Many newcomers in ACA report they identify with the characteristics listed in “The Problem” (or “The Laundry List” or “The Characteristics”), but they can find no alcoholism in their family. There can be many explanations — perhaps the family denial system prevents the newcomer from seeing the disease, or the family addiction has taken another form (drugs, compulsive over-eating, workaholism, violence, gambling, etc.) or there may actually be no aspect of alcoholism in the home. The fact is, it doesn’t matter! Our program is not about our parents or whether or not you can identify an alcoholic in your past. Our program is about us.
For the first time in our lives, we are dealing with ourselves — we identify the characteristics in each and every one of us. With this new focus on “self” and away from the personality, disease or identity of our parents or caretakers, we come to see how our program addresses us as “Adult Children” in the here and now. We begin to experience a reality that is our own life, independent of the family drama that resulted in acquiring the characteristics that brought us to meetings.
In a healthy home, a child is allowed to develop a sense of “self” through the stability of the parents, through exploration and individuation. The early stage called “The Terrible Twos” is the time when a healthy family allows the child to establish appropriate boundaries. The child has learned the quality of trust necessary to risk finding their own identity (“I want…”, “Give me…”, “I don’t like…”, etc.) and the meaning of the word “No.”
In our homes (for whatever reason) we were not able to experience the stability needed for this vital process. Healthy exploration was distorted by unstable, unstructured lives. Individuation was not possible.
We enter ACA feeling more comfortable talking about other people — what they did, what they said, what they were, etc. We have had no experience in defining ourselves — what we feel, what we need, what we are. When we grew up, we became extensions of those around us — learning their fears, behaviors, limitations, and prejudices. In ACA we find a need to discover ourselves as unique individuals instead of living as extensions of those around us.
For many of us, the early stages of this process resulted in a feeling of guilt — as though we are “bad” for betraying the role placed on us by the family system. There are those among us who froze at this stage of our voyage of Discovery/Recovery, but most of us progress at our speed if we are simply willing to admit those feelings to others. The rigid and frightened child inside, who has come to view any change as a threat, can be loved, supported and nurtured through the changes necessary to become a healthy adult.
We can see now that our lives, while sharing history and learned reactions with our family, are separate from our parents or caretakers. We are not doomed to perpetuate the patterns we found necessary to our survival as children.
Any Adult Child, through guidance of our loving Higher Power, can heal, accept the past and grow through the clear and consistent direction provided by the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Whether from the most violent alcoholic background or from the illusion of serenity in other dysfunctional homes, every Adult Child can begin progressing through the process of Recovery and the Discovery of “self”.
Joe D., Kelly M., Christian C., and Charlie Ann P. 1987