A Slippery Slope, Indeed

Posted: 31st August 2013 by admin in Blog
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In grad school, I took a course on working with clients with substance abuse diagnoses and did some side research on the impact of the addiction on the family members. My dabbling led me eventually to what was considered THE handbook on ACOA issues, Janet Woititz’s Adult Children of Alcoholics. Intrigued, fascinated even, I went on to Robert Ackerman’s work, then Claudia Black’s, all the buzz names of the 80s and 90s for working with families dealing with addictions.

I feared for a short time, as is the nature of all MSW students, that I might end up the poster child for ACOAs but it didn’t take long to realize that I was breaking one of the cardinal traits in Woititz’s book:  characteristic number six, ACOAs take themselves very seriously. Ummmm, perhaps not.  If you’ve read any part of Urban Tidepool  or watch my Facebook posts you already know this is not a characteristic that I can be accused of with any sincerity.

It wasn’t conscious when I was a kid. It was just there. Now I look back and think, “Thankfully!”, although I’m not sure that my family members would be so grateful.  On the first night of my visit to my brother and sister-in-law’s house the summer I turned sixteen, he fell asleep in his chair, watching TV. It was June, in Florida. It was hot. The Major was wearing shorts and nothing on his feet. I took it as the perfect opportunity to create a little brother-sister bonding. I painted his toenails pink.I don’t think he felt particularly bonded and I guarantee you, “Thankfully!” was not the first thing he said when he woke up.

When I tell about failing a class in high school in Urban Tidepool, I observed: In the comment section, the teacher had indicated that I had been careless with my assignments.  Above that, a nun had commented that I handled her class, in which I had an A, with great care and responsibility. I almost laughed.  Well, I guess if you have to be careless and not do your assignments, the least you can do is to do it responsibly.  In fact, I had gone from an A to an F in that class. Can’t be more responsible at failing something than that!  I dropped like a responsible rock. I just couldn’t decide if I was carelessly responsible or responsibly careless.

But it’s hard to hang onto humor, no matter how strong the innate tendency, when a parent dies or a sibling grows increasingly violent. So to rediscover that streak of humor is a life altering moment, because it arrives with its ability to heal, to move you forward, to make space for forgiveness even if you aren’t totally aware of it at the time.

I remember the precise moment of the rediscovery. In Niagara Falls for the weekend with my college roommate and her family, I had to hike back to the car to retrieve something. To catch up to everyone, I took a short cut across the grass on an incline above the traffic circle. I slid on the wet grass and fell, with probably no less than twelve lanes of traffic circling just below me. I might have gotten angry. I might have been embarrassed. I don’t remember any of that. What I remember is a split second realization that I was soaked to the skin, and that hundreds of cars were driving by just feet away, with passengers pointing at me and laughing. And I lay back in the wet grass and I started to laugh. The harder I laughed, the more the passengers in the cars below laughed, and the more they laughed at me, the harder I laughed, wearing wet pants and rolling around on some strange Canadian hillside.

It’s not that those people in the cars were suddenly my friends. But every one of them shared a moment with me that redefined who I was becoming, that gave me back something I lost. They have no idea. They all drove on their ways, had their holiday weekends, went back to their lives without ever realizing that they shared an intimate, healing moment with a scarred warrior who had never chosen to go into battle, but for whom battle had never been a choice.

Urban Tidepool has moments of very dark humor, and those of you aware of your own scars (whether around family addiction or another issue) might appreciate that. I suspect you’ll understand it. More than that, I hope you might find moments of cars winding around your own traffic circles as you’re trying very hard to take yourself seriously, and maybe you’ll get a glimpse of the passengers in them, sharing a profound moment with you without ever meaning to, and being a witness to that space being born out of humor where forgiveness comes to live.


  1. susan francis says:

    Thank you Nance…..Once again, you touched my heart and my belly laugh.
    L, Susan

  2. Sometimes these things just sneak up on us!

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