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.




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

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


Unhooking from the past

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)

When your mother is ACOA

Bestselling author, speaker, and healer, Lisa Romano wrote an interesting article, which gave me further insight into my mother, who is also an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA).

She said if your mother was emotionally neglected as a child because of her father’s alcoholism, she may be unaware to the extent of just how disconnected she is to her own self.  When a childhood is lived saturated in fear, survival is often the only thing on a child’s mind.  Because the basic instincts of the child must be on hyper-drive, in order to simply survive, there is little time to mature emotionally, and to connect to the spiritual side of self.

And when she has children of her own, she parents blindly and detached from any notion that she is disconnected emotionally from within at all.  As a result – many times ACOA mothers are unable to form authentic paternal bonds with their children – simply because they are totally clueless as to what they are not giving their them.

The transformational journey on the road of self-awareness is powerful.  Hi, I’m Liz Hawkins and I’m a recovering Adult Child of an Alcoholic.