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
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.
In this New Year my goal is to work on being more transparent. As a child of an alcoholic I lived with the shame of being a member of dysfunctional family. I ignored the reality of my home life and pretended my family was normal; even though I had no idea what normal really was.
I’ve been wearing a mask for years now; the façade of a normal life. I didn’t know others felt the way I felt growing up. It’s a great relief to know I’m not alone. But giving up the mask totally has not been easy. I’m still hiding to a certain degree and that constricts me. But through prayer and hard work, I know I will finally be free.
Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.
One of my favorite entertainers of all times in the late, great Michael Jackson. Despite his fame and fortune, he most likely was an undiagnosed ACOA.
Look at his life, Michael Jackson was raised by an abusive father who demanded perfection. And he grew up to become one of the most popular dysfunctional people. His life and tragic death, allegedly brought on by drug abuse, illustrates how untreated personal issues can grow from hidden pain to eventually become an unmanageable life and a shortened life span.
Michael was rich and famous and surrounded by brownnosers and hangers-on whose livelihood depended on not challenging the status quo. If Michael’s family tried to intervene, they were not successful.
He had isolated himself so deeply in a cocoon of denial, drugs and an entourage of so-called protectors, he never had to face reality. If Michael wasn’t able to come out of his self-imposed isolation, ACOA recovery was an impossibility.
The lesson here is that no matter who you are, how much money or fame you have, the first step to getting badly needed help is still coming out of isolation.
Rest in Peace, Michael
Source: Adult Children of Alcoholic/ACAs/ACOAs/ACODFs Blog
I had a lot of fears growing up ACOA. My father was at the root of those fears. I was always afraid that he would embarrass me in front of my friends when he was drunk. He was very talkative after he’d a few drinks and it annoyed me to no end.
When I grew up, I unconsciously gravitated to men just like my father; drinkers and smokers. I hated these habits, but it’s all I’d ever known. My brothers drank liquor and smoked, my mother and her best friend enjoyed drinking beer. It was all I’d seen. I evidently began to drink alcohol and beer too, although I never enjoyed it.
I supposed it’s easy to fall into bad patterns of dysfunctional behavior if you’re not paying attention. You take things as they are and accept them as normal. I’m thankful for learning about the effects of being a child of an alcoholic. I continue to try to make strides to overcome my dysfunctional upbringing, although this in no easy feat.
Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins, and I’m an adult child of an alcoholic.
Growing up with an alcoholic parent, I was under the misguided belief that my father’s excessive drinking was somehow my fault. I thought if I could be the ‘good’ daughter, dare I say even the ‘perfect’ daughter, my father wouldn’t need to drink and all would be well again. However erroneous this thought process may have seemed, it at least enabled me to survive my dysfunctional upbringing.
My brothers may have felt the opposite, seeing our fathers’ alcoholism for what it was: a destructive, chaotic force taking away any consistency, trust, love, and happiness from what might have been an idyllic childhood. The concept that their alcoholic parent was indeed sick but playing the best they could with the card they’d been dealt was somewhat helpful.
There is value in ‘going back in’ and recognizing what happened in the past and its continuing effect on our lives today. We now must try to become our own loving parent and unhook those old erroneous survival techniques we adapted as children and move on.
Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.
Reference: Hugh Trethowan (2017)
Growing up in an alcoholic home can make you feel insure and crave acceptance. I know these characteristics apply to me, yet I’m still in somewhat of a state of denial about my dysfunctional upbringing.
A child of an alcoholic endures constant lying, manipulation, and harsh parenting. It makes it hard to trust people. It also leads to being highly sensitive to criticism and conflict. This is true of me, yet I could not pinpoint anything in my past that that would cause this. It must be a deliberate mental block. I’m always trying to prove my worth and make others happy.
Now as an adult I tend to try to control everyone and everything that feels out of control. And I struggle to express myself. I suppose on some subconscious level I’m remembering how unsafe it was to speak up in my family.
The road to wholeness is long and lonely. Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering adult child of an alcoholic.