From the March 2012 magazine.

Family Postcards

It took a long time for her to realize that she belonged in the picture too

When I was drinking, I polished myself up on holidays to go home and participate in the perfect family postcard, but always felt I was the imposter. I knew how to play the postcard game, because the family who raised me from the time I was 6 months old, and their children and grandchildren were all "normal." I tried desperately to measure up and never knew that I didn't need to. They just loved me no matter what, but it took a lot of years of sobriety to see that.

I was pretty successful at the end of my drinking and since I was alone, I had money to do with as I pleased. On holidays, I would buy extravagant gifts and be disappointed at the lack of reciprocation. Self-centered to the extreme, I couldn't see that a family can have financial struggles they don't talk about and have other financial obligations that have nothing to do with the holidays or me. It was about me and needing more than my share of acceptance, love and approval to collect validation. My feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem laced the black canyon of loneliness in my soul.

We would open presents after dinner at Christmas and I couldn't wait until it was time for everyone to leave so I could go hit my favorite gay bar and be with my real family, people who would just let me be myself and drink the way I wanted to—into oblivion. I wasn't gay, but I was safe there to drink the way I wanted to. It was also more rebellion against the picture-perfect family I just left. I was, as my first sponsor told me, "one sick cookie."

My first sober holidays visiting my family were really jumpy. I was like the Velveteen Rabbit: people in AA loved me truly, but I didn't yet know who I was. I couldn't figure out how to play the game anymore. It was very confusing and frightening and I felt that I was in danger when I was with my family because a drink had always been the solution to those feelings of inadequacy. They liked to have a little wine on the dinner table and I terrorized them for two years not allowing it. I somehow needed them to prove they loved me when the problem really was I had not yet learned how to "live and let live" and still wanted to drink.

If an alcoholic can't meet simple conditions like this, the Big Book says an alcoholic "still has an alcoholic mind." I remember the last Thanksgiving when I made the transition and realized I was the problem, not them. I was able to accept that I was the alcoholic and they didn't have to fit into my frightened world and that I had to stop being frightened and rely on AA and God. I had to go to the holidays and bring every gift of love and service I could muster and expect nothing in return. You can't be disappointed if you have no expectations, and I wasn't disappointed any longer.

I always worked on the 12 Steps, but it just took time for them to permeate my being. I admitted I was an alcoholic, but it took time to accept it in all its meaning. I was in my twenties but emotionally I was still 14 years old, the age I was when I was falling down drunk in the playground.

Those holidays are long gone, as are most of the people in them. I have been married for 30 years and created those kinds of postcard holidays for my three children, even in hard times. I don't know what the future holds for them, but I know God holds the future. I am responsible only for the 24 inches of earth I am standing on and what is emanating from it, not to it. It gives me such peace of mind not to expect anything more from life and loved ones as God has already given me more than my share of happiness these 36 years of sobriety. For that, I am truly grateful beyond words.

-- Snow P.

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

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