I didn’t grow up in an alcoholic home. Sure, my parents drank…didn’t everyone’s? Didn’t every house built in the 50’s have a bar in it? Wasn’t it normal to have a high-ball (or two) after a tough day at work? My parents were nice people who held jobs and paid their bills, etc.; so to my way of thinking, there was no alcoholism present.
The first time I heard the term, “Adult Children of Alcoholics,” was in college back in the early 80’s. A friend mentioned that she attended support group meetings because she grew up in a home touched by alcoholism. I thought it sounded like a rather unusual thing to do. Why would you want to sit around and talk about things that happened that long ago? The past was the past. Move on, right? Plus, I couldn’t identify with it at all because I didn’t grow up in an alcoholic home.
Well, fast forward about 30 years to 2010. That year, I filed for divorce from my second spouse who (like the first) was abusing substances. My house, located in a very affluent ZIP code, was in foreclosure. My business was on the skids because I was overly focused on the craziness I’d been living with, and I entered bankruptcy proceedings. FINALLY, I began to consider the possibility that alcoholism might be a contributor to my issues. But it took some time to realize that the alcoholism that was affecting me in 2010 really had infected me back when I was a kid. Could I be an Adult Child?
I did what every Adult Child does when faced with a question they don’t have an answer to. I started researching. And researching. And researching. Hopefully, if you are an Adult Child reading this post, I can save you a little time.
There’s an organization that began in the late 70’s called ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) whose purpose is the provide a support system and a program of recovery for people whose lives were affected by the alcoholism of a parent. ACOA’s founder developed “The Laundry List,” an inventory of traits common among individuals who were raised in alcoholic (or dysfunctional) families. I present that in its original form:
The Laundry List
- We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
- We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
- We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
- We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
- We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
- We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
- We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
- We became addicted to excitement.
- We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
- We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).
- We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
- We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
- Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
- Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
Can you identify with any of this? If you’re like me, you may have mixed feelings about this description. One emotion that emerged for me when I read it was sadness. In the ACA text, it states, “the common denominator among adult children from a variety of dysfunctional homes is chronic loss and abandonment.” That’s some heavy stuff! But the stronger emotion that arose in me when I read the Laundry List was shame. I couldn’t shake the idea that “I am flawed.” I am forever grateful for the words that appear in this group’s text that reduced those feelings of shame: “This is a description, not an indictment.”
Being an Adult Child is not a sentence. For me, it was quite the opposite. It marked the beginning of a much deeper level of awareness of who I am. This understanding brought me to acceptance of the impact alcoholism had (and has) on my life so I can take necessary action to replace unhealthy behaviors with ones that promote peace…with myself and with other humans. It’s been work, (work that, by the way, included a coach!) but the rewards have been amazing.
I’ve heard it said, “take the next step, and let the next step be revealed.” If you are an Adult Child of alcoholics (or any type of dysfunction), you have just taken the next step by reading this article and pondering the Laundry List. Now the challenge is to be open to whatever revelation the next step reveals.