The Lost Child II

I was reading an article online by Louise Behiel entitled “The Lost Child: Invisible and Unheard.”  She said that the lost child, which I identify as, understands or feels the strain the family is under.  As a result, they try to minimize their demands on their parents and siblings.  I certainly avoided any push back my parents might have given by not asking to go to parties and other events that I knew they would not approve of.  I didn’t fight for the things I really wanted.  To this day, I feel somewhat guilty when I attend a number of events in close proximity of each other.

Behiel says, as a result, lost children are often overlooked.  This leaves them feeling lonely, rejected and isolated.  The conundrum is they get what they want but that result leaves them feeling empty.  The lost child spends much time doing activities such as daydreaming, fantasizing, reading, and watching television.  This describes my childhood to a tee.

This article also got me thinking about another article I read, in which I learned that I was a compulsive eater.  It got me wondering – does compulsive eating mean I’m feeling empty inside?  That the inner child in me is starved for affection or attention?  Am I denying that this exist in me because I was taught to be strong and independent?  This is more eye-opening information to ponder.

Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins, and I’m a recovering Adult Child of and Alcoholic.

Repost from My ACOA Life Blog at




The manifestation of growing up with an alcoholic parent

For those of you who lived with an alcoholic parent during your childhood and teen years, your life may have been chaotic, emotionally turbulent, and sometimes frightening. But the feelings of anxiety, grief, and instability may not have ended when you left home. These feelings can last well into adult years and manifest in many different ways.

Some common characteristics include:

  • We are chronic people pleasers who constantly seek out approval and affirmation from others.
  • We have problems regulating and achieving balance with our emotions. We are either overly emotional or we shut down our emotions because of the overload.
  • Our fight or flight instincts are amped up. We are hypervigilant about looking for threats or danger in our environment. We tend to over react to any sign of what we feel to be impending danger whether that threat is real or not.
  • We can easily become involved with people who we feel need “saving” as this mimics our relationship with our parent figure. We may choose to live with another alcoholic or someone with an addiction and replay that history out all over again.
  • We are terrified of abandonment. We will cling onto unstable relationships even when they are unhealthy for us because we can’t stand the thought of being left alone.
  • We have great problems with trust. We either trust too much where it is not warranted or we trust too little. We lack the emotional history of understanding how trust works.
  • We may feel guilt and shame as though our parent’s problem was our fault. We may have learned as children to keep secrets and not discuss what was really happening in our family.
  • We may be overly responsible in some circumstances but in other situations we may be deemed as very irresponsible.
  • We may be addicted to drama and excitement in our lives leading to high risk behaviors.
  • We may self-medicate through food, sex, work, spending money, drinking alcohol or doing drugs as a way to deal with our emotional pain.

The key to moving on is not to blame but to be conscious of the role our parents had in shaping our current life choices. It is possible to break the family patterns by coping in healthy ways such as reaching out and gaining support.




Moving from anger to forgiveness is a healing experience

Adults who grew up with alcoholic parents probably have plenty to be mad about. As children, they were virtually powerless to stop the forms of abuse and neglect they often suffered. They couldn’t express their anger or outrage in a healthy manner. Instead, many either acted out their anger by getting into trouble or reacted inwardly by converting anger into shame, depression or low self-esteem.

It can take years of hard work to discover how deep the wounds really go. If anger isn’t eventually dealt with responsibly, it can be a major block to personal growth.

Unresolved anger is often a factor in addictive and compulsive behaviors and relapse. Holding on to old anger can cause people to avoid conflict, procrastinate, and give up their needs. It can poison relationships and prevent true intimacy. It breeds bitterness, resentment, mistrust and fear.

“People who carry around a lot of resentment tend to be more reactive to day-to-day situations,” said a Hazelden Family Program specialist. “If a driver makes a slight error in judgment on the highway, some people may react by screaming or shaking a fist at the driver–not because of the actual occurrence, but because they have a huge bank of anger inside that is tapped with the slightest provocation. Family members or significant others also become the recipients of repressed, misplaced anger. If people blow up at their boss, they probably won’t last long on the job. Spouses and children tend to tolerate that kind of behavior for a longer period of time.”

Many people have a lot of anger inside them, but they don’t realize it. Accepting that we are angry and identifying the reasons why helps us begin to let go.

“If your heart was broken because you always wanted to be hugged by your mother and father and they were never there, or you experienced actual abuse, you’ve got a valid gripe,” said Earnie Larsen, a workshop leader and author of From Anger to Forgiveness. “But once you understand and acknowledge that, you need to work through the anger and move beyond it to forgiveness and reconciliation. Otherwise, you’re just stuck in a cycle of resentment and bitterness.”

The people most likely to hang on to anger are those who come from dysfunctional families–people who didn’t get their feelings validated as children or who were forced to deny their feelings. “Anger is the emotional response to perceived injustice,” Larsen said. “It is always a justice issue. It’s thinking or feeling that ‘I don’t count,’ or ‘My thoughts aren’t important.'”

An important part of recovery for alcoholics and adult children of alcoholics involves doing the “anger work” and moving towards forgiveness. The first stage in this process is to understand the incidents that still trigger anger.

Source: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation


Internal Addiction – The Hidden Problem

It is important to note that ACOAs have taken in or internalized both parents.  This includes the parent who appears more functional compared to the alcoholic or chemically addicted parent.  Experience show that the “functional” or non-alcoholic parent passes on just as many traits as the identified alcoholic.  The non-alcoholic parent also passes on his or her pattern of “internal drug abuse.”  The para-alcoholic (the non-drinking parent) is driven by fear, excitement, and pain from the inside.

The biochemical surge and cascade of inner “drugs” that accompany these states of distress and upheaval can impact children as profoundly as outside substances.  Experience shows that the non-drinking parent’s reaction to these inside drugs affects the children just as the alcoholic’s drinking affects them.  This may sound technical, but it is important to understand if we are to comprehend the reach of a dysfunctional upbringing.

As children of alcoholics, we were affected by the alcoholic drinking from without and by the para-alcoholic drugs from within.  It is believed that long-term effects of fear transferred to us by a non-alcoholic parent can match the damaging effects of alcohol.  This is why many ACOAs can abstain from drinking alcohol, but be driven by inner drugs that can bring difficulties as we attempt to recover.  This legacy of fear and distorted thinking seems to drive our switching from one addictive behavior to another as we try to make changes in our lives.

To think about internal dosing another way, consider this.  The alcoholic can be removed from the family by divorce or separation, but nothing in the home really changes.  The alcohol abuse or other dysfunction is gone, but the home remains fearful and controlling.  Boundaries are unclear.  The children don’t talk about feelings.  They either become enmeshed with the non-drinking parent or alienated from him or her.

The rules of don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel apply even with the removal of obvious dysfunction.  The inside drugs are at work.  The non-drinking parent’s fear, excitement, and pain have been passed to the next generation.  This is the internalization of parental feelings and behavior in its purest form.

Adapted from ACA Fellowship Text (formerly Handbook) pp. 23-24

© Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Inc.


The parentified child

Often children of alcoholic parents don’t get to just be kids. They’re saddled with responsibilities, worries, and shame from an early age. They don’t have friends over because it’s not allowed, they’re ashamed, or home is unpredictable and they can’t plan ahead.

Adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) remember being giving tons of freedom or material possessions, but there wasn’t connection, supervision, or consequences. On the one hand, kids certainly like staying up as late as they want and playing unlimited video games, but they don’t feel safe when there isn’t supervision and rules.

Sometimes children of alcoholic families don’t feel loved. When kids aren’t given positive attention or encouragement, they feel damaged and unworthy of love. If an alcoholic parent is too busy drinking or passed out to show up for the school pay or basketball game, children internalize this as, “I don’t matter.” And nothing hurts more than feeling unloved and unwanted by your parents.

These effects can be experienced as feeling anxious and fearful, expecting perfection and being very hard on yourself and others, difficulty relaxing and having fun, being overly responsible, difficulty trusting and have intimate relationships, feeling overwhelmed by parenthood and having trouble setting rules/consequences for your own children.

If you feel like you didn’t have a childhood because of your parents’ alcoholism, you are not alone. Many ACOAs feel that having an alcoholic parent had a profound and lasting impact on them. Others don’t think it had any impact at all. For many it’s not until they reach adulthood or become parents themselves that they realize the effects of growing up in an alcoholic family.

Source: Sharon Martin, LCSW (2017), Psych Central Blog, Happily Imperfect


The ACOA Cycle

There’s an old adage, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  I couldn’t help thinking I must be nuts.  I kept picking the same type of man (drinkers, smokers, and basically unreliable), not realizing they all had the same attributes of my father.  I hate these traits, by the way.  So why was I drawn to them?

Richard Taite, Author, CEO and Founder of the Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center says the fallout of drug and alcohol addiction in the family can carry on for a lifetime.  If either or both parents used, the odds are that you (or your spouse) will too.  Why?  Because human beings have a tendency to recreate the homes we had as children.  If your life was chaotic and tumultuous as a child, it’s a good bet that you’ll either drink like your parents or create the chaos in your home or you’ll marry a drinker who will make your world a living nightmare – the same nightmare you lived as a child.

ACOA awareness is crucial to help people make better and more informed choices when entering into relationships.

Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic.


Loving someone with ACOA Trauma Syndrome

Some of you may be concerned about how angry, toxic behavior patterns, and poor communication style have affected your lives and love relationships.  Many don’t understand the origin of these behaviors, and can’t change what you don’t understand.

Riana Milne specializes in an area called – ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic) Personality Trauma Syndrome; working with adult clients (and their partners) who suffered trauma as children.  Strangely enough, it is not a condition or a Personality Disorder described in the DSM – IV; the Diagnostic book for Mental Health Therapists.  There is an ACA – Adult Children of Alcoholics 12 step program founded on the belief that family dysfunction is a disease that infected us as children, and affects us as adults.

There are nine categories of trauma:

  1. Having an addicted parent – to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, porn, pills, etc.
  2. Being emotionally abused
  3. Being verbally abused
  4. Being physically abused, molested, or raped
  5. Being abandoned.
  6. If you were adopted, part of the foster care system, or needed to live with another relative due to family hardship
  7. A sibling had trauma (medical issues, an addiction, or required special care)
  8. You endured personal trauma (bullying, medical issue, a physical challenge)
  9. Family trauma – poverty, many moves due to military, parent incarcerated, loss of home by flood or fire, domestic violence, etc.

Toxic adult relationships and many adult addictions occur due to the aftermath of these childhood traumas.  ACOAs often have successful careers and hold it together on the job; the real dysfunction emerges within their love relationships.  Poor coping mechanisms (like shutting down emotionally if afraid, or just the opposite – yelling and screaming with anger when frustrated, to control or intimidate your partner, or get your needs met) are all ACOA behaviors.  Ongoing anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, signs of extreme stress under normal circumstances, panic attacks, perfectionism of your partner, high sex drive or need for attention from the opposite sex, addictions and feelings of abandonment…are just a few of the faulty behaviors, way of thinking or being, that ACOAs have trouble with.  Adults often try to self-medicate with alcohol, pot, or various pills to calm themselves down, or tolerate their abuse or depression; which often leads to an addiction.

ACOAs often attract an ACOA partner.  Their initial dating is full of intense closeness, dramatic romance, affection, and they seek commitment right away.  This could look like a great start to exclusive dating; however, within 3-6 months, signs of jealousy, control, intimidation and mind-games often enter into their relationship.

This dynamic gets worse with time, so it is important to understand your childhood triggers, how they affect you as an adult, correct them, and properly communicate through arising problems and challenges.

Source: Riana Milne, MA, Certified, Global Relationship, Love & Life Coach, August 3, 2016 #ACoAAwareness