Critical Inner Voice

We have all heard it said that humans, by nature, are creatures of habit. It doesn’t seem to matter whether those habits are good for us or do us harm; they give us a certain level of comfort.

Recovery brings change that is often looked at suspiciously by those around us who are used to our dysfunction – it’s a known quantity.  Some of these people may feel threatened by our change and try to interfere with it. This is not uncommon and others in the program make us aware of this possibility.

But we also become aware of our critical inner parent that can try to sabotage our recovery with phrases like, “Maybe this is the wrong thing to do.” “Will I even know who I am if I change?” Maybe I’m too old to be doing this.” When this voice surfaces, it’s time to reach out to our ACOA fellow travelers for help and support.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Big Red Book, page 49

Letting Go

A counsel once said the reason adult children have such a tight death-grip on everything is because we’re afraid if we let go, things won’t be okay. Fear holds us in bondage. We learned it so well growing up from those we loved most. As children we were afraid to go home; afraid to leave home; afraid we did something wrong; afraid we weren’t good enough; afraid somebody was going to get hit or kicked, or we feared for our live – and the list goes on.

In the past, when things happened in our lives, we felt guilt or shame. We learned how to hold our breath and expect the worst. Today, in our recovery program, we learn many new behaviors, including letting go with the help of our Higher Power, our support group, our sponsor, and the road map of the Twelve Steps.

In ACOA, we learn to love and accept each other just the way we are. When conflict arises – and we know it will – we, as adult children, have the opportunity to practice each and every day how to become actors, not reactors, until we feel safe and comfortable.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Big Red Book, page 39

Family Disease

Family Disease

We remember wondering as we were growing up why life was so bad for us and not for other kids. We fantasized about how differently we would treat our children. They would never feel like this because we’d be the best parents – the parents we always wanted.

However, most of us weren’t able to fulfill that fantasy. We wanted to act like loving parents, but often found ourselves doing the opposite. What was wrong with us? These were our little children, why couldn’t we do things better? And the guilt began to plague us. We didn’t yet realize that the effects from our childhood were so ingrained in us No matter what we promised ourselves, no matter how sincere we were, we repeated the same behaviors.

In ACOA, we are relieved to hear others speak about the same guilt, about their inability to be the parents they want to be. It’s a relief to know we aren’t alone.

We learn that the way to heal the relationships with our own children is to first heal ourselves by recovering from the baggage we’ve carried from our childhood. As we do so, we begin to lift our heads and free ourselves from the guilt that is keeping us stuck. We begin to change the way we do things.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Big Red Book, page 156

Critical Parent

The criticism we learn growing up, whether it was from our parents, teachers or others, even other children, became so internalized that we learned to let it define us. This wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s something that happened gradually.

As adults, we carry these shaming messages with us in the form of our own personal inner critical parent. This is why we continue to ‘beat ourselves up’ when we miss the nuance of a situation or make even the smallest error in judgment. These ‘mistakes’ might be as simple as walking out the door in front of someone and accidentally cutting them off. Or maybe we’re having trouble following a conversation. Our critical inner parent jumps right in with, “How could you be so stupid?” or “What’s wrong with you?” When we allow this voice to rule our thoughts, we can second-guess almost everything we do.

As we learn in ACOA, to silence that critical voice, we replace those messages with more loving thoughts that tell us we haven’t done anything wrong – we’re okay! If we accidentally cut someone off, we apologize and move on. And we realize there could be many reasons why we’re not following what someone is saying. Maybe they aren’t painting a complete picture, so we can ask them to explain or rephrase.

Our new responses show strength and they empower us.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Big Red Book, page 307

Authority Figures

As children we may have been terrified to voice a thought about anything to the authority figures in our lives. We learned to keep quiet because we usually didn’t know what reaction we might get.

As adults, we may still have found ourselves reacting to authority in the same manner, whether it was in a work environment or even a social group or organization that resembled a workplace structure or purpose. We may have tried to avoid authority figures, but they’re everywhere. Being self-employed didn’t insulate us from these interactions, either.

Even in ACOA, some of us place others in roles of authority where we find ourselves recreating our family structure. But recovery is where we can become aware of our reactions and practice new ways of acting. Before we talk to an authority figure, we can stop and perform a reality check. Are we imagining the worst? Is this person going to respond like my dysfunctional parent did years ago?

If we are fearful, a very successful technique many of us use is to write a script and role-play with a trusted friend. As part of this process, we give ourselves plenty of affirmations. Growth happens when we find that the more we actually do talk to authority figures, the more our confidence increases. At last we begin to see ourselves as recovering adults, not fearful children.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Big Red Book, page 417

Adult Child Defined

Before finding, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), we didn’t have the opportunity to learn another way to live except from the standpoint of the dysfunction with which we were raised. As children, most of us quickly figured out what we needed to think, say, and do in order to avoid the most pain. We survived the best way we could, relying on only ourselves to get by.

As adults, often our automatic reactions to situations involved extensions of the behaviors we learned as children. We are adults by appearance, but have yet to mature past our childhood reactions. We are haunted by unresolved trauma that easily wreaks havoc in our lives. It is not our fault that we didn’t come away with better life skills; we could not have turned out any differently. With the help of the Twelve Steps, we now have a Solution to our Problem. Through ACOA, we have the love and support we need to grow through our childhood pain into the confident and secure adults we were mean to be.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics, Big Red Book, page 302


As children we had an innocent wish to be heard, held, and protected. But in most of our homes, that didn’t happen. When we spoke, it was usually the beginning of trouble. When we tried to cuddle or show affection, we were ignored, laughed at, or flirted with. Most of the time we were alone. The idea of being protected was non-existent. We grew up in a world where the norm was “anything goes, anytime.” It was almost impossible to keep up with what was going on, but we did our best.

We fantasized about having a different family where we could be ourselves and it would be okay. We wished for a place overflowing with love, a safe place where voices were soft and sweet, and where everyone just talked, laughed, and played together. It is so sad that we didn’t get that. We deserved a bright and happy childhood, didn’t we?

Our Inner Child is still waiting for this dream to be made real. This desire is still as strong as it was long ago. Who is going to be the person to bring this dream to this child?

In the ACOA program we find that dreams can come true. Here, we are able to begin again, one day at a time. We can give our Inner Child all that we weren’t given. Recovering dreams is what this program is all about.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics, Big Red Book, page 430

Tradition One

Our feelings of self-doubt are often revealed by the exchanges we have at a business meeting.  They tend to surface in concealed forms of control and its close cousin, manipulation.

When the group is considering taking an action, we may voice a concern or point out that it may violate a Tradition.  If a course of action is taken that we disagree with, our personal program helps us to admit we are powerless and accept the things we cannot change.

We are mindful that unity does not mean complete agreement.  Still, we strive for substantial unanimity in making the group’s decisions.  We actively seek out the voices of dissent, giving them an opportunity to be heard.  This ensures that all sides of a discussion are heard, and perhaps compromises may be reached.

Actively listening to each other is an exercise in inclusivity.  Decisions that raise resentment may have to be tabled or revisited when feelings are not running as high.  Nonetheless, if the group’s decision is firmly grounded in the ACOA Traditions, even if we disagree, we are called on to turn over our personal agenda.


Source:  Adult Children of Alcoholics, Big Red Book, page 492

Buried Feelings

How can we honor our feelings when many of us were brought up by parents who implied or directly told us that we shouldn’t talk about, think about, or even have our feelings? They told us we were “imagining things,” or said “Stop making a big deal out of nothing.” They said showing feelings and emotion would turn us into weaklings. It was more important to look good and not be concerned with feelings, especially those related to fear, anger, and sadness. How would we be able to stand on our own two feet if we were shadow-boxing with unnecessary emotions? We got the message loud and clear and kept our feelings buried to decades.

But how long can we go on stuffing things before it affects us emotionally, mentally, and physically; before people shun us because these denied feelings start manifesting themselves as inappropriate behavior?

In ACOA, we begin to recognize and honor our feelings in real time. When fear, anger, envy, greed, and jealousy appears, we identify and filter them as honestly as possible. Sometimes simply acknowledgement and perspective-gathering is enough. But we also should be prepared to talk about our feelings for the purpose of gaining true understanding and acceptance. As we do so, resilience and serenity begin to permeate our minds and our souls.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Big Red Book, page 589


Who were our mirrors? It was the people who told us in words and actions how unwanted, bothersome, or stupid we were. We tried to do what they wanted, but it was usually never enough. Any approval we got was conditional. And it evaporated if we let down our guard by not getting perfect grades, not taking care of our siblings the right way, or not doing the housework well enough.

We didn’t know who we really were because our identity was whatever they told us it was.

What brings most of us to ACOA is that we eventually get tired of trying, isolating, and stuffing our feelings. This is where we learn to accept that our parents and families are never going to be like the ones on television or down the street. Instead of continuing to recreate the rejection and abandonment we received as children, we learn to love and affirm ourselves. Our sponsors and fellow travelers tell us to accept only what is good and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. We keep following these suggestions repeatedly until we notice we are no longer who we were once told we had to be. We are strong and independent.


Source: Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), Big Red Book, page 84