The Gift

Children & Recovery

When I was 13, my mom stopped drinking. She did it through Alcoholics Anonymous. I can't say that I was excited. Instead, I was keenly aware of the judgment of people around me. As a new teenager, I yearned to be a normal kid in a normal family.
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. It was all a huge mistake.
Despite my protests, AA 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 that she was going to those notorious noon meetings at the local church. In the small town where we lived, it was bad enough that my parents were getting a divorce. My life was falling apart.
I refused to admit that my mother was an alcoholic or that I had been impacted in any way. I abruptly entered my denial stage and forged ahead, trying to survive.
Somehow I did it. After managing to make it through my 20s, things finally came full circle. I found myself working at the Betty Ford Center after a move from Maine to California. It was here that 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." There was no escape. I reluctantly tried Al-Anon at the suggestion of a supervisor. It was hard to admit, but I actually liked it. These Twelve Step people were on to something.
The last wall of denial that I ever had about my family came crumbling down shortly after I participated in my first Children’s Program.
I watched as my young group members learned about the disease that their parent was struggling with. I listened as they shared their stories. I was struck by the love they expressed. I heard kids say things like: "This is my dad. He has been sober now for one month. I am so proud of him."
There was no denial and none of the shame that I had experienced.  Because these youngsters 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 many people had.
Listening to this group of children, I realized that I was incredibly blessed to have a recovering alcoholic as my mother. Some people 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.
I now embrace my mom's "recovery speak." I am glad to sit at an AA meeting and listen to her story. I don't hesitate to (proudly) tell people that my mom is in recovery from alcoholism. I can't help but think of the time it took to get there.
At age 13, I was too young to realize it, and too in denial to understand that AA had given me something irreplaceable. Addiction took my mother away. Recovery gave her back. What an invaluable gift to receive.

Peggy McGillicudyPeggy McGillicuddy has worked with young children impacted by parental addiction as a counselor, consultant and trainer for the Betty Ford Center. Having experienced familial addiction herself, she feels strongly that family recovery means including kids in the healing process. With an emphasis on reducing stigma and building resilience, Peggy writes from both a personal and professional perspective. This blog explores issues related to childhood, addiction and recovery.

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