Update

I started this blog years ago during a very difficult time in my life.  At some point I stopped updating the blog and faced my problems privately. What’s changed over the years? Well, I actually did reconcile with my wife and we are together at the time of this writing. I spent some years in private counseling dealing with the ACOA stuff. I quit counseling once I realized I was reading all the same books as my counselor and could work through life’s problems on my own.

I wish I could tell all of you that things have been perfect in my life. Truth be told, I still face the same battles that all of you face everyday. I think I am better equipped to handle situations now more than I ever have been in life. It is something I work at everyday. My wife is very supportive and very patient with me in our marriage.

I just wanted to let everyone know that things do get better if you work at it. I am living proof of that statement. I don’t know if I will be able to finish what I started on this blog. (Definitely an ACOA trait.) Time is a little sparse right now. I will do my best to answer any questions some of you may have about the topic. Take care.

Overcoming Characteristic #1: ACOA’s Guess at What Normal Behavior Is.

As adult children we must face the reality that we have no idea what “normal” really is in life.  Our alcoholic family had functioned abnormally as a means of coping with alcoholism. Our past was often chaotic and unpredictable at home. As a result, we have no idea what is a normal family life and what is appropriate. We may have created fantasies of a perfect family or perfect life  as a way to cope with our unhappy environment. My actions during the early stages of my marriage were learned from wholesome television families like the Cosby’s. A normal husband, I thought, provides for his family. A normal husband sacrifices for his family, helps around the house, mows the lawn, etc. These actions were all I had to do to have a happy marriage because that was my fantasy of a normal marriage. My divorce would soon shatter that fantasy.

The truth is that there is no such thing as normal.  In life, there is only what is functional or dysfunctional for each of us, and what serves our best interest.  Learning to trust basic instincts about proper behavior is important for us in learning to trust ourselves. We must confront reality and learn ways to manage conflict in our personal life instead of avoiding it. We must learn to face problems as they arise. By doing this, we develop confidence in our problem-solving ability and no longer use fantasy as an unrealistic standard or coping method. How do we learn to do these things?

Please reread the above paragraph until it sinks into your mind. Remember, there is no such thing as normal. Dysfunctional behavior was and still is present in our daily life. We may live an isolated life because our family discouraged relationships with outsiders. We learned to live in a state of constant denial by refusing to acknowledge our parent(s) alcoholism. We may lack empathy towards our family or other people. We may lack clear boundaries. We may give mixed messages to others and may misinterpret the messages they are giving us. We may experience extremes in conflict by fighting too much or too little with family or other people. These are all examples of dysfunctional behavior in life. Do you exhibit these behaviors in your daily life? Admitting we have these behaviors is the first step in learning to develop functional behaviors. I find it also helps to become aware of the moment these dysfunctional behaviors appear.

One thing I have learned from my ex-wife is the ability to place myself in the other person’s shoes. This has become an important lesson for me while dealing with my dysfunctional behaviors. I now take a few extra seconds before I react (or overreact) when a problem arises with another individual. I can not avoid the conflict or deny there is a problem. I must deal with the issue appropriately. How would you want someone to react when they have a problem that involves you? Try to see the situation from their perspective. How can you reach a solution that would benefit both of you? How can you work together at solving this particular conflict? Remember, avoiding conflict or handling it inappropriately can perpetuate anger or even hatred between individuals.  As we work with others at resolving conflict, we will be developing the confidence in our problem-solving ability that I mentioned earlier in this article. We will learn to trust our inner voice and develop functional behavior patterns.

Joining a support group may give you the proper tools to develop proper coping skills. There are numerous ACOA support groups online and, possibly, in your hometown. These groups may include a twelve step program to assist you in the healing process. Also, consider joining some type of group that includes non-dysfunctional adults. This could be a group of people that meet to discuss business ideas, solutions to common (non-ACOA) problems, or even a “think” tank. By interacting with functional adults, you will receive invaluable feedback and increase your chances of developing functional behavior patterns.

Learning functional behavior patterns is an ongoing process that we must approach slowly. Some of us have lived dysfunctional lives for decades, we will not heal overnight. I also recommend working with a private counselor. A counselor that specializes in ACOA recovery or cognitive behavioral therapy can teach us methods to overcome dysfunctional behavior. It is a strong man or woman who seeks out counseling, rather than the weak one. I hope some of the ideas presented in this article help you overcome the first characteristic and change your life for the better.

The 13 Characteristics of Adult Children

In 1983 author Janet G. Woititz listed, in her book “Adult Children of Alcoholics”, thirteen characteristics most adult children have in common. This list is also known as the “A.C.O.A. Characteristic List” by many adult children.

The 13 Characteristics of A.C.O.A.

  1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
  2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
  3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
  4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
  5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
  6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
  7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
  9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.
  11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
  12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
  13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.

I remember reading this list in her book and feeling overwhelmed by my emotions. Here was my life outlined neatly in black and white ink for all the world to read. I welled up with tears in my eyes. I exhibited each of these traits in one form or another every single day of my life. It felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

If this is your first time reading the list you may feel overwhelmed, as I once did a few months ago. Breathe deeply and relax for a few minutes. Some of you are too familiar with this list of common traits among adult children. This list should not be used to condemn us to a life of misery. Do not beat yourself up about any inadequacy you may feel after reading this list. I suggest all of us use this list to bring awareness into our daily lives.

Reflect upon your activities from yesterday. Did you exhibit any of these traits throughout your day? At home? At work? Think about your actions and how these traits affected your decision making process. Now starting at this very moment in your life, wake up and maintain this awareness daily. Understanding why we behave the way we do in certain situations is one of the keys to our recovery. We must learn to recognize each moment when one of these traits surfaces. Once you realize you are behaving based off of traits from this list, you must make an effort to change direction. Take a few extra seconds before you speak, make a decision, or take action. Building awareness in your daily life will bring you closer to recovery.

I would like to recommend Janet G. Woititz book “Adult Children of Alcoholics”. It has given me the knowledge to better understand the person I see in the mirror. At times, the book left me feeling emotionally drained. Please make an effort to completely read her book. Whether you or someone you know is an A.C.O.A., it will cultivate awareness in daily life. Together, in future blogs, we will look at each trait seperately and how we can overcome each challenge.

Welcome

I would like to begin with a warm welcome to anyone reading this blog. I will assume you arrived here because you or someone you know is an Adult Child of Alcoholics. There are an estimated 26.8 million adult children of alcoholics in the United States alone. This blog is intended to share my experiences as an A.C.O.A. and the steps I am taking to overcome the challenges of daily life. I am not a doctor or a counselor. Please seek medical attention or professional therapy if you or someone you know is at any type of risk.



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