I just picked up The Complete ACOA Sourcebook, Adult Children of Alcoholics at Home, at Work and in Love, by the late Janet Geringer Woititiz, Ed.D. I finished Part 1: What Happened to You as a Child? What is Happening to You Now? and Breaking the Cycle. In what feels almost after the fact—after nearly three years of weekly therapy—this book spells it out in black and white the consequences of growing up in an alcoholic home and in my case, explains the underlying anger and conflicts I’ve had to deal with for most of my adult life. Thanks to books like this, a great psychologist named Dr. Ella Marks, and my faith, I’ve been able to extricate myself from some of the wreckage of my early life.
I saw my broken self all too clearly in the common traits of the many adults Woititiz collected from other ACOAs. A number of us became “hyper-responsible” victims in a very abbreviated childhood having to “be a grown up” way before we reached double-digits. In a house of tension and chaos never knowing what to expect, some of us became anxious. Later we could be labeled as “controlling”, pushing to have some order and security in our lives. We fear abandonment, tend to over-react when something is changed beyond our control, and can be dangerously impulsive. We also can go overboard seeking the approval of others.
Thankfully, I’ve done a lot of hard work. I have learned how to identify difficult, conflicting emotions and have found ways to avoid and unhappy, negative places—figuratively and literally. I am no longer a victim. I have choices. I’ve made a number of healthy ones for my marriage, for my children, and last, but recognizably not least, myself.
One in four families in the U.S. experience from some sort of mental illness and addiction. If your household growing up was or now is one of the four, you don’t have to suffer alone. Get help. Start by picking up this book and read at least the first three sections to find a path.
I want to share a poem from an Adult Child of an Alcoholic that appears on page 156. I couldn’t believe how the poet Kathleen Algoe in 1989 felt almost exactly the way I felt when I began therapy in 2010. I remember on my drive home from my very first session the “child within” almost audibly said, “It’s my turn!”
I found my “child within” today;
for many years so locked away,
Loving, embracing—needing so much,
if only I could reach in and touch.
I did not know this child of mine—
we were never acquainted at three or nine.
But today I felt the crying inside.
I’m here, I shouted, come reside.
We hugged each other ever so tight
as feelings emerged of hurt and fright.
It’s okay, I sobbed, I love you so!
You are precious to me, I want you to know.
My child, my child, you are safe today,
You will not be abandoned—I’m here to stay.
We laughed, we cried, it was a discovery–
this warm, loving child is my recovery.
From Chapter 5
It is important to be clear what recovery means for adult children. Alcoholism is a disease. People recovering from alcoholism are recovering from a disease. The medical model is accepted by all responsible folks working in alcoholism treatment.
Being the child of an alcoholic is not a disease. It is a fact of your history. Because of the nature of this illness and the family response to it, certain things occur that influence your self-feelings, attitudes and behaviors in ways that cause you pain and concern. The object of ACOA recovery is to overcome those aspects of your history that cause you difficulty today and to learn a better way.
To the degree that none of us have ideal childhoods and to the degree that even an ideal childhood may be a cause for some concern, we are all recovering to some extent or other, in some way or other. Because there are so many alcoholic families and because we have been fortunate in being able to study them, it is possible to describe in general terms what happens to children who grow up in that environment.
To the degree that other families have similar dynamics, individuals who have grown up in other “dysfunctional” systems identify with and recover in very much the same way.