The following is Tony A’s ACA story, as found in his book, ‘The Laundry List’. After having spoken with his widow, and finding out that there are no intentions of reprinting the book by the family or the original publisher, I decided to go ahead and put more of his book online, so that it doesn’t get lost. So, here is his story:
The Laundry List
Authors: Tony A and Dan F
Health Communications, INC. Publishing Company
Who Is Tony A.?
I was born on November 4, 1927, and raised in New York City. My mother was a Christian and my father was a Jew, and I was brought up as an Episcopalian. Both of my parents were alcoholics.
My father was a successful stockbroker on Wall Street, so we were well provided for materially. Emotionally, however, our family was impoverished. From the beginning my life was touched by the insanity of an alcoholic household.
One evening, when I was one year old, my parents went out to dinner. It was the servants’ night off and they left me in the care of my 19-year-old uncle, an alcoholic whom my father was trying to help out of a tight spot. When my parents returned from their night out, they discovered his body in my bedroom, a gun and a bottle of booze at his side. He had shot himself in the head, in an alcoholic stupor, and my crib was splattered with his blood and brains. From that time on loud noises always terrified me.
Soon after my uncle’s suicide, my parents had a trial separation — because of her drinking, my father said. He went off to Hawaii, and my mother led a single life of Prohibition parties and drinking in a world peopled by wealthy underworld figures.
One night she went to a party at the Savoy Plaza and never returned home. She was found dead, her pearl necklace wrapped tightly around her neck. She was 26 years old. Whether she had been murdered or had simply passed out after a night of drinking and been accidentally asphyxiated, no one ever discovered.
My mother’s death had a devastating impact on my life. I was barely two years old, yet I can still remember lying in my crib crying, “I want my mummy. I want my mummy,” and wondering what I had done that was so bad that she wouldn’t come back to me. My stomach ached for days. To this day I get terrible pains in my stomach whenever I experience grief, loss or abandonment.
My father remarried within a year and my stepmother soon became enmeshed in the dynamics of my father’s alcoholism. When my father was drinking, he would sometimes become cruel. I can recall vividly his brutal reaction to a typical childhood incident.
My father came home one evening and discovered that I had failed to lift the toilet seat when I had to urinate, and had accidentally wet the toilet seat. He came storming into my bedroom, where my nurse was reading me a bedtime story. She screamed at him to stop as he snatched me up and dragged me into the bathroom. In a rage he rubbed my face around the rim of the toilet seat — the same way he trained our dog when he made a mistake. I was literally shaken after this punishment. The next morning when I went into his room to apologize, I found that he seemed to have no recollection of the incident.
I thought I must have done something too awful to be discussed. I was not old enough to know that in my home the punishment was always out of proportion to the crime. Emotionally I felt that my father had abandoned me. I could no longer trust him to care for me. I felt hurt and guilty and very much alone. The experience left me fearful of him and all authority figures.
My father never punished me physically again after this incident, save for a few slaps in the face when he was annoyed with my behavior. Fortunately those times were few. To avoid his wrath I became a model son, always obedient and alert.
My stepmother was a very complex woman with problems of her own. She struggled with dependency on alcohol, sleeping pills and diet pills for years.
She was generally supportive and concerned about me, but sometimes I got very mixed signals.
Like my father, she verbally abused me, attacking me bitterly. On occasion she was physically abusive. When enraged, she would stare at me angrily and force me to look into her eyes. I am still uncomfortable around angry abusive women and have trouble confronting them.
For years my father would take me to visit my grandmother in her suite at the Waldorf Astoria every Sunday, after which we would have a dinner I was too upset to eat. These visits were a torture and an embarrassment. She would spend the entire visit criticizing and berating my father, screaming that he was a rotten failure as a son and constantly recounting his faults. I felt guilt and shame over the whole thing whenever she turned her attention toward me. After all, I was my father’s son. If he was no good, how then was I?
When I was ten, my grandmother became depressed and committed suicide by swimming out to sea. I felt great relief committed suicide by swimming out to sea. I felt great relief when I heard she had died, principally because I was spared any more Sunday visits.
Shortly after her death I began to feel guilty about my relief at not having to visit her anymore. What kind of dutiful grandson would have such sick selfish thoughts? I felt no sadness or loss, just relief followed by guilt.
In 1939, when Hitler was killing Jews in Germany, I found a note in my school desk that was to change my life. The note said, “Tony is a dirty Jew.” I felt shame and embarrassment and fear. All I could do was stare down at my desk. Stunned and shaken, I showed the note to my father, who responded by telling me that I was only half-Jewish. I felt shocked by his reply, which I took to mean that I was only “half-dirty.”
Soon thereafter my father became very troubled about anti-Semitism in this country and decided to change the family name. I suggested the name of my favorite chemistry teacher, and it became our new legal name.
The following year I was sent away to boarding school in Virginia, where no one would know about my name change. My best friend also attended this school with me. My father paid his tuition so I would not be lonely. By now, however, concealment and secrecy about my family origins was a way of life. Clearly I was unacceptable as a half-Jew. I was being taught to deny my family heritage — or at least one-half of it.
At boarding school I escaped the oppressive atmosphere of closed friend would reveal my dark secret. It got so I couldn’t sleep at night and the school nurse began giving me sleeping pills. This was marvelous? I had a substance that quickly helped feelings, I see it now as the beginning of my addictive behavior.
The anti-Semitism issue had a profound effect on me. I became overly sensitive to what other people thought of me. I tried to please everyone, but couldn’t trust anyone. Worst of all, I did not accept myself. I felt flawed and inferior and that there was something very wrong with me.
I had been sent away to boarding school to hide, and at first I did miserably. But after two years I transferred to another school. There I was number one on the tennis team, ran the class newspaper and became editor of the yearbook — all in an effort to be accepted.
After graduation I moved on to the University of Virginia, where I joined a Christian fraternity. Mindful of my father’s injunction — “If you ever reveal that you are half-Jewish, I will disown you” — I told everyone that I was 100 percent Christian, a condition for fraternity membership. I was in a terrible bind and it force me to live a lie. Once again my father had abandoned me. I felt lost and alone in my deception.
At the University I played tennis, shot pool and gambled. I didn’t touch liquor — my father and I had made a pact that he would give me a sizeable sum of money if I refrained from any alcohol until I was 21 years old. As a substitute I selected gambling — mostly poker, and shooting craps.
When I was at boarding school and college, my father began acting out in strange ways. He was heavily in the grips of alcoholism. His behavior became more bizarre and my step-mother began taking him to mental health clinics. She soon became worn out with this and turned the task over to me.
I remember leaving him at the different facilities, always feeling guilty that I was leaving him there alone and so forlorn. Even though he had asked me to bring him there, he would invariably say to me, “How can you leave me in a place like this?” I felt sad that my father was in such a desperate way and needed to go to such places. It was a depressing scene. I had ample material comforts but little in the way of stability or nurturing by my parents. It was all very confusing and frightening.
All of these events made me feel different and apart. I was always fearful that those I was with would discover my name change. Concealment and acceptance became primary themes in my relationships with others. Behind it all was a lot of self-loathing and very little self-acceptance.
When I graduated from college, I returned to New York and became a stockbroker, following in my father’s footsteps. One major difference, however, was the way in which I chose to present myself. For so long I had hidden my Jewish heritage and hated my past. How I became vocal regarding my Jewish/Christian roots. In fact I jammed it down people’s throats, testing their reactions. That way, if someone became my friend, at least I knew he or she was aware that I was part Jewish and accepted me as I was. I was truly sensitized to this issue and it deeply distorted my thoughts and actions. I put people through difficult tests to assure myself that they were real friends.
With women I learned to be the consummate people-pleaser, manipulator and abandoned. My goal was to avoid the terror I felt if they displayed any anger, or the guilt I felt when I left them. “Keep them happy, distracted and satisfied and they won’t abandon me.”
As a result of my childhood experiences the early days in ACoA were very painful for me. When other members expressed anger, I wanted to run. Eventually, however, their stories of physical, sexual and verbal abuse put me in touch with my feelings of shame, fear and guilt. I discovered that because of what had happened to me as a child, I had been conditioned to become a fear-based personality called Tony A.