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NONFICTION : FAMILY SECRETS: LIFE STORIES OF ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS, compiled by Rachel V., introduction by Claudia Black (Harper & Row: $10.95; 260 pp.).

July 12, 1987|Elena Brunet

This book, comprising 15 self-portraits of children of alcoholics, will be of great interest to the more than 28 million Americans who grew up in alcoholic families. The case histories are brief, most not much longer than 10 pages, but they narrate in detail a seemingly endless litany of chaos and suffering, how, as Rachel V. observes, "the same behavior that allowed them to survive as children began to defeat them in later life."

The scars of a parent's alcoholism on his or her children appear in many forms. Sam S. strove throughout his sad childhood to be the star of his family through overachieving in school and in sports and in this way to deflect the tension away from his drunk father. But in his 20s, all his hard work and ambition caved in when he discovered that he had no sense of genuine purpose or of his own identity. Marion P. became an alcoholic herself, like her father. Sara J. married a man who drank and beat her, as her father had her mother.

Although these chronicles of waste and misery are depressing, the 15 narrators included in this volume are the lucky ones: All have enrolled in recovery programs and have begun to understand the nature of their self-denying and self-defeating legacies. Their stories are instructive for those like them who have begun their own paths to recovery as well as for those who have yet to hit rock bottom. The book includes an appendix offering practical suggestions, addresses of recovery and support programs, and a bibliography.

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