Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics

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Overview

Rich with insight and awareness, Recovery explores the secrets, fears, hopes and issues that confront adult children of alcoholics. Authors and widely respected therapists and ACOA workshop leaders Herbert Gravitz and Julie Bowden detail in a clear question-and-answer format the challenges of control and inadequacy that ACOAs face as they struggle for recovery and understanding, stage-by-stage: Survival

• Emergent Awareness

• Core Issues

• Transformations

• Integration

• ...

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Overview

Rich with insight and awareness, Recovery explores the secrets, fears, hopes and issues that confront adult children of alcoholics. Authors and widely respected therapists and ACOA workshop leaders Herbert Gravitz and Julie Bowden detail in a clear question-and-answer format the challenges of control and inadequacy that ACOAs face as they struggle for recovery and understanding, stage-by-stage: Survival

• Emergent Awareness

• Core Issues

• Transformations

• Integration

• Genesis.
If you feel troubled by your post, Recovery will start you on the path of self-awareness, as it explores the searching questions adult children of alcoholics seek to hove answered:

• How con I overcome my need for control?

• Do all ACOAs ploy the some kind of roles in the family?

• How do I overcome my fear of intimacy?

• What is all-or-none functioning?

• How can ACOAs maintain self-confidence and awareness after recovery?

• How do ACOAs handle the family after understanding its influence?

• And many other important questions about your post, family and feelings.
Written with warmth, joy and real understanding, Recovery will inspire you to meet the challenges of the post and overcome the obstacles to your happiness.

Rich with insight and awareness, Recovery explores the secrets, fears, hopes, and issues the confront adult children of alcoholic.s

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Awareness If you only read one book on adult children of alcoholics this year, make this the one.

Timmen L. Cermak, M.D. President, Notional Association for Adult Children of Alcoholics Gravitz and Bowden provide the first practical guide for adult children of alcoholics. Their creative description of the stages of recovery is especially useful. At lost there is a rationale for deciding what issues and what treatment services ore most relevant to each individual. Adult children of alcoholics will feel they have mode two new friends by the time they have finished this very readable book.

Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D. Children of Alcoholics Dr. Gravitz and Ms. Bowden have definitely filled a much needed area for adult children of alcoholics in their new book. This is the first book that attempts to answer many of the 'silent' questions of the millions of adult children of alcoholics in our society. Their years of experience, perceptions and sensitivities are obvious in this well-thought-out book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671645281
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 9/15/1987
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 266,971
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Herbert L. Gravitz, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist in Santa Barbara, California. He is a founding Board Member of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), and currently serves on the Advisory Board. He was Executive Editor of "The Network," a publication of NACOA and authored the Children of Alcoholics Handbook.

Julie D. Bowden, M.S., is a Marriage, Family, and Child Psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Barbara, California. She developed the first Alcohol/Drug Awareness Program for the University of California system and has consulted on both inpatient and outpatient recovery programs. She is a founding Board Member of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), and its first treasurer. She currently serves on the Advisory Board. She is the adult child of an alcoholic.

Together, they conduct recovery retreats, individual and group psychotherapy, and educational seminars for adult children of alcoholics as well as other adult children of trauma and the professionals who serve them. They began the University of California's first therapy group specifically for adult children of alcoholics. They have authored numerous articles and are coauthors of an upcoming book, Genesis: The Spiritual Dimension of Recovery for Children of Alcoholics and Other Children of Trauma.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Introduction

Leslie was mesmerized. The muscles around her eyes tightened as the shock of recognition crossed her face. The stories she was hearing sounded just like hers! The other people in this group, who looked so picture-perfect, had experienced the same abandonment, the same loss of childhood, the same sense of betrayal that she had felt in a home dominated by an alcoholic parent.

Ann, who had recently celebrated her eighty-first birthday, relaxed as she heard others describe the embarrassment of their childhoods — the humiliations, the insults, the times they were afraid to come home, and those terrible holiday scenes. As the shrouds of silence slowly disappeared, she was no longer feeling isolated and alone. There were no secrets here. These were her stories too.

Brian was trembling. He was thinking of his parents. Pangs of guilt pierced his stomach. For the first time he actually talked about what went on in his family. He dared say out load to others that his parents were alcoholic. He fidgeted as he forced himself not to pretend anymore. But it was hard! Scary! Yet, somewhere at the edge of his awareness, there was a feeling, a real feeling, that he did not want to deny.

Eric felt detached, as if he were a million miles away. He did not like to think about what had happened. He wanted to forget. What was the use anyway? Nothing changes; nothing really makes a difference. If only he could get rid of those recurring nightmares. He barely remembers them in the morning. He just knows they come.

The Leslies, Anns, Brians, Erics, and the millions of others like them, are adult children of alcoholics. Reared in a home in which one or both parents are alcoholic, they are united by the bondage of parental alcoholism. Most adult children of alcoholics have always suspected that something is wrong. They often experience loneliness and they are likely to believe that they are different from other people. They are! Without fully identifying the source of their emptiness, they have endured and suffered. They have survived the experience of living in a family where unpredictability was the one thing that could be counted on. They seldom knew what to expect from parents — a frown or a smile, a slap or a kiss. They have survived the experience of living in a family where inconsistency was the rule. No two days were the same and they could not believe in what others said. Subjected to denial, broken promises, and lies, they were often at the mercy of parents whose feelings, perceptions and judgments were clouded by a mind-altering drug — alcohol. They have survived the experience of living in a family where everything was arbitrary — things were always happening by whim or impulse in ways that seemed out of control. And because their families were like this, they have survived living with a family in chaos. Almost every day there were crises and emergencies at home. It was never really safe to relax — or be a child. Since their families represented their worlds, they lived in a world of unpredictability, inconsistency, arbitrariness, and chaos. These are the children of alcoholics.

This book is for these survivors, the children who grew up in an alcoholic family and became adults. It describes the costs they have had to pay to survive. More important, it presents a way they can re-evaluate their survival techniques in light of the problems they now face as adults. This book will help adult children of alcoholics to use these techniques as resources to propel themselves forward to a life of meaning and joy. As one adult child of an alcoholic said, "If I can use the debris of outrageous misfortune and turn it into something positive, then none of what happened to me occurred without rhyme or reason."

This book reflects recent changes in the field of alcoholism and growing efforts to identify and assist adult children of alcoholics. New and exciting things are happening. It was not until 1955 that alcoholism was recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association. In the 1960s and 1970s it slowly became increasingly clear to professionals that the family develops a parallel disease of its own. And in the late 1970s and early 1980s, explicit acknowledgment has been given to the adult survivors. Then, on Valentine's Day of 1983, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics was formed to recognize the needs and problems of children of alcoholics of all ages. Yes, things are happening!

This book is a part of what is happening. It is about a neglected minority numbering in the millions. Recent estimates indicate there are between 28 and 34 million children of alcoholics, over half of them adults. Because their survival behaviors tend to be approval-seeking and socially acceptable, the problems of most children (and adult children) of alcoholics remain invisible. It is not that they are not being treated. They are — in mental health agencies, psychotherapists' offices, hospitals, employee assistance programs, and the judicial system. But the importance of their parents' alcoholism often does not receive the focus and attention it merits. Despite the increasing recognition of alcoholism as a family disease, children of alcoholics continue to be ignored, misdiagnosed, and inappropriately treated. Many limp into adulthood behind a facade of strength. They survive adulthood, too, but do not enjoy it.

This is a book about how children of alcoholics of all ages can begin to enjoy their adult lives. We want to share what we have been learning from the adult children of alcoholics we have encountered as therapists and educators. Most of all we want to share our enthusiasm and excitement as well as convey a message of hope and understanding. We have seen dramatic, positive changes in adult children of alcoholics once they understand how their earlier experience with familial alcoholism continues to influence them.

We invite you to join us on a journey in which we are all pioneers. The journey will help you to uncover the influence of family alcoholism. The approach we will use is a question and answer format. The questions addressed are those we have been asked most frequently by adult children of alcoholics. As we have journeyed with others, we have come to appreciate that there will be a number of responses to what is discovered. Some people are surprised, shocked, or overwhelmed by the answers. Some become angry and frustrated. Others remain skeptical and want to know where the "research" is. Some become very sad and cry, while others feel relief, elation, and hope. Few remain unaffected. There are reasons for the strong emotional responses provoked by the questions and answers presented in this book.

First and foremost, we will be talking about all those things that children of alcoholics of all ages are taught not to talk about. One of the cardinal rules in an alcoholic home is, "There's nothing wrong here and don't you dare tell anybody!" So we are most reverently breaking the shroud of silence that encases the alcoholic family. We dare to discuss things as they are, not as they should be or as you might like them to be. We know alcoholism is one of the most prevalent diseases; one in three families are affected. The alcoholic family is "the family next door." Alcoholism is also a complex and puzzling disease; we still do not know exactly what causes it. We know it is a devastating disease. It affects the body, mind, and spirit. It affects the individual, family, and society. It is generational. And because it is generational it affects the future. There are almost 15 million Americans suffering from alcoholism or problem drinking. Their numbers are increasing by almost half a million people each year. Over 75 million Americans are affected and alcoholism costs this country over $120 billion a year. Every two and one-half minutes there is an alcohol related death.

Second, adult children of alcoholics are profoundly affected when they overcome the barrier of denial because this requires them to confront the consequences of this ravaging disease in a very personal way. Children of alcoholics are at maximum risk of becoming alcoholic themselves or developing other addictive behavior. They are at the risk of marrying an alcoholic, one or several times. And they are at the risk of developing predictable problematic patterns of behavior in which they get stuck over and over again. Yet most do not even understand what hit them. There is no such thing as growing up unaffected when alcoholism is present in a family, but it is difficult for the individual to acknowledge these problems. Arrested emotional development is inescapable unless the effects of this disease are dealt with. Alcohol is an equal opportunity destroyer. Whoever gets in its path is affected.

Third, a multitude of powerful feelings is provoked when the individual begins to come to terms with the past. Over and over we have seen adult children experience spontaneous age regression. This means that as adult children break the denial and silence, they find themselves thrown back to the past. Particular words, music, or places trigger memories from childhood. Some of these experiences have not been remembered or felt in years. Some are pleasant; many are not. All are real. Remembering and exploring the effects of growing up with alcoholism in the family is part of a larger process of learning, growth, and development. In other words, this is a journey of change. And change is always scary. No matter how miserable you are, at least your life is predictable as it is. Adult children of alcoholics often confuse stability with consistency and rigidly cling to what is familiar even though it is destructive.

Adult children of alcoholics already know much of what we shall discuss. They just do not know that they know! Our task is to make this knowledge more accessible, meaningful, and useful. We believe that in each of us there is a core of wisdom and strength. The human mind has more resources than it can possibly use. It is a vast territory of undiscovered potential. We believe people make the best choices they can with the information they have and that with new information they will make better choices. While this means our parents made the best choices they could, it does not mean that they did not make terrible mistakes at times. We believe that people grow best in an atmosphere of freedom and choice; that people with the most choices are usually the healthiest and happiest. Sometimes adult children of alcoholics are so eager to change that they will reject valuable parts of themselves. Yet there is a positive aspect to almost every part of us if we can just find the right context for its expression.

In reading this book, you may find that your experiences do not match everything that is described. Use this material as a place to begin. Take what is helpful and leave the rest. We could not possibly cover everything and we have probably left out some questions that are important to you. Begin to trust the validity of your own experiences, knowing you will make sense out of our words and find your own meaning. It is up to you to decide what kind of changes you want to make, if any, and how this book can best serve your needs. You can decide, for instance, how much of this book to read, when to read it, and with whom to share it. Sometimes the best way to move quickly is to go slowly! Honor your own pace and speed. It has been our experience that the book works best when read in sequence. However, maximum benefit will come if you also feel free to put the book down at times. Taking a walk, talking to a friend, developing a support system, or going to Al-Anon can help you get through difficult sections. Reading the book when you are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs will not be helpful.

Finally, this book provides a way to share the questions and experiences of adult children of alcoholics. Together, we will explore the inner workings of an alcoholic family. We will discover what roles the children adopt and how these bear on their adult lives. We will look at the personal and interpersonal difficulties in which adult children frequently become enmeshed. We will also talk about what can be done to overcome these difficulties and describe the recovery process. We will show that traumatic incidents in childhood can lead to abilities and personal strengths that the individual can draw upon during the recovery process. We will see how strength can be restored from wounding. We shall discover new paths to freedom.

So we welcome you on what we anticipate will be a most important journey — your journey, your recovery. It is time!

Copyright © 1985 by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

 Foreword

Preface

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Roots

1. What is an adult child of an alcoholic?

2. What is an alcoholic?

3. Why is alcoholism called a family disease?

4. What is a home like when there is an active alcoholic in the family?

5. What is a "normal" home like?

6. Does it make a difference how old I was when my parents or parent became alcoholics or if they left home when I was a child?

7. What if both parents are alcoholic?

8. How does all this apply to me if my parents were addicted to drugs other than alcohol?

9. Do all adult children of alcoholics feel the same?

10. Why do I feel so strange, confused and scared?

11. When did all this begin?

12. Where does this leave the children of alcoholics?

Chapter 3 Survival

13. Why are adult children of alcoholics called "survivors"?

14. I feel like I was never a kid. What happened to my childhood?

15. What happens when children are raised in a home where it is forbidden to talk openly about what is happening in the family?

16. What are the rules that implicitly or explicitly guide an alcoholic family?

17. What impact does this family atmosphere and these rules have upon the children?

18. How do children adjust to this very repressive environment?

19. I have played every one of these roles. Can a person play more than one role?

20. I am very successful and seem to have a good life; yet, I feel empty and unhappy. What is wrong with me?

21. What needs to happen in the survival stage so that adult children of alcoholics can begin their recovery from the effects of parental alcoholism?

Chapter 4 Emergent Awareness

22. What is emergent awareness?

23. What happens as a result of an intervention?

24. What feelings follow coming out?

25. What are some of the pitfalls at this stage?

26. What is the best way to take care of myself at this stage?

27. What resources are needed?

28. How much can I count on other people to be helpful?

29. How do I deal with my parents at this stage (whether they are dead or alive, near or far)?

30. Is it necessary to deal with the past and dredge up all that pain?

31. I don't remember much from my childhood. Is that common?

32. Why is it important to acknowledge the alcoholism in my family?

Chapter 5 Core Issues

33. What happens to children of alcoholics as they grow up?

34. In what ways do childhood roles and rules later work against adult children of alcoholics?

35. What are the main problems of adult children of alcoholics?

36. What are the most common personal issues with which adult children of alcoholics struggle?

37. What other personal issues might result?

38. In what situations are these issues most noticeable?

39. Why do I dread holidays?

40. What is the best way to take care of myself while I am confronting core issues?
ar41. What are the pitfalls at this stage?

42. How do I deal with my parents in this stage?

43. These issues seem to apply to a lot of people. Are they really unique to adult children of alcoholics?

44. What about the culturally different or the ethnic minority adult child of an alcoholic?

45. How will I ever be able to get rid of all these problems?

Chapter 6 Transformations

46. What is a transformation and how does the transformations stage fit into the recovery process?

47. How can I begin to work through what happened to me?

48. Why are issues of control and all-or-none functioning so central to adult children of alcoholics?

49. How can I begin to come to terms with my all-or-none functioning?

50. How do I begin to come to terms with the control issue?

51. I do not fully trust anybody. I believe others are somehow going to hurt me. What does this mean? Is something wrong with me?

52. How can I begin to work through my trust issues with others?

53. How do I begin to deal with my fear of intimacy?

54. Dealing with feelings is still scary for me. What are some guidelines in dealing with them, especially with the new feelings?

55. Friends and family are telling me I am getting self-centered. Am I focusing too much on myself and my past?

56. What about this notion of self-esteem?

57. How important is it for my own recovery to confront my parents at this stage?

58. How do I know that I am working things through or that transformations are really occurring?

Chapter 7 Integration

59. What is integration?

60. Why is integration so important for adult children of alcoholics?

61. I have been reading this book and feel frustrated and confused because I do not seem to be feeling better. Is there something wrong with me?

62. How can I maintain my progress and growth without creating a crisis and without sabotaging myself?

63. What are the pitfalls in this stage?

64. What are some of the most important processes in the integration stage?

65. How can I continue the process of taking better care of myself?

66. What resources are needed?

67. How can I avoid being "selfish"?

68. What kind of relationships can I expect to have with others?

69. What are my rights as an adult child of an alcoholic?

70. Is there a cure?

71. Where do I go from here?

Chapter 8 Genesis

72. What is genesis?

73. What can I do to cultivate genesis-like experiences?

74. Does genesis embrace religion?

75. Must I go through the stage of genesis? I feel like I am just getting comfortable with everything I have been learning

76. If I experience genesis, will I finally get to be perfect?

77. What other pitfalls might occur in genesis?

78. How do I deal with my parents in this stage?

79. What now?

A Final Note From The Authors

Appendices
A. Recommended Reading

B. Where To Get More Help

References

Index

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Introduction

Leslie was mesmerized. The muscles around her eyes tightened as the shock of recognition crossed her face. The stories she was hearing sounded just like hers! The other people in this group, who looked so picture-perfect, had experienced the same abandonment, the same loss of childhood, the same sense of betrayal that she had felt in a home dominated by an alcoholic parent.

Ann, who had recently celebrated her eighty-first birthday, relaxed as she heard others describe the embarrassment of their childhoods -- the humiliations, the insults, the times they were afraid to come home, and those terrible holiday scenes. As the shrouds of silence slowly disappeared, she was no longer feeling isolated and alone. There were no secrets here. These were her stories too.

Brian was trembling. He was thinking of his parents. Pangs of guilt pierced his stomach. For the first time he actually talked about what went on in his family. He dared say out load to others that his parents were alcoholic. He fidgeted as he forced himself not to pretend anymore. But it was hard! Scary! Yet, somewhere at the edge of his awareness, there was a feeling, a real feeling, that he did not want to deny.

Eric felt detached, as if he were a million miles away. He did not like to think about what had happened. He wanted to forget. What was the use anyway? Nothing changes; nothing really makes a difference. If only he could get rid of those recurring nightmares. He barely remembers them in the morning. He just knows they come.

The Leslies, Anns, Brians, Erics, and the millions of others like them, are adult children of alcoholics. Reared ina home in which one or both parents are alcoholic, they are united by the bondage of parental alcoholism. Most adult children of alcoholics have always suspected that something is wrong. They often experience loneliness and they are likely to believe that they are different from other people. They are! Without fully identifying the source of their emptiness, they have endured and suffered. They have survived the experience of living in a family where unpredictability was the one thing that could be counted on. They seldom knew what to expect from parents -- a frown or a smile, a slap or a kiss. They have survived the experience of living in a family where inconsistency was the rule. No two days were the same and they could not believe in what others said. Subjected to denial, broken promises, and lies, they were often at the mercy of parents whose feelings, perceptions and judgments were clouded by a mind-altering drug -- alcohol. They have survived the experience of living in a family where everything was arbitrary -- things were always happening by whim or impulse in ways that seemed out of control. And because their families were like this, they have survived living with a family in chaos. Almost every day there were crises and emergencies at home. It was never really safe to relax -- or be a child. Since their families represented their worlds, they lived in a world of unpredictability, inconsistency, arbitrariness, and chaos. These are the children of alcoholics.

This book is for these survivors, the children who grew up in an alcoholic family and became adults. It describes the costs they have had to pay to survive. More important, it presents a way they can re-evaluate their survival techniques in light of the problems they now face as adults. This book will help adult children of alcoholics to use these techniques as resources to propel themselves forward to a life of meaning and joy. As one adult child of an alcoholic said, "If I can use the debris of outrageous misfortune and turn it into something positive, then none of what happened to me occurred without rhyme or reason."

This book reflects recent changes in the field of alcoholism and growing efforts to identify and assist adult children of alcoholics. New and exciting things are happening. It was not until 1955 that alcoholism was recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association. In the 1960s and 1970s it slowly became increasingly clear to professionals that the family develops a parallel disease of its own. And in the late 1970s and early 1980s, explicit acknowledgment has been given to the adult survivors. Then, on Valentine's Day of 1983, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics was formed to recognize the needs and problems of children of alcoholics of all ages. Yes, things are happening!

This book is a part of what is happening. It is about a neglected minority numbering in the millions. Recent estimates indicate there are between 28 and 34 million children of alcoholics, over half of them adults. Because their survival behaviors tend to be approval-seeking and socially acceptable, the problems of most children (and adult children) of alcoholics remain invisible. It is not that they are not being treated. They are -- in mental health agencies, psychotherapists' offices, hospitals, employee assistance programs, and the judicial system. But the importance of their parents' alcoholism often does not receive the focus and attention it merits. Despite the increasing recognition of alcoholism as a family disease, children of alcoholics continue to be ignored, misdiagnosed, and inappropriately treated. Many limp into adulthood behind a facade of strength. They survive adulthood, too, but do not enjoy it.

This is a book about how children of alcoholics of all ages can begin to enjoy their adult lives. We want to share what we have been learning from the adult children of alcoholics we have encountered as therapists and educators. Most of all we want to share our enthusiasm and excitement as well as convey a message of hope and understanding. We have seen dramatic, positive changes in adult children of alcoholics once they understand how their earlier experience with familial alcoholism continues to influence them.

We invite you to join us on a journey in which we are all pioneers. The journey will help you to uncover the influence of family alcoholism. The approach we will use is a question and answer format. The questions addressed are those we have been asked most frequently by adult children of alcoholics. As we have journeyed with others, we have come to appreciate that there will be a number of responses to what is discovered. Some people are surprised, shocked, or overwhelmed by the answers. Some become angry and frustrated. Others remain skeptical and want to know where the "research" is. Some become very sad and cry, while others feel relief, elation, and hope. Few remain unaffected. There are reasons for the strong emotional responses provoked by the questions and answers presented in this book.

First and foremost, we will be talking about all those things that children of alcoholics of all ages are taught not to talk about. One of the cardinal rules in an alcoholic home is, "There's nothing wrong here and don't you dare tell anybody!" So we are most reverently breaking the shroud of silence that encases the alcoholic family. We dare to discuss things as they are, not as they should be or as you might like them to be. We know alcoholism is one of the most prevalent diseases; one in three families are affected. The alcoholic family is "the family next door." Alcoholism is also a complex and puzzling disease; we still do not know exactly what causes it. We know it is a devastating disease. It affects the body, mind, and spirit. It affects the individual, family, and society. It is generational. And because it is generational it affects the future. There are almost 15 million Americans suffering from alcoholism or problem drinking. Their numbers are increasing by almost half a million people each year. Over 75 million Americans are affected and alcoholism costs this country over $120 billion a year. Every two and one-half minutes there

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2010

    Easy to read and understand without sitting at the psychologist's

    This book is an easy Q and A format. It teaches you to identify areas in your life you can improve and learn from.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2003

    Must have for ACOAs

    The book that every ACOA should read!! It has a wealth of information and guidance for those children of alocoholic (and other dysfunctional families) just getting into recovery and needing directions. Written in a Q&A format, the book progresses from chapter to chapter ever deeper into those nagging questions and mysteries ACOAs have. I've lent my copy to many others and they, too have found it invaluable. Highly recommended!!

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