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 Tolstoy began Anna Karenina with the much quoted, “all happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I am not sure that applies to alcoholic families. When I first officially entered recovery for being an ACoA in 1985, I was alternately stunned and reassured by the similarity of my experience growing up with an alcoholic parent with those I was in recovery groups with. Over and over again our “war stories” resembled each other almost exactly, I felt as if I were in a group of cousins and siblings, it was as if we had all grown up in the same house.

There were references to things that I thought were unique to my experience. Tears filled the eyes of people sitting in gray folding chairs as they shared about how they waited for the sound of their alcoholic parents’ footsteps in order to discern their level of inebriation. The slurred speech, the forgotten promises. The hurt you couldn’t talk about because who had the bandwidth to listen. The awkward dinners during which no one knew quite what to say or do. The familiar sound of ice clinking against a crystal glass. And there were the drunken scenes, the screaming, the sudden bursts of anger laced with accusations that came out of nowhere. The tears, people running to their own rooms sobbing, slamming doors.

Misunderstanding was the norm, who could get to the bottom of anything when there was no bottom? And the walking on eggshells, dodging bullets, looks, snarls. Waiting for the other shoe to drop all now aptly named in trauma literature as hyper-vigilance.

This it appeared was a shared reality in this special club of adult children of alcoholics.

So recovery to me means peace. It means a family get-together where slight irritations are quickly over, where people apologize and even take responsibility for hurting someone. Where they are aware of their own behavior. Where there is good will by and large.

Where no one is afraid to love.

It means being able to get through an argument whole and in tact, caring about my own experience and the experience of the person I am arguing with, not so much because I am such a nice person, but because I have the wisdom to know that working something out is ultimately best for both of us.

It means drawing the line at abuse, not allowing it from myself or anyone else.

Recovery to me means inching my way towards trust. One of the things that seemed to happen to so many of us was that trust in relationships was so very undermined. And so often that lack of trust got blamed on the other guy, “you did it to me,” “if only you’d…then I’d be fine,” “it’s your fault that I am feeling this way’, “you need to change and if you did, I’d be fine.” The blame game.

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