birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Adult Child

I grew up thinking that a full bar, with bottles of bourbon, whiskey, vodka, gin... on display was a sign of a well endowed household. My dad kept his bottles of booze lined up one behind the other like neat soldiers within his bar. He built the bar in the garage and moved the finished black and yellow piece of furniture into the family room once it was finished. The bar had a linoleum top, black plastic sides that had low padding between the wood and the outer plastic. Yellow thumb tacks were pushed into the padding in symmetrical geometric patterns for a distinguishing design. He painted the bar stools black and put padding under yellow plastic coverings for the tops of the stools that always made a "whoosh" sound when one first sat down on them. But, the real pizazz of the bar was that he named it, and made a light with the name painted on it, "Cris's Well". Our last name was Criswell.

He would turn the light on when it was time to "have a drink." After the light would go on, you could hear the sound of ice trays being cracked open and dumped into the silver ice bucket my dad loved. He had special bar glassware that had a Bald Eagle on it. He would ask me sometimes, and I was honored as a child to do this, to pour the booze up to the eagle's eye. This was after he had already put his ice in the glass. He loved the ritual of his first drink most evenings. I didn't really have any feelings about him drinking at home. My mom would have a glass of wine with him and they would talk and smoke cigarettes and had their own thing going.

It was when I came home from junior high and high school and he wasn't home, that was when I began to worry about his drinking. My mom would come home from work and begin to prepare dinner and say, "I'm not sure where Dad is..." and I would look at her and know that she knew and I knew I wasn't supposed to say...he's at the local dive getting drunk. He'd stumble in later, sometimes very much later, and he'd tell us exactly where he'd been. He had a few bars he liked to go hide out in, maybe play pool, and talk with folks. But, mostly, he liked to get drunk. And he wasn't a nice drunk. He was verbally abusive.

Once I was old enough to put it together that he was driving home from these places as drunk as he was struggling to get into the house, my stomach would be in knots. If he was in an accident, he never told me.

It wasn't until I was out on my own and a friend asked me if I wanted to join her "Adult Children of Alcoholics" group did I realize that I had a diagnosis. Whenever I talked about my dad, I would cry because I didn't understand all the secrets and hush-hush of how a high functioning alcoholic family operated. I had only confided in a few people before I started attending the meetings and this group allowed me to realize how common problems with alcohol were in families. I had all the symptoms of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, and began to seek therapy. I wouldn't say I was healed, but I did feel a sense of control and relief and, later- much later, even understanding.

Code of Conduct

Setting the Woods on Fire