Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adult children of alcoholics

Tonight our meeting topic was on adult children of alcoholics.  I don't know if my father was alcoholic, but I do know that he was emotionally unavailable and would drink on those days that he was home from work.  I knew that I was affected by this because I wrote about it when I was a kid. I hated for him to be home.  I hoped that he would die, yet I felt terrible for wishing such a thing.  I had a lot of unresolved feelings about love for my father who was an authoritarian figure.  I remember fearfully talking  to my mother and asking her to please get him to stop drinking because I was afraid that he was an alcoholic.

There is a check list of characteristics that those of us share who were brought up in an alcoholic or other type of dysfunctional household.  Isolation, unease with authority figures, people pleasing, sensitivity to criticism, difficulty in intimate relationships, fear of abandonment and rejection are just some of the traits that are developed to cope with alcoholic dysfunction.

Sadly enough, many children who grew up in alcoholic homes also become alcoholic or marry one. It is what we know how to do--seek out the familiar--even if the familiar is hurtful.  I can think back on so many relationships that were not right, largely because I was attracted to those who were most familiar, yet the most injurious to me.

We really grew up with such a sense of responsibility that there was scarce time for childlike fun.  I know that I would escape through play from the anxiety that was always just below the surface.  Lives are lived in fear of being found out.  So we learn to hide feelings and the truth from others. We lived life from the standpoint of victims, and became reactors. I know that I did what I could to drive people away so that they would abandon me because I wanted to be the victim.

It is amazing really what alcoholism does to those who don't even drink.  I took on all the characteristics of the disease without ever being alcoholic.  When the characteristics of an adult child of an alcoholic were read tonight,  I recognized the "old" me in every single line.  But the "new" me who has been in recovery for four years now sees that there has been a behavioral change.  I no longer exhibit every characteristic.  That indicates to me that there has been a profound change in how I view others  and myself since coming to Al-Anon.  Yes, I still have a fear of abandonment, but it is not as crippling a fear as it once was.  I see that my relationship with others has changed for the better.  I am no longer wanting to solve their problems or accept responsibility for their actions. And I have learned to appreciate who I am at last--imperfect but okay.

Ask yourself these questions and see if some resonate with you:
  • Do you constantly seek approval and affirmation?
  • Do you fail to recognize your accomplishments?
  • Do you fear criticism?
  • Do you overextend yourself?
  • Have you had problems with your own compulsive behavior?
  • Do you have a need for perfection?
  • Are you uneasy when your life is going smoothly, continually anticipating problems?
  • Do you feel more alive in the midst of a crisis?
  • Do you still feel responsible for others, as you did for the problem drinker in your life?
  • Do you care for others easily, yet find it difficult to care for yourself?
  • Do you isolate yourself from other people?
  • Do you respond with fear to authority figures and angry people?
  • Do you feel that individuals and society in general are taking advantage of you?
  • Do you have trouble with intimate relationships?
  • Do you confuse pity with love, as you did with the problem drinker?
  • Do you attract and/or seek people who tend to be compulsive and/or abusive?
  • Do you cling to relationships because you are afraid of being alone?
  • Do you often mistrust your own feelings and the feelings expressed by others?
  • Do you find it difficult to identify and express your emotions?
  • Do you think someone's drinking may have affected you?

Just remember that we didn't choose this disease.  We were simply in the way of it.  And we learned about it over many years.  Now I am undoing all that has been harmful to me.  It takes time--One day at a time.


  1. Syd, I love this post because it spoke directly to me, about me. Everything listed as attributes of adult children of alcoholics I deal with most every day. I want to tell you, Syd, on June 15 I will have been in Al-Anon for 5 years. These deep rooted, over a life time ingrained tendencies are taking a long time to work through, but I am grateful, so grateful that every day it gets better because the Al-Anon program teaches me how to grow into me. Thank you especially for this post.

  2. I have had many of those and still struggle with some of them that's for sure. While my parents did not drink, they both had alcoholic parents. I couldn't understand the disease in them then, but I see it now.

  3. damn, syd, you've scratched an old scab here... i hear you all too clearly. hiding, pretending, alone, lonely, never good enough, never fitting in, guilt, shame, helplessness, despair... all these came rushing back to me. and how i used to pray, day after day, that my father would just please please please stop drinking... and when he wouldn't/couldn't/didn't, my only dream was to grow up so that i could leave home and live my own life. yet not realising, that all i did was take all the feelings and emotions with me, until much much later. when those very same things threatened to destroy me...

  4. Thanks for this Syd.

  5. I do see improvement but there's a lot
    of growth to come! Very good to have reminders about where we are headed - growing up, hopefully! Thanks.

  6. I really needed to read this today. Doing better in so many areas, but some are still entrenched. Dealing with what I perceive as authority figures is still a freaking challenge for me, and one of those challenges is staring me in the face at this moment. Thanks for posting--reading this helps.


  7. *sigh*

    I'm having a really hard morning and this is just a continuation.

    The older I get, the more awareness I have, and the easier it is to see how sick my family is and it makes me really sad. I don't even know if it is age, or the time I spent in the program...probably the program...

    ...it is really hard loving a bunch of sick people. Even more so when you are sick, yourself.

  8. Syd,
    The Moms is an ACOA. Definitely.

  9. Hi excuse me if I seem rude, but having had a little scan of the blog and some of the comments you've left on other blogs that I knock about on, I've a question for you.

    You follow AA. You seem to have bought into it wholesale, but without being an alcoholic. You also say you weren't sure of whether or not your father was an alcoholic.

    I understand that it must be difficult growing up in a household that is emotionally distant, and chaotic through drink. I understand how this leads in many cases to a life of addiction.

    You seem not to be an addict, although you seem to have a predisposition to it with some of your behaviours.

    If you are not an addict, why would you surround yourself with drunks/addicts and constantly discuss it? Don't you think you're just looking for an emotional crutch?

    I've gone through NA, and I loathe it. I know it works for some, but I think it's phoney and cliquey, and substitutes psychobabble and Higher Power bullshit for actually living.

    Surely you should be out living your life, and not worrying about recovering from a problem you don't actually have. I guess prevention is better than cure, but I think, perhaps, you're using AA to cover up some other issues.

    I've no intention to offend, but I'd be interested in your answer.

  10. Thank you for posting this list. I grew up in an alcoholic home and I, too, recognize the old me in these questions. I'm glad to say they are less resonant today, thanks to Al-Anon.

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  12. This post resonates with me. I am going to have my oldest daughter read it. I see so many of these traits in us both. I want her life to be different than mine. I want her To seek out a life of happiness and recognize how attracted we are to the familiar.

  13. This is great to see the list and see how far I have come too. I spent my life in anger and fear. I had no idea what I wanted and couldn't even make a decision about my own life. It is strange these days to find myself stepping back, thinking about something, deciding what I feel about it and making a decision based on what it is I want. Still getting used to this. You did a wonderful job writing this post, Syd. Sometimes it is hard to write about such important and in-depth issues and try to keep it readable in a blog setting.

  14. like to be on your mailing list. graham.mark15@gmail.com


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