I also found it incredibly annoying that all of a sudden, I was inundated with "recovery" speak. At age 13, I just wanted to be a normal kid. I didn't care about the terminology and quite frankly didn't want to hear about it. But for those of you out there who had a family member new to AA, you know what happens....without warning and without even realizing it, your life becomes a twelve-step meeting.
It quickly became my mother's hot topic of conversation. Her car seemed to grow bumper stickers that said things like "Let Go and Let God" and "One Day At A Time." The last thing I wanted was for her to advertise to the small town I grew up in that she was going to those notorious noon meetings at the local church. It was bad enough that my parents were getting a divorce and that my life felt like it was falling apart.
I abruptly entered my denial stage.
When friends asked about my mom I would roll my eyes, "She thinks she's an alcoholic, but she's not. I know, I was there." I spent my teenage years disregarding the fact that both of my parents drank way too much for a very long time. I knew what normal was to me and I didn't want things to change. I minimized what had happened in my family. I was scared and confused.
My vision of an alcoholic did not apply to my mom. She was a successful woman, not some drunk in the gutter. More than that, she was MY mother. She was NOT an alcoholic. And neither was my dad. It was all a huge mistake.
I kept this facade up throughout my teenage years and into my early twenties. But at some point, after a few too many "breakdowns" of my own, I needed to face the facts. I had been affected by addiction in my family in profound ways manifested in bad relationships, depression and anxiety.
Maybe there was something to what my mom had been gently (or not) pointing out all those years. It was time to learn some different ways of approaching the world and dealing with myself.
Somehow I did it. It was a slow process. It took a long time until I felt like I could embrace the fact that my mom was a woman recovering from alcoholism. It took even longer for me to admit that many of my behaviors were a symptom of what I had learned from living in a family that struggled with addiction. Even then, I still cringed at "AA speak."
But at some point things came full circle. After a move to California, I ended up working at a treatment center, the same one that my mom was employed at. Strangely enough, the world I had been avoiding since my teenage years, opened up and swallowed me whole.
Every day I walked into a building whose walls were adorned with the Serenity Prayer. My co-workers regularly said things like, "it works if you work it" or "easy does it." I reluctantly tried Al-Anon at the suggestion of a supervisor. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I actually liked it.
At that treatment center I walked into my first kids group, which I previously posted about. And within 45 minutes the last wall of denial that I ever had about my family came crumbling down.
I looked at that lucky group of kids and realized that what they were getting was exactly what I should have received when I was young. I watched as they learned about the disease that their parent was struggling with. I listened as they shared their stories. I was struck by the love and pride they felt. I heard kids say things like, "This is my Dad, he has been sober now for 1 month. I am so proud of him."
There was no shame, no denial. Just acceptance that each kid in the group loved someone with addiction. Because these kids had been given an opportunity to be taught in a way that was gentle, respectful and age-appropriate, they realized they were just kids who happened to have a problem in their family. Not a problem that was their responsibility to fix or to feel ashamed of, but a problem that could be overcome and dealt with. A problem that many families were dealing with.
I remember thinking how my life would have been different if I had been in this kind of group. I posted about that feeling. But what I haven't written about before was how proud I was during that process.
My pride was for my mom.
I realized, listening to this group of children over four days, that I was incredibly blessed to have a recovering alcoholic as my mother. Some children never get to say that their parent is sober. I can.
I can say that my mother was strong enough to make changes in her life to fight a disease that was devastating her and her family. She was brave enough to admit that she needed help. She was courageous enough to ignore the stigma and shame that surrounded her illness and do what she needed to do. She was wise enough to change a pattern that had been passed down through generations of her own family.
It took a while and some bumps in the road, but I can now embrace my mom's "recovery"speak. I can't help thinking about the time it took to get there. All I know now is that I am proud to sit at an AA meeting and listen to her story. I don't mind when she references the serenity prayer in everyday conversation. If people ask about my family, I don't hesitate to (proudly) tell them that my mom got sober when I was thirteen-years-old.
Twenty seven years sober.
At the time, I was too young to realize it, and too in denial to understand that the gift my mother gave me 27 years ago was the best one she ever could have provided.
It was the gift of herself - the amazing, talented, intelligent, wonderful woman that she always was.
The best one of all...the gift of MY mother.