for adult children of alcoholics


ACoA Christmas

My grandmother made Christmas Eve so special. She knew I needed to be whisked away from my alcoholic home and transported into a magical land of cookie baking and holiday music and last-minute gift wrapping with notes from Mr. & Mrs. Claus (and often, the reindeer!)

She made ten-course meals. Made us sit through all of it before we could open a single gift. She made us discuss real topics at the dinner table. She made us feel like adults. She listened to us as if what we said mattered. I loved Christmas Eve because for one night, when I was with the Millers, I felt not just normal but special in a good way. Not special in an “oh your Mom gets drunk and comes to our soccer games” kind of way. It was magic. Until.

Often, my drunk Uncle from the other side of the family would knock on the door midway through dessert or gift giving, dressed in a Santa suit, stumbling about. It was the exact colliding of worlds I feared most on the one day I got to feel so special. In hindsight, I realize that even though that night was magic every year because my grandmother made it so, I always held my breath. Would he come this year? Would he pierce the loveliness that I was basking in with his drunken hugs and sloppy kisses and way too loud voice? Would I have to watch the faces of all the other Millers trying to appease him and be nice while also steering him out the door? Would another night that mattered be wrecked? Would the proverbial other shoe drop as it always did when alcohol and my family collided?

I still do it up for Christmas, in absolute gratitude for my grandmother. I still bake and decorate too many trees (with the vintage ornaments she left me) and try like hell to make Christmas Eve really special for others. But I know what it’s like to be waiting for the alcohol to be a problem. For everything to go tits up. If that’s you this year or any year, I see you. I love you. You are not alone. I want you to find a few moments of magic tonight even in the ish. And I am inviting you to my virtual ten-course meal and want you to be ready to discuss any number of important world topics. Are you ready?

📷: @anoesisdesign

When Your Yoga Mat is A Mirror

As I work to clear away residual pain, as new triggers appear and I feel and face and release what was, I find myself wanting to connect ever more deeply to my body. I realize I’m missing my daily yoga practice again, after years of just practicing once in awhile or incorporating certain poses before and after every workout.

For so long, my yoga mat was a safe haven for me. A wonderful place to connect to myself and move with joy. Yet once life cracked me open and all the ACoA realizations kicked in, I found my yoga mat to be too much of a mirror. Too much of my truth. Too much of my pain. Too much of feeling disconnected from my body. I’d start practice after practice and just cry. The same thing happened to me with my regular runs and training for races. I’d lace up my shoes and cry. The places that had once been a solace and a safe place to think deeply were exactly what I didn’t want while facing that much pain and the giant task of healing. I didn’t want silence and thinking. I needed all-consuming brain and body action. So I started rock climbing. And I’m so glad I did.
The “must be very present or I will die” nature of rock climbing meant that my brain and my body were so busy I didn’t have a free moment to think or hurt or worry or wonder. About my dying step-father (cirrhosis of the liver; talk about re-traumatization given my mother died the same way 20 years earlier), about my marriage ending, about the financial woes these two situations created. Climbing allowed me to simply be present to what was. I’d climb at the gym or outdoors and hours would pass before I even thought about all that was going on in my life. It was exactly what I needed. And I’m so glad I now climb.

But I’m ready, anew, for my silent practices. The ones that allow me to think big and be silent and move with joy. I take that as a very good sign.


ACOAs & Holidays

It has already begun. The families having holiday parties and seeming like they really love one another. Like they are having a really good time together. When I see these photos and watch these stories, I feel a bit like a voyeur and a bit like an anthropologist, observing a new people heretofore undiscovered. “So THAT’S what it’s supposed to look like.” “Fascinating. It appears the parents are genuinely present and supportive and proud of their kids. Must record in logbook of how families seem to operate.”

I don’t know how they operate because aside from my magical grandmother who cooked with me and made Christmas Eve magical (an entire post on her forthcoming), my family was a drunk and sloppy mess on the holidays. And all the days before and after holidays. So when I see these other families full of genuine joy to be around each other instead of quietly simmering with unspoken secrets and hurt and anger, it takes my breath away. It’s tough to see all that and not see the obvious lack: you didn’t have that. Full stop.

Wherever you are in your journey to sorting out being an adult child of an alcoholic, this is a tough time of year. Even if you’ve found your new family, made up of people you’ve chosen to spend your time with who are healthy and good and kind. Even if your life feels full right now because of all your healing, these scenes and this season can creep up on you. We will never know what it would have been like to have that growing up. We just won’t. No matter how many namastes you put on it. That’s hard to sit with every year when others around you – through no fault of their own – had that seemingly magical family thing we crave because we didn’t have it.

So I ask you to sit with what IS. It is true we didn’t have that. But what is also true? What do you have NOW? What life are you creating for yourself NOW knowing all you know from what you experienced then? I am certain you are making different choices to make NOW amazing. Not in a way that ignores the past or tries to push those feelings aside. But in a way that is grateful for how far we’ve come. That is grateful for what IS. I promise to do the same. We can do this together.