A Generational Curse of Shame

Shame has proven to be a generational curse in my family; although because of denial, shame in my family was normalized.

I inherited shame from both parents.  My father suffered shame due to family abandonment.  He was born out of wedlock, and his entire parental side of the family refused to acknowledge him.  To cope with his pain, he abused alcohol and tobacco.  The shame that followed him throughout his life greatly impacted the lives of my brothers and me.  My mother, like me, was also a child of an alcoholic – so my life literally has mirrored hers.

It’s helpful to now be aware of how the shroud of shame has shaped my life but change does not come easy.  So my struggle continues.





My Self-Care Journey

For the past five months I’ve been focusing on taking better care of myself. As crazy as it sounds, ACOAs are not very good at self-care. I started out strong; benefiting from a healthier diet and regular exercise, and my reward was a 15 pound weight loss.

But many ACOAs are affected by sugar imbalances or sensitivities, which result in mood swings and ‘sugar blues’. Somewhere along my journey I began to reward myself or appease myself with sugary treats. I fell back on my old habits and found myself craving chocolate treats.

Somehow I was able to observe myself; it was almost like an out of body experience, frantically searching the refrigerator and cupboard for something sweet to eat. I wasn’t hungry so what was I searching for? What void was I trying to fill?

I had to remind myself that recovery is not something attained then forgotten. ACOAs tend to get lazy, letting their thinking, feeling, and behavior fall into the well-worn groove of their old survival stage patterns. It’s time for me to re-focus and begin taking care of myself again.


Procrastination – Do it now or do it later

I think procrastination is caused by fear of failure, or perhaps a fear of success.  Adult children of alcoholics tend to procrastinate because we are dealing with perfectionism, low self-esteem, or negative self-belief.  Therefore, we procrastinate to protect ourselves.

The reward of procrastination is often relieving stress.  I had an achievable goal to lose twenty pounds in 12 weeks.  I was on a diet and exercise program and was doing great.  After losing 14 pounds my efforts seemed to stall.  I began to sabotage my efforts by working out less and eating sugary snacks.

I have to wonder if depression plays a role in procrastination.  In other words, perhaps procrastination can lead to depression and depression can result in procrastination.  Being an avoider, I would typically tend to ignore such a possibility but now I’m trying to be more open minded.  No answers – just exploring the possibility.


The Transformation Continues

In 2015, I identified as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA).  Since then, I continued to struggle to shed some of those nasty ACOA habits, like procrastination, anxiety, self-doubt, and self-sabotage.

I once had a dream about snakes.  Snakes shed their skin to allow for further growth and to remove parasites that have attached to their old skin.  As a snake grows, its skin becomes stretched.  The classic dream of the snake is a symbol of transformation.

I’ve come a long way in my growth-transformation but find that I still have a long way to go.  I still struggle in some areas and the process of going through my transformation is still uncomfortable.  Yet I know I am changing with the help of my higher power, I can do all things.

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


Dysfunctional Family Rule

Unreliability – Don’t trust anyone and you will not be disappointed

When you grow up with an alcoholic father, you learn early not to put too much stock into anything his says.  Promises are broken on a regular basis – not to be cruel but it’s all about priorities.  Given the choice between buying the toy you’d been asking for he decides his money is best spent on a pint of gin and a pack of cigarettes.

The addiction takes precedence in almost all matters in the alcoholic’s life.  My father was unable or willing to fight the addiction; therefore, never tried to quit drinking and smoking.  As an adult, I justified his action – at least the mortgage was always paid on time and the utilities were never cut off.  Looking back, I’d characterize him as a “functioning alcoholic.”  And although he lived in the home with his family – he was emotionally unavailable.

After a while, I became emotionally disconnected.  I had decided that I would no longer allow my father to disappointment me – so I asked for little and expected even less.  I grew up believing that I could only rely on, and trust myself.  Unfortunately, my relationships with men and others have been affected.  But thankfully, with ACOA awareness I’m learning to trust.


We Wear the Mask

We Wear the Mask
By Paul Laurence Dunbar (1913)

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, –
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

In this poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, the mask refers to people hiding their true feelings behind a false expression. Specifically, he is referring to the cheerful face that so many African Americans felt necessary to wear. When I first read it, it reminded me of being a child of an alcoholic; how I used humor in front of my friends to hide the shame I felt being a member of such a dysfunctional family. I wanted so much to belong to what I believed to be a normal family – the kind you saw on television. I wished that I had the courage back then to remove the mask. I bet I would have found that I was not alone.


Still a Work in Progress

Since learning about the ACOA laundry list about three years ago, I go back and check it from time to time to see if I have made any major improvements. I see that my sense of over-responsibility stills tends prevent me from having fun.

I guess on some level I am still angry because so many events and holidays growing up were sabotaged by the alcoholics in my family, I don’t expect to have fun. I also feel guilty if I want to spend time by myself doing what I want to do because of my responsibility to assist my mother on the daily basis due to her advanced age and visual impairment.

I’m not blaming my upbringing or current situation with my mother. I have the ability to change those things that are within my power. But when certain attributes are so well ingrained into the fabric of your being, it manifests itself as a part of your make up.

I know that I must constantly remind myself that I am free to have fun and not be anxious of the possibility of that fun being ruined.

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