An Overview of ACOA

Alcoholics Anonymous started in 1935 and has spawned over 250 different types of twelve step meetings. One of the first to deal with feelings was ACOA–Adult Children of Alcoholics. It was a formula designed to touch on a lot of emotion–adult, children and alcoholic. Our reality is in our feelings. Our emotional patterns are established in our childhood. I believe that addiction starts from these patterns begun in childhood.

Codependency means being part or dependent on someone else for our emotional completion. Being reared in a home with frequent emotional strife means being reared with emotional healing issues.

At some level we have each experienced feelings of abandonment, difficulty trusting others, having boundaries, trouble standing up for ourselves or feeling shameful because of others’ actions. We may have learned these emotional choices in our family of origin.

Feelings are our choice. We can choose positive emotional choices.

Onion House has written the following about ACOA characteristics:
“The problem is that we come to feel isolated, uneasy with other people, and especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process. All the same, we would mistake any personal criticism as a threat.”

“We either become alcoholics ourselves or married them or both. Failing that, we found another compulsive personality, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need for abandonment”.

“We lived life from the standpoint of victim. Having an over-developed sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We somehow got guilt feelings when we stood up for ourselves rather than giving in to others. Thus, we became reactors, rather than actors, letting others take the initiative.”

This is also the classic definition for codependency–the common thread in addiction. Children in troubled homes learn that they aren’t as important as continuing the pretend picture of the family. Actually the family is in an ever-increasing cover-up which continues to eat up most of the family energy.

I recently met a classmate from high school–we graduated in 1958–and I was sharing some of my growing up experiences. She said that it was hard for her to believe what I remembered about my core family as she viewed us as the perfect All-American family. I guess we were better at the cover-up than I thought. I remember feeling so guilty as I cried on the way to school that I couldn’t save my mother from the arguments my parents had. It never entered my mind to wonder why she couldn’t save herself.


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