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.