Growing Up in the Rooms of AA
Even when I was a very young child, I saw and felt the heaviness of a family being torn apart by alcoholism when my father drank. I say that I felt it, because I too young to have words to put to what I saw. What I did have was really bad childhood eczema. I had an awful, itchy, scabbing skin rash all over my hands and feet for years. It was agony for a kid who just wanted to be the same as everyone else. I was teased by other children because of the obvious skin deformity, the big scabby blisters and redness on my fingers and toes. I had to soak my feet in purple medicated water, so my extremities also took on a purplish color, instead of the smooth brown skin that I have today. As an adult, I've researched the causes of eczema and learned that stress is a key factor. I believe I wore my family dysfunction in that physical manifestation. I grew up perpetually the oddball.
I got it from day one, because really, they were all waiting for me, as they are for all drunks that come in off the streets of despair and into the rooms with the solution.
It's no surprise that even though I went to meetings my whole young life, I still developed alcoholism as soon as I had access to liquor. With my first drink, I was instantly relieved of the fear, doubt and insecurity that had plagued me since I can remember. This was the elixir. I felt smart, pretty, thin and popular when I drank. As soon as I could, I drank as much and as often as possible. I started at family parties when my parents weren’t looking, I hustled beer in high school and went to as many keggers as I could get to in the college town where I grew up from ages 13 to 22. I ended my drinking career on the East Coast in a small apartment that I rented after college while doing an internship in Washington, DC—isolated, afraid and lonely, nine days after my 24th birthday.
I got it from day one, because really, they were all waiting for me, as they are for all drunks that come in off the streets of despair and into the rooms with the solution. I had the language down, I knew the drill and I realized in those early days, that I really was just like my dad. Just like my mother had said all those years ago. But, unlike my dad, I did not have to relapse and come in and out of the rooms. It's been over 26 years now. I've also given up cigarettes, caffeine, flour and sugar, and have been a vegetarian for years. I practice yoga and I have traveled to 16 different countries with my husband of 20 years and my two daughters. I've raised my children in a clean and sober home: no fighting, no chaos, no alcohol-related drama. The remnants of my childhood atmosphere show up as the One Day at a Time signage and the Serenity Prayer in the kitchen.
I am the next generation of recovered alcoholics. The cycle of alcoholism, family violence and poverty ended with my father when he passed it on to me, my older brother and my sister. I am not just passing on the solution and the miracle of recovery to my children, nieces and nephews like my dad did to us; I'm passing on the legacy of reaching for your dreams and living your purpose. I was able to graduate from college and law school and obtain a prestigious position as an elected official. My girls have never seen me drink alcohol. They've only seen me work hard, dream big, go to my meetings, work with my sponsor, sponsor other women and pick up my birthday chips. They only know that the sky is the limit and that whatever they want to be, they can be—even if involves some day one of them having to attend a 12-step meeting.
Eleanor Rose is the pseudonym of a writer who lives in California with her husband of 20 years and two teen-aged daughters. She's a faithful member of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, and the author of The Disease of More and The 12 Principles to Wellness.