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)