're not attending meetings, and now, I am able to help her through her grief while she helped me through mine.

    Anyway, I suggest at least keeping your mind open to a sponsor. The good thing about the program is that you work it at your own pace. If you're not ready or comfortable, forget about it for now. One day you may reach the point where you think it would be helpful... worry about it then.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  8. #8
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    PS - I like "affected" better than "damaged," too. I think everything happens for a reason. Many times in my life, something happens and at the time I ask, "Why?" Seems like eventually down the road, the "why" is revealed. Therefore, it wasn't damage done, it was conditioning and training for some later battle, but I suppose I don't always have to be prepared to fight. lol
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  9. #9
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    I just stumbled across this book review for "The Complete ACOA Sourcebook: Adult Children of Alcoholics at Home, at Work and in Love." You can read it in full here: http://www.alison-andrews.com/adult-...lcoholics.html (and I think it would be worth your time). I could identify with pretty much everything that was said, but there were a few parts of it that I could especially identify with, excerpted below.

    • Adult Children of Alcoholics guess at what normal is. Nothing in an alcoholic household is 'normal.' There is no frame of reference for how things 'should' be or what patterns of behavior are appropriate and acceptable. Consequently adult children of alcoholics have to guess. They look at TV shows, they look at other families that appear to be normal and try and mimic that. ...Woititz points out: 'in a more typical situation one does not have to walk on eggshells all the time. One doesn't have to question or repress one's feelings all the time. Because you did, you also became confused.'

    • Adult Children of Alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end. (This is a trait that is with me big time, and it aggravates the hell out of me! In myself, though, I find two separate reasons why I don't follow through: Because I don't know how, as the article references, and fear. I get so many great ideas and start on them, then give up before I see a result, because I'm almost as afraid of accomplishment as I am of failure.)

    • ACA's have difficulty with intimate relationships. 'To be intimate, to be close, to be vulnerable, contradicts all the survival skills learned by children of alcoholics when they were very young.' Because of the contradictory message the child receives constantly through their childhood, that of 'I love you. Go away' adult children of alcoholics may find the person who is warm and loving one minute and cold and rejecting the next, to be absolutely addictive.


    • ACA's constantly seek approval and affirmation. Even when you receive approval and affirmation, you find it very difficult to accept. You would have to be 'bombarded with encouragement' to 'begin to accept it.' In my first few years as an employee I almost killed myself trying to be the best employee that had ever lived. If I did a thousand things right I would take it in stride, as if it was nothing, but if one thing went wrong I would agonize over it and feel that all my good work had just been undone. (This is so me, I could have written it.)


    • ACA's are either super responsible or super irresponsible. You either do it all, or do nothing.I have played both parts. At certain times in my life I was so responsible it was frightening. At other times I behaved so recklessly that it was amazing I survived. (This was actually how I found this page. I have also been on both sides of the spectrum. Today, it occurred to me that I assume responsibility for things that in no way ARE my responsibility, and I'm about to give them back to their rightful owner.)



    • ACA's are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved. 'The alcoholic home appears to be a very loyal place. Family members hang in long after reasons dictate that they should leave. The so-called "loyalty" is more the result of fear and insecurity than anything else; nevertheless the behavior that is modeled is one where no one walks away just because the going gets rough.' For adult children of alcoholics this translates as, if someone cares enough about me to be with me, to be my friend or my lover, than I have a duty to stay with them forever. 'The fact that they may treat you poorly does not matter. You can rationalize that. Your loyalty is unparalleled.' Because the message you constantly received as a child was that the terrible behavior of the alcoholic, was 'not his fault', you have no idea about what is reasonable behavior. No idea about what can be deemed acceptable and what not. Therefore, almost any behavior can be empathized with, understood, and rationalized away. (Cannot count how many times I've been through this!)
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  10. #10
    _Erin_'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimUK View Post
    I like "damaged" myself. It reminds me of how much of my life I wasted because of my parent's and their excuse for an upbringing. It reminds me that I must kick this habit so I dont perpetuate their actions with my kids. It reminds me that I have suffered due to drink and that I and I alone can change.
    Ok, when you put it like that... I like your point of view! Damaged childhood, but no longer damaged goods. I still prefer "affected" for my own experience only because I don't think I would necessarily label my mother as abusive or neglectful, although unavailable much of the time. And every event that occurs in my life feels like foreshadowing in a book - I might not understand it at the time, but eventually, the dots are connected for me.

    Caring, for me, is an understatement. I will bend over backwards to please someone else, even if it means spreading myself too thin in the process. I am very quick to love another person, very slow to believe they would ever love me in return. If they betray me, and several have, I don't seem to remember any of the things I did for them, instead I try to legitimize their actions and figure out what I did wrong to make them behave that way. Who the hell do I think I am? Not every action someone does is directly tied to me. And other people are allowed many, many chances and failures. Me - I get the one shot and if I don't make it, I'm worthless. I must really think I'm awesome if I get different rules than everyone else.

    Over the weekend, I got to thinking about other things I've read about ACAs. I am most definitely "all or nothing" in a lot of ways. I can't think of any times I have "lied when it was just as easy to tell the truth" except when it comes to myself. And I am not impulsive, except when it comes to eating. Food has been my coping crutch since my dad died. We always had plenty to eat growing up, but snacks and sweets weren't a necessity, therefore, weren't furnished. I remember when I began babysitting for other families at 10 years old (which, looking back, was really young to be caring for others' kids, but I was super-responsible), I'd take that money and buy chocolate, and eat it in one sitting. All or nothing - like I'd never see a piece of chocolate again in my lifetime. Lie to myself - that wasn't what was making me fat. It was a double-edged sword for a kid who had just lost her dad, didn't fit in, and was relentlessly picked on about her weight and her family being poor. The only solace I found was in food, which just kept the cycle repeating itself. lol

    To this day, I still fight the urge to eat when something is bothering me. It's much more of a habit than I'd like to admit because even when I am not hungry, completely full, sometimes I just want to eat. I also find myself judging others based on appearance - not really judging them, but more myself - "she is prettier/thinner than me." Somehow, in my head, that equates to "she will be more interesting/better liked," which is sometimes true and sometimes not.

    Those last two paragraphs were very hard to write, and I almost want to delete them and start my post over, but I'm not going to. If it were anyone else posting this, I would be thinking, "Awww, I feel so bad for you, that you had to go through that!" But it's me, so I feel like it's nothing, I feel ashamed and like no one else could possibly relate.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  11. #11

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    Erin, and I quote, awww I feel so bad for you that you had to go through that!!

    I don't know if shame is something associated with ACA's, but it was sure something I felt when I was actively drinking. I did a quick google search and came up with something about forgiving yourself. Light bulb!

    So, a concept for you to think about - forgiving yourself! You ARE a worthwhile human being!

  12. #12
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    Carol, firstly, thank you! You are always so sweet and outreaching. And secondly, you make a good point. I feel a new Google search coming on. lol
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  13. #13
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    Erin, thank you for your honest post. I know it isn't easy to put it out there. As I read, I thought....yes, she has that "All or nothing" behavior (just like me) and then you said it..... You recognize it.....first step in changing it. I am practicing changing the behavior at work where I think that if I am not perfect and productive all day, then I automatically start to feel that I am that failure that my inner voice says about me so much.....I need to start accepting that my efforts are good enough everyday. I am not a slacker so I need to remind myself "good job".

    I was listening to an ACA cd yesterday.....it made the point that we are in recovery....not recovery from alcohol but from the life we were exposed to as a child. ACAs had nothing normal.......the alcoholic may have been good at times but for the most part we received mixed signals. The "I love you now go away" signal. Or the "don't tell anyone our secret" signal. As children we were forced to keep the secret.....when we knew the secret wasn't right. we weren't allowed to feel it so we were forced to stuff it deep down. As children that was our pattern of surviving. Since survival is an automatic response, we needed to stuff the feelings to survive.

    It also said to not tell your parents you are in this recovery. You are an adult and you are the most important person so who cares what they or others think about what you are uncovering. Do it for yourself. Make yourself strong.

    John, I do hope that you find it in yourself to reconnect with you daughter but I think you need to keep focusing on your sobriety right now. This thread may be hard for you to read since there is alot of raw emotion that is being expressed. I hate to say but I wouldn't be surprised if your daughter not only burned your cards but also just threw the presents away too.......if she is an ACA. Now that I have found this definition of ACA, I am starting to feel a rebirth.....that I'm not alone. That being forced to keep the secret as a child was not normal and did affect (damage) me in so many ways. I am one of the strongest people I know. I have tremendous self esteem (on the outside) and have become successful. My parents are very proud of me.......but I always felt the internal voice telling me so many hateful things...something was always wrong inside and I could never explain it. Al-Anon is helping me heal from the inside.
    Last edited by Beth; 12-19-2012 at 05:12 AM.

  14. #14
    _Erin_'s Avatar
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    Tim, if I were in your shoes, I don't think I would feel much differently. I agree with your feeling that the card was an attempt to reel you back in so things could continue where they were left off. If it had been a genuine attempt at reconciliation, words could have been chosen much differently. I read something yesterday that made me think of you, it said: "Forgive others, not because they deserve it, but because you deserve peace." You can forgive them without having any contact with them. Like you said, I don't think the anger you carry is good for you, and I hope you can let it go and move on, if that is what you want!

    John, I'm so sorry that your daughter has cut you off. I once wrote a letter to my mom telling her all the things I couldn't say to her face. We didn't talk for months after that, and then when we did, it was bitter at first. I am so thankful that before she passed away, we were on somewhat common ground again. No apologies were made directly, nothing was discussed, but the last, most vivid thing I remember is her telling me I had a beautiful family and I should be proud. To me, it felt like she was making an effort to apologize and acknowledge me as an adult. I do agree with Beth that sobriety needs to come first right now, but eventually down the road, making amends to those you've hurt comes into play. I hope by then you are able to swallow your pride and let your daughter know how you feel about her.

    Beth, thank you for your post! I do feel more empowered to tackle what I need/want to change by facing it and acknowledging that it's there. Being honest about myself is by far one of the hardest things I've done, although I'm pretty good at being honest about others. LOL! It is also very hard to put "all of me" out there, the good, the bad and the ugly, because I've led myself to believe I will be judged. I am starting to believe that I am one of the strongest people I know, too, although I stand in my own way. I have a great job, love what I do, but because I was afraid to succeed, I wasted a lot of potential. I've totally lost my train of thought, so I'll come back when I get back on track. lol
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  15. #15
    _Erin_'s Avatar
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    Wow. Thanks for sharing, Tim. I hope you don't think I was passing judgment or telling you what I think you should do with my last post. I don't know your parents, but I know you on here, and the person I see is highly valued by many... we can all see your worth from thousands of miles away, so it's sad that your dad is so hard on you. It is sad what THEY are missing out on. You don't care... but in a way you do, and always kind of will. I mean, those are your parents, where you came from, and they SHOULD love you unconditionally and accept you for who you are, even though they don't, and it's still not fair. I just don't wish for you to carry all that negativity with you until the day you die, that's all. I appreciate the post!!
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  16. #16

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    Some "two cents" from me, worth all of that. . .

    John, I don't think I starting "speaking" to my mom until I was 31 or so. I moved out of the house after I graduated high school, moved far away to college, and kept my distance for a long time. Keep loving your daughter. When you're ready in your recovery, reach out. Or not - it's your life!!

    It occurred to me the other day that I have now created 2 more ACAs, my daughters. (Stepsons were already grown when they came into my life; I think of them as my sons.) Younger one feels she isn't worthy, is hypersensitive to criticism, has trouble with intimate relationships. Oh, boy. She is actually the one who got up the courage to approach me about my drinking 2 years ago, and she has seen me stop. I can't change the past, but both know that I love them, and hopefully that will make for a better future.

    Tim, it helps me a lot to hear that your love your parents in spite of everything. . . Maybe some time yours will be able to do a better job of letting you know they love you. My family didn't say they loved each other growing up, it just wasn't done. The first time I heard that was a college roommate telling her parents "I love you so much", what an eye opener.

    My husband has been very helpful in opening up my relationship with my mom. She would call and be abusive, even with me in my forties. I found out after my older daughter was grown that she used to call her while I was at work and do the same to her sometimes. Hubby couldn't understand how it could be that bad and encouraged me to call my mom every week. After a while he got to know more about my mom, but the once a week phone calls actually did help change the dynamic. I only started forgiving her though after my dad passed a couple of years ago.

    Gotta rush off. More another time. Will post before re-reading, editing, second thoughts.

  17. #17
    _Erin_'s Avatar
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    It's funny how many of us second-guess ourselves when posting here. At least I feel that way myself, and believe that's what Carol meant by, "Will post before re-reading, editing, second thoughts." Yet we all have a lot of the same feelings, or did at one point in life... I all but hated my mom, which is why I separated myself from her for a while. One day it hit me that I am very much like her in some ways - and I have the potential to BE her at her lowest point. I tend toward depression at times, and have my own obsessions and compulsions I use to deal with it, who's to say that's not just as unhealthy, or that someday I couldn't wind up in the same place? It looks like we all go through that, to a degree.

    My younger brother HATED alcohol, swore throughout his adolescent and teen years that he would never touch it because he saw how Mom acted when she was drunk. He just turned 25 and doesn't necessarily drink daily, but has a fridge in the garage for his beer and goes to "beerfests" with my older brother. My older brother keeps his distance a lot. He shows up at holiday gatherings, but is always drinking. It's just normal for him now. My older sister reminds me a lot of Mom - she will drink, and socially, but always seems so in control when drinking around people. You see her with "a" drink, but I know her well enough to know that she has snuck back into the kitchen when no one was paying attention for refills. IF Mom ever drank around people, she would have one beer. At home, a fifth of Southern Comfort a night.

    The night Mom died, we all went out to the house to pay our last respects, and all three of my siblings got blasted. Even if I had wanted to, I'd just had my daughter, so I couldn't partake (blessing). But the thought that ran through my head was, "We ALL had a major problem with Mom drinking herself into oblivion every night. She literally just drank herself to death... and THIS is how you deal with it??" I kept going home and complaining to my boyfriend, who said I should bring it to their attention that I was concerned about them, so I did, and then they just started excluding me when they got together to clean out Mom's house. lol They also started making little comments when I was around and anyone was drinking, just like Mom used to, such as, "Oh, I'd better stop after one, I wouldn't want anyone to worry I was getting drunk..." It's not like I am perfect, I know I'm definitely not; and it's not like I never have a drink in my life. My point was Mom just took herself out and you're following in her footsteps. But it was a sensitive time and maybe not the right time. Oh well.

    And my boyfriend is no better, he smokes weed all day, every day, to "control" his bipolar. I use that word lightly because it doesn't seem to be helping much lately. It's just a crutch. And this is just another co-dependent relationship I've gotten myself into. Maybe I'll talk more about that another day. lol (Oh, and I've been with him 5 years and he's still married to someone else - so I understand, Tim! )

    Anyway... I start typing and it all comes back like it was just yesterday. lol I guess my point is, not only do I KNOW where I came from (my mom's father was also an alcoholic, as are two of her brothers), but I have proof in front of me that it's so easy to become that person. I don't WANT a crutch to get through life, whether it's alcohol or drugs or food or clinging to another person. And I've tried them all, so I guess it's just a matter of how bad do I want to be the strong person that I know I am?

    Aaaaaand end rant. lol
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

  18. #18
    Midwest Sue's Avatar
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    I guess it's time that I jump into this thread. Like Carol, I'm not only the adult child of an alcoholic but I am ashamed to admit that I've contributed two (coming up on 3) to the world.

    I've been wondering a lot lately about what "normal" contact is with adult kids. I feel like I'm a lot more disconnected than most moms are. There can be weeks with no contact with my 33 and 25 year old sons -- maybe a text now and then. They didn't join us for Thanksgiving with the extended family. I hope they will plan to come over on Christmas Eve, but who knows? I know that the 25 year old carries a LOT of angry baggage, and I feel terrible about that.

    It's especially difficult at this time of the year, when I realize that I have not created the ideal image of what family should be.

    I have to remember that I also spent a large part of my adulthood at a healthy distance from my parents. I LOVE spending time with them now.

  19. #19
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    I'm happy to report that my adult sons did come over last night (Christmas Eve) for dinner and gift exchanging, the warmth of the fireplace on a cold evening, some laughs, and no drama.

    I didn't have any alcohol in the house to serve, but wouldn't have been surprised or bothered if they had brought their own. They didn't. We had sparkling grape juice, cranberry juice, ginger ale, sparkling water.

    EVERY Christmas Eve in my sons' memories has included mom getting happily, increasingly intoxicated. Photos reveal it in a flushed face and glazed eyes.

    This year we were all sober, calm, attentive, relaxed. No cutting remarks or inappropriate humor. (OK, maybe some inappropriate humor but I remember it all and I'm not embarrassed the next day!)

    I announced that it was the 1 year anniversary of my last drink, and I think they were proud of me.

    All of the damage of the past can't be easily undone, but this felt like a significant baby step toward progress.

    Life is good, and I hope I have many sober years ahead of me to be a good role model to my kids.
    Last edited by Midwest Sue; 12-25-2012 at 09:43 AM.

  20. #20
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    I am so happy for you, Sue! Thank you for reporting, and it sounds like you made some great memories with your family. The mental image I get of you and your family makes me smile. I know I spent a lot of time yesterday just being grateful for what I had around me! A little late, but Merry Christmas!!
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As you sow, so shall you reap.

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