from the March 1996 San Diego A.A. Coordinator Newsletter
Chapter Nine of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that “cessation of drinking is but the first step away from a highly strained, abnormal condition. . . . The entire family is, to some extent, ill.” Boy, isn’t that true? Although this statement certainly applies to my family of origin, my two children were the most seriously affected by my drinking, spending their formative years in an alcoholic home, suffering the confusion and abandonment of divorce and joint custody, burdened with responsibility for making adult decisions from an early age. Just because I got sober, I couldn’t expect the rest of the family to instantly get “well.” After all, it took years to construct a sick family dynamic. Recovery has been a slow, uphill journey for us, but its rewards are in sight.
The kids were living with their dad and his new wife during the year preceding my bottom and my first two years of sobriety. It was a blessing. I don’t think I could have found the courage to surrender and get sober had I been responsible for their parenting at that time. 1was fortunate, being able to focus on the program and my sobriety
for the first 24 months, while spending time with my children every other weekend. To be honest, those weekends were hard when I was new ly sober. Alcohol had smoothed the rough edges of parenthood for me, and I missed it. I missed it when the kids were fighting, when I didn’t feel like putting another nutritious meal on the table, when I felt like being alone.
At two years of sobriety, I regained custody of my eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. At first, they were angry and willful, pushing me around and disrespecting my authority. Who could blame them? They were accustomed to a weakened alcoholic mother who asked their advice on adult decisions she was too afraid to make, who opted for permissive parenting (the easier, softer way) because she was scared to discipline. Suddenly, they were expected to act like the kids and accept me as the parent. Yeah, right .. .
I loved them very much, and was grateful that sobriety afforded me the opportunity to raise and support them again, but it was hard work relearning how to be their mother. Things appeared to get worse before they got better. All the old tapes and feelings of incompetence returned to haunt me: I had failed as a mother, I lost my children during my drinking. How was I to become an effective parent when insecurity and fear plagued my every waking thought? When I couldn’t decipher between God’s will, my will, the kids’ will? Fortunately, I had worked the 12 Steps with my sponsor. I had tools available to guide me. I had women’s meetings to talk about my feelings, to heal my wounded self-image.
It has been a long haul upward toward anything like a functioning, harmonious family for my kids and me. I remarried at three-and- a-half years of sobriety, and my husband is very supportive in the child-rearing department. But, it is unfair to expect him to do all the disciplining, and I cannot just wish my family troubles away. It is my responsibility to get my kids back on track when they act out. Guilt often weakens my ability to do that. My committee says, “It’s your fault they’re ungrateful, manipulative brats! Those poor kids had a drunken mom in their formative years .. . Take them out for ice-cream .. . ” Ice-cream is not the answer. The problems only get worse when I listen to my guilt. Chapter Nine says:
“The head of the house ought to remember that he is mainly to blame for what befell his home.. . Since the home has suffered more than anything else, it is well that a man exert himself there. He is not likely to get far in any direction if he fails to show unselfishness and love under his own roof . We know there are difficult wives and families, but the man who is getting over alcoholism must remember he did much to make them so.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 127
The first few times l read this, I took it to mean, “Take them out for ice-cream.” After doing a few inventories and really exploring the instincts and motives driving me in my relationship with my children, I know that unselfishness and love can best be communicated through caring discipline. Acting out of guilt is a selfish act. It is self- serving and does the family no good.
I find that if I keep my A.A. program Number One in my life, I am a more effective parent. Let’s face it, without my sobriety, I would have no family. All the steps are useful tools in learning to become a good mother. “Take the action, the feelings will follow” is an applicable mantra in braving a job for which I sometimes feel inadequate. I seek outside help, when appropriate. I continue to work on mustering the courage to enforce rules for respect and obedience in our home, through prayer, meditation, inventory, and especially talking to other sober moms who have lived through similar experiences.
Responsible parenting is part of the living amends I make to my children on a daily basis. It is more important than saying, “I’m sorry I was drunk when you were little.” Wallowing in guilt and remorse doesn’t work for my family today. The best way I can make up for being a lousy parent in the past is to be a grownup now. It’s scary, but with God’s help, a new-found sense of self from working the steps, and support from my sponsor and others in the program, I can discipline my kids today. Ironically, they are much happier and actually feel more loved when I say “no” when it is appropriate and when bad behavior results in consequences. We’re all recovering from the effects of alcoholism and continue our endeavor to relearn what it means to live together as a family .
–Anonymous., San Diego, CA