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My Parents Did Not Drink But I Can Relate

“Out of the Playpen”

My parents never drank a drop of alcohol in their lives, nor did their parents before them.  They were highly respected members of the church.  I read somewhere that our earliest childhood memory is often symbolic of our lives.  My earliest memory is sitting in a playpen on a front veranda, feeling alone, trapped, and unable to get out.

I was born and raised in a little farming town.  After my parents married, three babies were born in three years, and my mother had no idea how to cope with us.  My father worked in the medical field and constantly brought home drugs and pills for mother’s nerves and migraines.

In our family, there was a very sharp distinction between the family image in the community and what I actually saw at home.  To the community my parents were esteemed leaders and church workers, models of family life and community service.  Our family life at home was actually far from this idealistic picture.

My father was a workaholic, always “on-call.”  When not at work he attended meetings for a myriad of community organizations.  One of his addictions was to become president of every organization he joined.  My mother struggled at home with her nerves, her migraines, and her children.  When I misbehaved, I was beaten, even though my misdeeds were never more than average childhood explorations.  Mother’s worst threat was that she would walk out of the house and down the road, taunting us with, “See!  I’m leaving you until you learn to behave.” Crying, we would plead for her to come back and promise behavioral perfection.

I became a workaholic like my father and almost as neurotic as my mother.  I was unable to sustain any kind of meaningful, intimate relationship.  By the time I was forty I had the same dual world as my parents:  a wholesome public image of success and service and a private life of loneliness, suppressed feelings, and sexual dysfunction.

I found a therapist who helped me explore the long-lost child imprisoned in the playpen of my soul.  One day he mentioned that I might find meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics helpful.  I thought he hadn’t been listening when I told him of my family’s history of proud sobriety.  He said I didn’t have to join, pay, or say anything, so I went to a meeting.  I was shocked.  “The Problem” was the story of my life.  It all fit.  It is five years later now, and I am still working the program.  With the help of my Higher Power, I claim my life and spirit separate from the web of past family dysfunction.  The miraculous combination of therapy and working the Twelve Steps set me free from the prison of my childhood playpen to explore and experience my real and unique self.

This excerpt is from Chapter 3 of the ACA Fellowship Text (the Big Red Book), which can be purchased at a local meeting or online.