“Adult child of an alcoholic,” also known as ACOA, ACA, COA, is in my social media bios because 1) being the kid of an alcoholic had a HUGE impact on me and 2) if I am comfortable sharing this with the world, then I should remind other children of alcoholics, children of addiction and substance abuse disorders of all kinds, children of all dysfunctional environments that they are so far from alone.
Back in the 1980s, a few clinical pioneers made “adult child of an alcoholic” a mainstream term. Janet Woititz’s Adult Children of Alcoholics was rejected by publishers before it was finally published without any marketing support. Within two years, it was flying off bookstore shelves by word of mouth only.
In my early years as an adult child of an alcoholic, I did not understand what this term meant. I’d heard it in stories about highly troubled people – those who’d experienced horrific abuse in childhood and who’d grown up with parents with extreme cases of alcoholism. I thought the ACoA term was seemed reserved for people who had been severely affected. Though I recognized that I am the daughter of an alcoholic, I felt the clinical ACoA label did not fit me. After all, I was fine! It was my alcoholic mother with the problems! That’s how I viewed it. She needed to be fixed. Not me!! I was so uneducated about the effects of alcoholism and dysfunctional environments on children. Sadly, I was SO in denial about my health. When I finally picked up books about the ACoA syndrome, I could finally, accurately answer the “what is an adult child of an alcoholic?” question. In those books, I read about the traits of adult children of alcoholics. It was shocking! There are many varied but common traits of adult children of alcoholics. I quickly identified ACoA traits in myself. It felt as if the books had been written with me as the case study!! I read those books with lightning speed. I learned I was a classic, living definition of an ACoA. An adult child of an alcoholic is a grownup who was impacted during childhood, adolescence, young adult years and/or as an adult living with or being around one or more adults who abuse alcohol.
The books explained the clinical reasons that many ACoAs grow up and have all sorts of personal struggles including the following that exist in my ACoA life:
- Constantly searching for a sense of normalcy and struggle to understand what normal is
- Have unrealistic expectations for themselves and never feel satisfaction
- Can’t easily relax or have fun
- Have anxiety disorders
- Constantly seek approval and validation
For me, recognizing that I’m an adult child of an alcoholic means that I’m acknowledging past experiences have programmed my brain to make me react and act in unhealthy ways. I’ve embraced the ACoA healing journey. Being part of a global adult child of an alcoholic community has been extremely cathartic and inspiring for me. I can change the way I live and create the awesome grownup life I dreamed of as a girl.
I hope you are well in your journey.
Take good care.