After I, Kathy Berman, came to recovery in 1976, my daughter (who was five years old at the time) told me that she had been telling the neighbors that I was an alcoholic. I was somewhat surprised because I didn’t know my neighbors very well. So I sat down and asked her to tell me what an alcoholic is. She said, ” Oh, Mommy, you know. It is someone who doesn’t drink and smiles a lot.” The only alcoholics she knew were in AA.
I went to AA after Thanksgiving 1976. Two months later, I checked into a home for alcoholic women in the town I lived in–Jacksonville, Florida. The home was not attached to anything like mental health but the founder believed in Jesus Christ. We prayed on our knees morning and evening. I had a radical conversion in that home. So there I was–3 months sober, born-again, female, high-bottom, and a “lady”.
But AA was my only choice. Needless to say, I didn’t have much support there. But I kept going back and eventually I took the 13th step–giving up support groups as the only way to live. That happened years later after I had clinical depression for 2 years. When I had clinical depression, I was 10 years sober–sponsoring 13 people but no one in AA suggested that I seek professional help. I guess I looked too well. But I did notice that persons with long-time sobriety were committing suicide. I didn’t want to do that anymore than I wanted to drink.
I had clinical depression for two years–1986 to 1988–when I was 10 years into addiction recovery. It was a very shocking experience. I didn’t know how to talk about it. Whatever I said in AA meetings, I was advised to work the steps harder. I was going to a daily noon meeting where I felt safe and secure. But outside, in the real world, I was having a very tough time functioning. Drinking or using was never an option. I call living with addiction and depression recovery the “double whammy”.
Denial is a tricky companion. In 1988, I was working at a psychiatric hospital in marketing giving lectures about depression in geriatric homes. One day I looked at my giant flip chart of the 18 symptoms of depression and realized I had at least 15 of the symptoms. It was OK for me to be a recovering alcoholic, but not OK to have depression. I left that lecture and went back to the hospital, looked up my favorite doctor, and told him that I needed help. Within 3 weeks, I felt better than I had ever felt in my life. So I had lived with depression for as long I could remember. I used alcohol to self-medicate. I know now I have dysthymia, a mild kind of depression that comes and goes. I am very, very lucky.
Although I never forgot that I was going to AA as a recovering alcoholic, my recovery changed over the years to encompass new learnings and teachings. The focus for my recovery took a profound change in direction when I discovered ACA. I never “forgot” that I am first and foremost an alcoholic and am deeply grateful to be in recovery. Nor have I ever considered myself as recovered. These beliefs about myself have helped me to stay centered and focused on recovery.
ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) has gone through several name changes. In 1977, (one year after the beginning in my recovery in 1976), a group of Al-Anon members realized that they were all children of alcoholics. This was the beginning of ACOA. In later years, ACOA became ACA.
When I found ACA meetings, I immediately knew that I belonged because they talked about feelings. I continued to be completely committed to my recovery with AA groups. But the AA groups were male-dominated groups whose members seemed to be proud of how far they had fallen to their bottoms. So I started attending ACA and Codependents Anonymous as well as AA.
In June, 2009, I reached my emotional bottom after being in recovery since Nov. 1976. The book that eventually allowed me to accept my primary addiction (having been born into a home dominated by alcohol) was the Red Book of ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics).
ACA Red Book and other ACA material can be ordered from the ACA World Headquarters.
I deeply believe that there is no recovery without a spiritual experience. Many people have a gradual awakening which can take years. During that time, s/he becomes gentler, kinder, more thoughtful, more relaxed, etc. These qualities are the fruit of the Spirit. When I see these qualities, I know that God is working in that person. In fact, the fruits of the Spirit are the only indicators of someone’s recovery that I use. Recovery is an inside job that shows on the outside of a person.
“Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow. The caterpillar will become a breathtakingly beautiful butterfly. You will no longer have to pretend to be someone you’re not. You will no longer have to prove you’re good enough. When you embrace your shadow you will no longer have to life in fear. Find the gifts of your shadow and you will finally revel in all the glory of your true self. Then you will have the freedom to create the life you have always desired.” Debbie Ford
Accepting that your fears will lead you to becoming who you really are is mind-blowing. Fears seem to be locked gates that we dare not open. Some of my fears have been removed by hard experiences in life. My ex-husband left me and forbade his family to communicate with me. In one night, I lost a support system of 40-50 people. I loved them. My love wasn’t strong enough to overcome their fear of being different or brave. BUT–and this is the important lesson–I completely overcame my fear of abandonment. When most of your support system walks out, what do you have to fear about being abandoned? I was abandoned and I thrived. Not immediately. At first, I walked around in shock.
How do you make peace with your shadow? Although I use the 12 steps as the foundation for my life, I had to learn that identifying all my fears as character defects only added to my low self worth. I have character defects. But they are the defenses I learned as a child to defend myself. They are my life issues and only a part of me. With growth, they disappear except under extreme duress. I live in peace and rarely am upset by life because I accept life as it comes.
Carl Jung, one of Bill Wilson’s spiritual advisors and the father of Jungian psychology, believed that confronting and accepting our shadow self was the first step toward becoming integrated.
“This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people, for the meeting with ourselves belongs to the more unpleasant things that can be avoided so long as we can project everything negative into the environment. But if we are able to see our own shadow and can bear knowing about it, then a small part of the problem has already been solved: we have at least brought up the personal unconscious. The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness. This problem is exceedingly difficult, because it not only challenges the whole man, but reminds him at the same time of his helplessness and ineffectuality.” Carl Jung