I am Debra Alessandra, author of 12 Steps 12 Stories: Spiritual messages of recovery for children and the child in you.
As America’s number one health problem and health care cost, alcoholism and drug dependence can be classified as on of the most subtle, dangerous, and rampant diseases of our time. The overall effects on our society are enormous. Within the community and within the family structure, the impact is considerable. For children living in a home with alcoholism or other substance abuse issues there can be lifelong ramifications.
Alcoholism knows no bounds. It touches every nationality, religion, and/or socioeconomic group.
As a teacher, I frequently noticed indications of familial alcoholism and drug addiction in children and families. In my role as a counselor, I saw it every day. I believe including children in the recovery process contributes to the entire family’s health and happiness. Exploring recovery as a family helps the members expand their sense of comfort and well being.
What is your book about?
My book contains a collection of stories for children to introduce them to the spiritual messages of recovery. I have provided one story for each of the 12 Steps in a program of recovery. My book offers age appropriate stories to explain the steps at a level children can grasp. Additionally, I have provided follow-up material to further explore the message of the story.
What age group are you targeting?
My stories are for children ages 6 – 10 and for adults who see the value of including children in the restructuring of the family unit. I have found that children are often forgotten or glossed over when families attempt to recover from substance abuse.
What inspired you to write this book?
First and foremost, I have a desire to be of service. As a life-long educator, I am impelled by nature to share knowledge with children. I feel much joy when I can contribute to the happiness of children. I give great credit to their learning capabilities. They are often not sufficiently acknowledged for their depth of insight. I believe children need to be included in the restoration process in the home. I have been gifted with the ability to break down complex issues to a child’s level to help them understand.
How did you get the idea to write these stories?
I have served as a classroom teacher giving direct instruction for twenty-seven years. Along with a full and fulfilling teaching career, I also worked for several years as a prevention specialist and drug and alcohol counselor. This combination of experience and my own personal work with the 12 steps of recovery combined to form this creation.
Can you discuss some of the characters you used?
I chose different characters for each story. Initially my selections were purely intuitive. Later, however, I explored dream interpretations and animal totems to validate my choices. I believe each story has just the right main character to demonstrate the spiritual principle behind the step. The unique qualities of each character are suited to the message.
What makes your book unique?
Most relevant literature addresses the disease of alcoholism, but one perspective is somewhat lacking: helping children understand the changes that come with a parent’s sobriety. At times children are confused when the drinking dynamic in their families changes from active addiction to recovery. Often what might be a joyous occasion is colored by a lack of understanding and more discomfort for the children. My stories address the uncomfortable silence which surrounds this disease.
What qualifications do you have to create these stories?
I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology. During my career, I have read thousands of children’s books. My many years of teaching at the elementary grade level helped me determine what children are capable of reading and understanding. As a teacher and a parent, I believe in the power of words. Stories provide clarity and insight about the ways of the world.
How can families benefit from this material?
This material offers a simple approach to the 12 step design for living. Besides the benefit of reading the stories together, there are follow up activities which will further reinforce the message. To open more communication about the steps, I have created an additional workbook where children can write or draw. When children know about addiction and recovery early, they may be saved years of misery in their own lives. My hope is that we may break the chains of addiction that runs through families by frank and open discussions not only about the disease of addiction, but the components of a spiritual recovery process.
How do you envision this material being used?
I created these stories primarily for parents to use one-on-one. I have witnessed the healing of both parent and child when the right materials are available. Reading together presents opportunities to engage in open and healthy family discussions. Mutual caring and support of each other contributes to a sober and drug free lifestyle. Homes where discussions are open and frank are healthier and happier.
Many grandparents and relatives step in to help with their children and grandchildren. My materials provide them with guidance and support in presenting the facts about addiction and the 12 Step approach to recovery.
Drug and alcohol services that include family programs also benefit from using these stories to better serve the needs of their clients with children.
Many members of the clergy interact with families who struggle with the disease of addiction. They also assist them as they transition to a recovery based lifestyle. Having material available for children helps fill their spiritual and emotional needs.
Who else might find this material beneficial?
These stories will be interesting and entertaining to older members of 12 step programs.
Working on the steps is an ongoing process. Approaching spiritual concepts in a metaphorical way can provide new insights. The principles of these stories are timeless.
What in your life experience triggered your desire to provide this tool for families?
I spent my early years in a single parent home. As divorce was not common in the 50‘s, I imagine my mother was disturbed by her life circumstance. She did not openly express her feelings and a sense of secrecy prevailed. Of course at that time, not discussing the particulars of her distress was considered to be for the good of the children. The disquieting silence left a deep and lasting impression. I felt excluded. Perhaps the expression ‘in the dark’ would best describe my circumstance.
If there were children’s books to discuss divorce or address the needs of children at that time, my mother was not aware of them. I can’t help wonder if such material was promoted or readily available the difference it could have made to me. If the situation was openly discussed, much confusion and concern could have been alleviated.
Because of my own childhood experience, I feel a passion for helping children understand and navigate the changes which may occur in their family.
Are there other materials available for parents or children?
Books are available for children to understand alcoholism and substance abuse. I have listed a few in the back of my book and on my website. Resources abound to help move people from addiction into recovery. From in-patient treatment to outpatient counseling centers, from therapists to detox facilities, the list goes on. Any Google search will provide hundreds of options.
What is the data on children of alcoholics?
Statistics claim that every alcoholic touches the lives of at least four others. Many of those impacted negatively are children. Most Americans are unaware of the debilitating effects on children who live in an alcoholic home. Current statistics claim approximately 28 million children in the United States live in a home with at least one parent suffering from addiction.
Additionally, seven million children live with a grandparent. In 39% of the cases the grandparent is the primary caregiver. The strain this creates is enormous, not only with the nuclear family, but in society as well.
Can you read us an excerpt from the book?
Yes, I would like to share from page 10 of the introduction:
“Someone you love has a disease called alcoholism. They didn’t choose to be an alcoholic. They didn’t wish it upon themselves or the ones they love. Perhaps you didn’t know much about the disease and neither did they. Like many diseases, it gets worse over time instead of better. Please know that you are not alone. Many children are in the very same situation as you are. They number in the millions.
Living with an alcoholic hurts. Maybe you have felt scared and angry. Being in the dark about this disease may be confusing and upsetting. Often you can see how bad things are long before the alcoholic will see it for themselves. Usually you wish they would stop long before they do. Unfortunately, they have to sink so low that they want to stop drinking. Then something wonderful happens. A journey of recovery begins.
The topic of recovery might be confusing as well. These stories will help you understand what your loved one is doing at those recovery meetings and why the meetings are so important to them.
All my characters in the stories learn something about themselves and the world by taking certain steps. No doubt you’ve heard those words in your home. They steps help a person get better. When you finish reading, you took will know a thing or two about the steps.”