So, you’re an adult child of an alcoholic. Now what? Here are the 5 things I did to kickstart my ACOA healing journey
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely made a HUGE realization: You’re an adult child of an alcoholic. You’ve acknowledged that growing up with a parent with a substance abuse disorder impacted you…and shaped your grownup life today.
When I was 26, I finally admitted my mother’s alcoholism had caused me to become very ill myself. Until then, life as the kid of an alcoholic was about taking care of everyone except myself. It was about wholeheartedly believing that it was my job to “fix” my mom – and that I should be able to do that.
I’d pushed myself and did EVERYTHING I could think to do to fix Mom and save the family from suffering from their effects of her drinking. And over those 26 years, I’d failed at my only job in life: to take good care of myself.
I’d reached a point where I didn’t even want to live anymore. There was nothing to look forward to. Life was nothing more than a list of obligations. I was exhausted. In complete desperation, I went to an Al-Anon meeting. I needed someone to give me the solution so that I could cure Mom and then we’d all live happily ever after. I knew about the term “adult child of an alcoholic,” as I’d read some books in my early 20s but I’d not recognized how much my mother’s alcoholism really affected me. It was still all about fixing her. Mom’s drinking was the root of all problems, I believed. At that meeting, I realized that my life was completely out of control and that I was an adult child of an alcoholic by clinical terms. I WAS ILL!! I was an adult woman with A LOT of healing to do to create a great grownup life.
I often hear from people with this question: I’m just getting started with this ACOA stuff. How did you know what to do?
First, let me tell you how AWESOME it is to know that people of all ages, of backgrounds, all over the world, are researching about this stuff and starting their own journeys. Cycles of addiction in families are breaking, friends. The world is changing.
Here is what I did to kickstart my ACOA healing journey:
1. Attended Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings.
I was a total sponge in those meetings. I listened like I’ve never listened before! I learned so much from other people’s stories of healing. I learned so much from other people’s obvious denial and co-dependency!
I thought about those scenarios and the actions those people took in their lives. I remember driving to work without the radio on for weeks because I was so deep in thought about the words I’d heard. Soon, some clarity for my own life arrived; it helped me draft the next steps in my path. No one gave me advice. Instead, I created the answers myself. I’m still forming those answers as I make my way on this journey.
2. Got educated.
Books helped me understand the science of addiction and substance abuse. I wish I’d known all of this as a girl. It would have helped me see that my mother’s drinking had nothing to do with me. In reading, I recognized that I had textbook symptoms of the Adult Children of Alcoholics Trauma Disorder. It also introduced to me the concepts of codependency and the power of detachment. I understood that my mother’s illness had nothing to do with me and that I had ZERO ability to control her drinking or fix her. Perhaps most impactful: While I felt abnormal my whole life, I had had a totally normal response to a sad – COMMON situation.
3. Began taking good care of me.
Self-care! Yeah, still working on the right habits for me but made the first effort back then. Most importantly, I started creative writing again, as I’d loved to do as a girl. I read my childhood diaries and journals with renewed hope and determination to create the awesome life that little-kid me dreamed of.
If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have written a novel for children with an alcoholic parent: Easter Ann Peters’ Operation Cool.
4. Sat down with the experts.
In that first year of the ACoA journey, I went to two counselors with specialty in ACoA and dysfunctional families. Those conversations reinforced what I’d read in the books: I think and act entirely normally for someone with these experiences and that there is great opportunity to change the way we think and live.
Looking back, I would have benefited from more therapy in those early years if I had taken the time to find the “right” counselor. After a few months, I felt I really was not benefiting from those sessions any longer so I focused again on the books and meetings. I think I simply had not found the right therapist or counselor for me.
Years later, when my father died, I went to a counselor who was an ACoA and alcoholic in recovery himself. He just got me and my brain in a way the other counselors hadn’t. He asked questions that inspired me to look at everything in a new way. He gave me tools I use today. Recently, I’ve been considering starting those sessions up again with him.
5. Made a commitment to the ACoA journey.
Journey. That’s the keyword here. I knew that I couldn’t start leaning and making plans and wake up the next day free from all the challenges I have (Damn you, anxiety!!). I spent 26 years in one world. I’m re-programming my brain to think and react differently from the way it was programmed as a kid, teen and young adult. That’s a b—- of an endeavor!
I am committed to
- constant learning and discovery
- getting up again when I stumble off the path
- creating my map for the path that is best for me
- being flexible and venturing on new routes as needed (life causes detours, you know?)
It’s been more than eight years since I started this journey. While I have a long way to go, it’s amazing how far I’ve come.
Eight years ago, if you told me that my mother would work fulltime and live on her own without my dad or me DOING EVERYTHING FOR HER, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me that my mother and I would sit together at a family wedding for four hours and have pleasant conversation, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me that I wouldn’t go to my mother’s home to make sure she’s alive after hours of binge drinking, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me that I enjoyed moments of pure serenity, I wouldn’t have believed you.
The further I go on this journey, the MORE I believe in the power of hope and the source of determination within me. The encouraging milestones boost strength and optimism. This is a lifelong journey.
A free life is possible.
I hope you are well in journey.