It was family day at the Kolmac Clinic in Silver Spring, which offers an intensive out-patient treatment for alcoholics and their families.
"The spouse," recalls clinical social worker Tarpley Richards, "came in with her five children: 16, 15, 14, 11 and 5. Everyone talked in turn about the day's and the week's events. The older kids smiled and politely said that everything was just fine.
"When it was 5-year-old Debbie's turn, she stood up and with the unselfconsciousness that only a young child can muster, she said:
" 'I'm so glad to be here. My daddy's been very sick. He fell down the steps and there was blood all over the place. And the police came. And the ambulance came. And I thought he was dead. I worry all the time that my daddy will die because he's always hurt and bleeding.'
"She sat down, leaned against her elder sister and started to suck her thumb."
Debbie's father, says Richards, had had a withdrawal seizure the week before and gone into convulsions.
"It was about the 20th time this had happened. All this was accepted as routine for the mother and, evidently, for the other children. As was the morning vomiting, the passing out at the dinner table, the violent drunken rages, the threats to murder the family, the threats to give the children to an orphanage, the maniacal hallucinatory periods when the father would order Debbie to chase imaginary bugs with a fly-swatter."
"Crazy-making" behavior had become commonplace, a not atypical pattern in the households of alcoholics. The teen-agers' obvious denial juxtaposed with the 5-year-old's candid concern underscored how day-to-day realities that should have been considered aberrant had become the norm.