Alcoholism runs strong on my mother’s side of the family. Though she has never imbibed—she being the white sheep from a rather colorful herd—I’d blame her for carrying the drink-till-I-puke-blood gene if I was prone to playing the victim card. Regrettably, in an era in which fully grown little boys and girls wear their victimhood like a badge of honor, my upbringing prohibits me from doing so—my mother wouldn’t stand for it.
Ninety-two and still living on her own—with all of her own teeth I might add—my mother is from a stronger generation. She survived the Great Depression. A real depression. Not the little slap on the hand we got a few years back for repeatedly refinancing our homes so we could hide in denial about how much credit card debt we were racking up. She survived her father bolting out the door permanently during the toughest of times. (I guess he was a bit of a trendsetter.) She survived a time when one’s sense of self-worth wasn’t tied to how many “likes” or retweets an overly-disclosing post received. (Can you imagine a time where validation wasn’t instantaneous?)
No, my mother would never be one to coddle me as I played the “it’s-no-my-fault-I’m-a-bipolar-alcoholic” sympathy card. She would be more inclined to give me a swift kick in my remarkably well-proportioned buttocks and tell me to make something of my life… and to clean up my room while I’m at it.
How grateful I am for that brand of nurturing.
I think of the lessons she taught me: A love of the written word. Using my imagination. (Because she didn’t attempt to buy my love with overly-engineered toys that do all the imagining for me.) The value of doing chores.
Chores? Yes chores.
I consider myself a decent cook and my wife and I entertain regularly. People who know what a remarkable cook my mother is assume I picked up my skills under her tutelage. Hardly.
In the kitchen, my mother didn’t trust me enough to know the difference between a frying pan and an accordion. If I wandered too close to the kitchen during cooking time I wasn’t invited over to add my flourish of seasonings to the eggplant parmesan. I was given chores: husking corn, shucking peas, scouring dishes.
That experience paid off when I entered the real world. My first real, non-paper route job, was at Polly’s Pies, a local diner. They didn’t throw an apron on me and make me the head cook day one. I bused tables. I washed dishes, piles of dishes. I swept floors. Only after I paid my dues was I allowed to venture near the grill.
I thought of my first job recently while watching an interview of a man standing outside a welfare office. The interviewer asked him if he would take a job if one was offered. His reply? “I don’t want no job. I want a career.”
(Hmmm. Maybe you need to husk some corn before demanding to be the executive chef.)
Not understanding how babies are made, my parents kept knocking out kids well into middle age. My older brother was a mistake. I was a “how-the-hell-did-that-happen” miracle baby. How grateful I am to have been born with ties to the stronger generation. Ties that are rapidly being lost.
I worry at times about the newer arrivals to the rooms of recovery. True, lasting recovery doesn’t come from being coddled in rehab. (Did yours offer a masseuse and yoga classes?). Don’t get me wrong, I love massages and yoga. I love quieting my mind. But recovery takes a little action–action that I see some of the newer recruits trying to skirt.
You know you are getting old when you start bemoaning the fate of the younger generation. I get that. But I also get that recovery rates have plummeted from 50-75% when depression-era folk where trying to get sober down to 5-20% today.
The formula for true sobriety hasn’t changed: Trust God*, clean house, serve others. My mother—defective genes and all—instilled in me the traits needed to adopt this program of recovery. My hope is that those of us who have gotten into action and experienced the true joy and freedom that the Twelve Steps can provide don’t shirk from encouraging newcomers to take their cue from a generation quickly passing out of existence. A generation that wasn’t afraid to do its chores.
(*NOTE: Personally, I use the word “God.” That’s just where I am at. I understand that for some the word God has become empty due to thousands of years of misuse. But I encourage you, the reader, to use whatever concept of a power greater than your egoic self works–sponsor, the Twelve Steps, your recovery home group, universal law, the divine… The doorway to recovery is wide and welcoming. Just keep an open mind.)