When most people say they grew up with alcoholic parents, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Most people imagine a house filled with chaos, anger, unpredictability, and heartache. But for me, growing up with alcoholic parents in recovery was wonderful. And when it came time to battle my own demons of alcoholism and addiction, my parents were there to help me using the lessons they’d learned in the years prior. Some people are not so lucky. I know sober addicts and alcoholics who struggle with a dysfunctional family environment that encourages and sometimes demands alcohol and drug use. Luckily, that’s not the case with my family. I’m blessed to be surrounded by support and love, and to have a family that celebrates my sobriety.
My parents both began their journeys with sobriety when I was very young (5 or 6) so my experience with them has mostly been a sober one. Though none of us are perfect, and there are painful past memories, resentments, and character defects, I love and value my parents beyond measure. Through the lessons they’ve learned in their own sobriety, my parents have helped me to overcome my own battle with addiction by being sober role models. We attend meetings together and separately, but participating in groups with each other and within the same community has brought us closer together and given us keen insight into each other’s recovery.
When I was as young as 7 I would go with my mother to these social gatherings. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I remember that everyone would pass me cookies and milk and tell me how cute I was. I thought it was wonderful, a full hour of cookies and listening to the grown ups talk about adult stuff. I had no idea that I was experiencing a room full of alcoholics and addicts deal with and recover from their challenges. As I grew older I began to realize that my parents were leaving the house to go to recovery meetings and that I was not to be included. I was invited but as I got older the lure of cookies no longer motivated me to sit still for an entire hour. In my teenage years I grew resentful that my parents had something better to do other than watch me. I couldn’t understand how something could be so important they had to attend a full hour every week night. But as I aged further I experienced an overwhelming gratitude that my parents were able to be so loving and kind because they valued me enough to work on themselves.
I now work my own 12 step program and have found that we have a mutual disease which unites us because we have all decided to overcome it rather than submit. I could have had a much different upbringing had they not gone out for an hour each night. Much more is this, I was comfortable enough with a 12 step program to actually try it when I began to struggle in my own addictions. Once I entered the program there were familiar faces from my childhood, familiar slogans my mother would tell me, and I knew all about what a sponsor was. Had I not had 2 parents who were deeply involved in recovery I might have walked right out the door of my first meeting, claiming it to be a strange and unsettling experience. All those people, sharing their feelings in one room ; a terrifying thought to a sick and suffering addict.
Because my whole immediate family is involved in sobriety we have been able to bring each other back from the gates of insanity. In early recovery, I mistakenly found a liquor bottle in my Dad’s workshop and I was horrified. With our combined sobriety, my mother and I were able to intervene in his relapse. My mother and I worked tirelessly together to approach the situation lightly, and successfully encouraged my father to enter an outpatient program. He has now maintained consecutive sobriety since his relapse. This is just one example of how we are open with each other, and that is very important to any family dynamic.
When one of us is feeling particularly low or tempted the other lifts us up or offers a solution. On the other hand we also are able to mutually celebrate each other’s successes. Each sober anniversary (a tradition in recovery groups which celebrates years of continual sobriety) we attend the event and often give each other flowers, hugs, and our loving support. Since we share openly with each other in meetings, that honesty has carried through in other aspects of our relationships. I often share with my parents struggles from the past, they otherwise would have never known. We share literature, solutions, therapy options, we discuss mental health, and bond over the principles of the program. None of this would have been possible had we not all made the conscious effort to sober up.
I am lucky enough to be born into a family of individuals willing to recover, but you don’t have to be born into one. Just because your immediate or even extended family is active does not mean you cannot create a new family during recovery. Often people refer to their family as a family of origin and there sober friends as their family of choice. Sometimes we need to create new ones which serve us. It is possible to experience community, openness, and support within the boundaries of a group which is not your biological family. Friends are equally important in our fight to beat addiction. It is important than when you are abstaining to maintain and create healthy friendships which encourage your sobriety.
-- Emily Ash for Life Assurance Recovery, 2018
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction or Alcoholism reach out to your health care provider or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). If you are experiencing withdrawal from drugs or alcohol call 911. You don’t have to do it alone.
For more information about helpful recovery services like at-home detox, recovery coaching, sober companionship, interventions, and more, contact Life Assurance Recovery. We’ve got your back.