Alcoholism is a Family Disease

Kristin Gourlay
A selfie of the author and her father, smiling

I remember the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting my father took me to.

It was the late 70s, when I was about seven years old. The meeting was in a church basement (where else?), full of the scent of burnt coffee and cigarette smoke. The hour probably felt like forever to me and my little sister. But after, I remember my father shaking hands with new friends. I remember the camaraderie. I remember feeling proud that he belonged to this mysterious new fellowship.

I remember my last AA meeting with my father, too. It wasn’t long ago—just before the pandemic. We sat together in another church basement. And this time, I was also raising my hand to say, "My name is Kristin Gourlay, and I’m an alcoholic."

Alcoholism is a family disease in so many ways.

It slinks along our genetic lines. It devastates families. But I feel so grateful that recovery can also be a family affair.

I almost didn’t make it. In the final months of my drinking, I was so ill I couldn’t work. I’d lost my family, a place to live, my hope. I had been in and out of treatment. My family was out of ideas and out of patience. But through the pain and haze of my illness, some of my father’s words came back to me. He pointed out how unmanageable my life had become, even when I couldn’t see it. He reminded me that thinking I was somehow different and didn’t need help was dangerous. I didn’t want to hear any of that then. But he also told me he loved me and that he believed I could get sober.

Until then, I lumbered under the weight of shame. I felt I had disappointed everyone I knew, including my dad. Those memories never leave me. I’m comforted by the thought that maybe my dad might have felt the same so many decades ago. For me, the work of staying in recovery requires that I remember how bad things were and find ways to make things right with people I hurt.

I celebrated 10 years sober in November 2020.

I look forward to celebrating 11. My dad has more than 35 years under his belt. He has given me a few of his celebratory coins to mark my sober anniversaries, and I keep them in a beautiful wooden box with the rest of my coins to remind me that we are connected in our struggle and our healing.

We are lucky. I am lucky. I never go a day without remembering that addiction has taken so many lives and could have taken ours. I grieve for those lives, and the families they left behind. But I also celebrate the collective recovery of others.

If Father’s Day is a difficult day for you, here is my heart.

And here is my pledge: I will remember who you’ve lost. And I will keep sharing my story in case it’s what someone else who’s struggling needs to hear right now to take the next step toward healing.


Kristin Gourlay is a Shatterpoof Ambassador.

Man in a support group

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