Still a Lost Child

ACoA identifies family member roles in the dysfunctional family.  I identify as the lost child.  The lost child becomes the least obvious member of the family, but their troubles are no less significant.  The lost child in the alcoholic family blends into the woodwork for fear of causing problems.  They have already seen what happens to the scapegoat, in my family this was my older brother, and want no part of that.

I became the model child.  I never asked my parents for anything that I wasn’t 100 percent sure they would approve of beforehand.  In school, I stayed in the shadows, not aligning myself with any particular group.  I even withheld my potential for being a high achieving student – not wanting the attention that it would draw to myself.

The lost child role that I took on all those years ago was meant to distract from the true pain in the family.  But I have carried this character trait well into adulthood and it has not served me well.  I still find myself blending into the woodwork; trying not to cause trouble and discourse at home, at work and with family members.

I’ve been called the peacemaker of the family but in reality I’m still just employing that decades old coping mechanism from my childhood.

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




When Adult Children of Alcoholics Become Moms

I talk about how my father’s drinking affected me, but I must remember that my mother grew up with an alcoholic father too. Growing up with addiction is often traumatizing and can lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If PTSD related issues remain unresolved, as hers did, they can become a hot button in parenting. Even though she herself did not become an alcoholic, the thinking, feeling and behavior remained.

People don’t realize the extent to which addiction impacts family members, especially the kids. Childhood development is seriously impacted by growing up around the confusion and pain that surrounds addiction. And that trauma stays with them and affects their parenting. My mom’s fight or flight responses were activated over and over again by the disturbing dynamics of growing up in an alcoholic induced environment and she became traumatized by that experience.

That trauma surfaced years later in a post-traumatic stress reaction when she married my father, also an alcoholic. And her unresolved pain showed up as she became an ACoA mother. It showed up in the same way that a car backfiring triggers soldiers because it reminds them of gunfire. The dependency and vulnerability of intimacy also act as triggers for ACoA moms. When children of alcoholics grow up and attempt to create families of their own, the emotional dynamics of close, dependent partner and parent relationships act as primers for what is stored in their memory systems on the subject of “familying.”

ACoAs are oftentimes high achievers; they have been managing on their own for years, so on the surface they can be quite functional and successful. However, their hypervigilance and woundedness can remain hidden underneath defenses that have been in place since childhood.

Understanding my mother as an ACoA mom helps me understand myself as an ACoA. Her old pains have been passed down to my brothers and me but I have a chance to make changes in my life and not continue to be affected by the wounds of my mother’s past.

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


Source: Dr. Tian Dayton (2015)

I am my own best friend

Adult Children of Alcoholics tend to cater to the needs of others rather themselves.  It began in childhood when we always had to care for our alcoholic parent.  For me it was my father who was the alcoholic.  I worried about him when he was drunk.  He’d heat up food on the stove then pass out at the kitchen table leaving the food to burn.  My fear was he would one day burn down the house.  Things like this were real concerns for me and caused me great anxiety.

I still suffer from great anxiety, now with my ACOA mom who insists on living alone.  She is visually impaired now and have burned herself a few times using the stove and oven.  But despite this need to focus on myself and take care of me.  Giving to others all the time and withholding from myself is not a good thing.

I pledge to myself this 2018 Good Friday that I will encourage, support and congratulate myself.  Put myself first for a change and be my own best cheerleader.

Unlearning my old habits from my past requires real effort on my part.  It’s easy to slip into my old ways but I’m up for the task.  I just have to keep reminding myself.

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




After you admit that someone else’s substance use disorder negatively affected you, good things happen.

My father died when I was 21 years old.  I believed that if my father stopped drinking, life would be perfect.  And I chased perfection my entire life.  After his death, my disdain for his drinking faded.  My memories of his drunkenness softened from embarrassment to precious, funny antidotes.  Because I was in denial about my father’s alcoholism, every relationship I had was with an alcoholic.  I didn’t labeled these men as such because I never applied the label to my father.

When I finally accepted that my father was indeed an alcoholic, thereby making me a classic adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA), my life and the decisions that I’ve made over the years made sense.

Learning about what it means to be ACOA and attending meetings with other ACOAs has been an interesting process.  I learned that I was completely screwed over as result of the unpredictable and dysfunctional environment I’d lived in.  I was ill and needed help.

This journey of healing and creating an awesome grownup life started when I accepted that I am an adult child of an alcoholic.  Based on my experience, I believe three important things happen when you realize that being an ACOA is totally a thing:  You are the way you are because of the stuff that went down or didn’t go down.  There are literally hundreds of books written about the psychological effects of growing up with an alcoholic parent.  This stuff is real and it’s a familial cycle.


Source: Jody Lamb, Three ways life changes after you admit having an alcoholic parent deeply affected you, March 18, 2018

The Need to Feel in Control

Feeling out of control is scary for most people, but even more so for adult children of alcoholics (ACOA). Living with an alcoholic is unpredictable, especially when you’re a child. Trying to control people and situations is a coping strategy that children of alcoholics develop to deal with chaotic and dysfunctional family situations. It is normal and adaptive. In other words, your desire to control everything in your life is an understandable outcome of growing up in an overwhelming and traumatic family environment.

As a young child I mistakenly thought I could control my father’s drinking. I tried to get him to stop drinking and behaving in dangerous and embarrassing drunken ways. Children of alcoholics vacillate between frantically trying to control their parent’s drinking and feeling completely powerless and out of control.

Unfortunately, as an adult I still apply my controlling ways now with my equally controlling ACOA mother. We are at odds these days because at 86 she insists on living alone and preparing her own food when her low vision says that it’s dangerous for her to do so. I moved her into an assisted living facility because she burned herself on several occasions using the stove and oven. My controlling nature wants to tell her what to do and what is best for her. Her equally controlling nature opposes me at every turn and it is so frustrating.

Our efforts to control show up as getting upset when things don’t go our way and being inflexible. Giving up trying to control things means you trust that you can cope with whatever life has in store; a goal I constantly strive to achieve.

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


Source: Sharon Martin, LCSW, 2017, Happily Imperfect

Learning to Relax

Letting go of perfectionism for me has been challenging. My mind runs all the time – even when I sleep. I often feel compelled to work and busyness has become a part of my identity and self-worth.

Recently I began practicing yoga every day and it seems to be making me a better person. I’m particularly drawn to the part of yoga that deals with balance. My yoga balance is terrible – I tip over all the time, but I don’t give up. I liken this to my life. My life is terribly unbalanced. I spend the majority of my time taking care of others. But my yoga time (early each morning) is my time.

Balance is a state of mind that comes from knowing yourself at your deepest level of truth. When you find that stable center within yourself that yoga helps you uncover, you are strong enough to handle any situation.

I look forward to continuing to improve balance on the yoga mat and practice finding balance in my personal life.

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


Source: Kino MacGregor, Do You Yoga

ACOAs Benefit from Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation build awareness.  And the more aware you are, the easier it is to break free of destructive emotions like anger.  Studies suggest that chronic anger and hostility are as strongly linked to heart attacks as are smoking, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol.

For the last year of so, I’ve found myself more angry than usual.  I’m mostly angry at myself for being a people-pleasing ACOA all my life.  But my ACOA mother doesn’t make things any easier.  As she advances in age she is becoming more demanding, unreasonable and irrational.  It’s like her ACOA switch is off the chart.

I recently began doing yoga and meditation every morning and I can already feel a difference in myself.  I read an article online by author, Timothy McCall, M.D., which said yoga appears to reduce anger by increasing feelings of compassion and interconnection and by calming the nervous system and the mind.  It also increases your ability to step back from the drama of your own life, to remain steady in the face of bad news or unsettling events.

So instead of reacting or overreacting to my mother’s ACOA bad behavior I can get into Zen-mode with yoga and meditation.

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


Source: Timothy McCall (2007).  Yoga Journal: 38 Health Benefits of Yoga.