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About 40 years after Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, a new recovery program was created. Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA or ACoA) was created to provide support for members of the Alateen program. Alateen is part of the Alanon program and is for children under 18 years old from alcoholic families.
Normally, these 19-year-olds would just drop out of 12-Step recovery or continue in the Alanon program with members as old as their parents. But the problems experienced by the children of alcoholics are different than those of the spouses and friends of alcoholics.
In the late 1970’s, a group of aging out Alateens decided to start their own meeting and called it Adult Children of Alcoholics. At first, the program fell under the leadership of Alanon. But this group of young adults wanted autonomy and struck out on their own.
A long time AA member, Tony A. helped craft the ACA 12-steps to fit the Adult Child dynamic. Over the years, the ACA program has grown. There is now universally accepted literature shared by ACA groups all over the world.
One of the first pieces of literature developed was a list of Adult Child traits which became known as the Laundry List.
I am an Adult Child from a dysfunctional alcoholic family. I find myself in every one of the Laundry List traits. Here is a link to the list found on the Adult Children website. https://adultchildren.org/literature/laundry-list/
In my coaching practice, the majority of my clients can relate to at least a few of the Laundry List traits.
In this article, I will tell you about how I relate to trait number one, “We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.”
When I was 19 years old, I moved out on my own. A friend had suggested that we share a house together and I was ready. By then I had been drinking for a couple of years but not like my parents and I was sure that I would never smoke cigarettes or do drugs.
When I drove away from my family home for the last time, I felt a tremendous relief, knowing I would never have to deal with the fear and insecurity I had lived with my entire life. I mentally brushed myself off and knew that nothing that happened in my childhood would stick. I was my own man, was making my own choices, and I was determined to choose better than my parents.
Within two weeks, I began smoking cigarettes and weed and started dating my first wife. Two years later, I had a nasty amphetamine habit.
My roommate and I had parties at the house every night. We went through cases of beer and lots of weed. I felt completely intimidated by the strangers who came in and out of our house but was able to tolerate the discomfort with the help of alcohol and other drugs. It also helped to keep a guitar between me and everyone else. I was always the entertainment for the party. By performing, I was praised and, thanks to the barrier the guitar provided, I felt safe.
In every other part of my life, people intimidated me. I did all I could to avoid contact with people and experienced a lot of anxiety when having to deal with supervisors at work.
In the first dozen or so years of sobriety, I continued to fear people and authority figures. Eventually, I began the work of healing my childhood wounds and now feel comfortable and confident around people including those in authority positions.
The fourteen traits help people to identify with others who were raised in similar homes. With the support of the fellowship and literature of the ACA program along with professional help if needed, it is possible to recover from the impact of growing up in dysfunction and even trauma.
I thought I could just walk away from it all and that I wouldn’t ever have to deal with the poisonous and toxic environment I was raised in. But instead, I recreated a life as an adult that mirrored the one of my childhood. Thanks to therapy models like Internal Family Systems (www.IFS-Institute.com) and other trauma therapies, along with 12-step programs and support fellowships, I have broken the cycle of family dysfunction.
If you read this entire article, maybe you grew up in a toxic family too. I broke the cycle and so can you.