COMMUNITY, SUPPORT & HEALING
for adult children of alcoholics

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Healing

A Change of Air Will Do You Good

If you know me at all, you know that I tried all the things. All the programs. All the groups. I’ve read all the books over and over again. While all of these things gave me really important bits and pieces about how to navigate a home with two alcoholic parents and the lasting damage it might leave me to wrestle with, none of the available groups or systems clicked for me.

No group felt like it understood me. No set of tools moved me meaningfully forward in my healing. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. The language was all about recovery and I was not the alcoholic. I understand now, all these years later, why that language is used in many systems but I was seeking something that was wholly my own. Something that was about me, designed for me.

As my mother would return from her AA meetings and talk of the steps and “recovery” it felt wrong to me that those were the same words in my own meetings. The system and language felt lifted, second-hand. Which is how the effects of her drinking felt — I was not the smoker but I inhaled all the smoke.

When I got the call at age 18 that my mother had died (cirrhosis of the liver), I wept in the shower though I had rehearsed this scene with myself a dozen times because some part of me knew this was coming. Through all the emergency hospital visits, I could tell we were on borrowed time.

As I stood in the shower in my shared dorm room bathroom at UCSD a few days before taking the Spring finals of my Freshman year, I thought to myself: this will not be in vain. Her death will not be in vain. I have not experienced this in vain.

It took me twenty years to navigate the trauma, confusion, low self-esteem, toxic relationships and workaholism that were my “inhaled smoke.” I was lost and then found and then lost again. Each time, I gained a bit more understanding. A bit more insight into what it has meant to grow up in a home with parents who were neglectful, verbally abusive, scary and inconsistent. Each time, I tried another group or system. Each time, none of them felt like me.

I started Change of Air two years ago as a return to that commitment I made to myself at 18. I have not experienced this in vain. I also know that I’ve learned so much through the incredible yoga teachers I’ve had the pleasure to work with professionally over the years and the many incredible doctors and wellness professionals I’ve worked with throughout my career. I am not an expert in how to heal from trauma or having alcoholic parents, but I am an expert in my experience. And I am an expert in going to every existing group and system and club and community for ACoAs and not finding what I needed.

I created Change of Air because it’s what I needed. I created Change of Air because there was no place that combined movement and story telling and hiking and nature and shared stories and the really honest, vulnerable ways we are learning ourselves every day, with every new trigger. I created Change of Air because I could not find a safe place to share all of these things and find others who were navigating the same terrain. I created Change of Air because I know that Vincent Van Gogh and so many other artists did their best work – the work of their lives – when they decided to move away from the stagnant air and busy cities they’d become so familiar with and instead moved to the sea or the country. They literally changed the air around them and saw things from an entirely new perspective.

The dictionary defines “a change of air” as “a different place from where one usually is.” And that’s exactly what I hope Change of Air becomes for me and for you and for everyone who is new to understanding they are an adult child of an alcoholic and those who have known and have struggled under the weight of it for their entire lives.

I chose the name Change of Air for this reason. I wanted a change from what existed. I wanted to consume a different air that I could not find in those meeting rooms and groups. I landed on the name and I bought the URL and I set about working on some early designs. Only then did I realize that Change of Air, abbreviated, is CoA for children of alcoholics. It was auspicious. It was not an accident. We are just getting started. I hope you will join me on this journey.

 

When You Miss Your Alcoholic Mother While Shopping at Target

If you’ve spent any time with me, you know I’m a bit of a sneaker head. I have custom adidas for my various Bay Area teams (Warriors! Niners! Giants!) and I’ve been known to spend more than a few hours designing Nike Air Force 1s on their site. And along the way, I realized that I really prefer the look of my shoes without socks. I’m short. I have good ankles. And the shoes look better without socks. Period. And so for most of my life, I’ve worn my sneakers without socks. Which, you know, isn’t the loveliest feeling. Or the loveliest smelling.

And then a funny thing happened while waiting in line at Target a month ago: I found no-show half-socks that give you all the cleanliness and good feelings of socks without the look of socks. HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS UNTIL FEBRUARY? My life is forever changed. I have purchased all the colors and patterns and feel so proud every time I put them on and every time I take my now-not-smelly fancy sneakers off.

But then I got sad. Really sad. Because it reminded me again of how many things I still don’t know. Girl things. Lady things. How to be a woman things. My alcoholic mother was too involved with alcohol and her own ish to give me any guidance – on tampons, on makeup, on basic hygiene, on work, on family, on life, really. And the not knowing sneaks up on me in weird moments where I discover no-show socks. Would she have known to tell me all those years ago about these magical socks? Probably not. But I know that ache. That specific realization that you were not mothered the way other girls were. And it still hurts, all these years later. Even amid the potent joy of life-altering sock discoveries.

Healed by Love

I’ve never really been into love with a capital L. I eschew hearts – in necklaces, on sweatshirts, on greeting cards, in cookie form. I’ve always found girls who seek love or talk about love to be somehow silly, frivolous, unserious, unlikely to make a big impact in this world.

But a funny thing happens when you are utterly healed by love. Transformed. Not just romantic love and not just love directed at you, but every kind of love, including the love you have for others and yourself. Once you experience that kind of power, you see why people wear heart necklaces and bake heart cakes and collect heart-shaped rocks on hikes.

And of course the very notion of love has confused me for most of my life. As an ACoA, any love given came with other things. Shouting. Embarrassment. Secrets. Lies. Shame. Love from alcoholic parents didn’t feel super good. Didn’t feel transformative. Certainly didn’t lift me up to be my best. The love I knew growing up asked me to shove my needs aside, bury my feelings, deny my true self and people-please to not rock the otherwise very rocky boat that was a home with two alcoholic parents.

So it makes sense that I proudly turned my nose at heart things. At love things. But even in the loss of my dear dog Paco I see it: I loved him all the more because he helped me heal from a greater love lost when my English bulldog Oscar passed. And my remaining dog Stella is now the recipient of yet more love, as am I from her. And I love my chosen friends and family fiercely – which the sudden loss of Paco also made me revisit. I’ve been making plans to see all of them more. To love on them more. Our time together is so fleeting. And the love we have for one another—and ourselves—can truly heal. Can truly help us be the best versions of ourselves. So why the hell not celebrate love in all its forms?