The “Laundry List” was originally written by Tony Allen in 1977, in New York City at a time when there was only one ACA meeting, which he formed with former Alateen members, called “Generations.” Generations evolved into ACA, or ACoA. The group declined affiliation with Al-anon back in the 80s because affiliation required trading the Laundry List for the official literature of Al-anon, which Tony felt did not address the unique healing needs of adult children of alcoholics.
ACA meetings, while they include steps very similar to Al-anon and AA, may differ somewhat because ACA is based on the Laundry List. As to how many ACA meetings still use the steps Tony A outlined in his book, it’s unclear. If anyone has inside information on the current staus of the Ala-non and ACA relationship, feel free to post a comment.
The “Characteristics,” which are occasionally confused with the Laundry List, were written by author Janet Woititz, in 1983. Most people who grew up in an alcoholic home know Woititz for her book, Adult Children of Alcoholics.
THE LAUNDRY LIST
The Laundry List, written by Tony A, appears in his book, The Laundry List, which also includes his version of The 12 Steps. Tony had incredible instincts about how important it was to differentiate ACoAs/ACAs from AA and Al-anon. He had special insight into what made adult children of alcoholic’s needs different, and did a remarkable job of articulating ACoA issues. Or, maybe he was just a regular guy–but one who was willing to speak up.
You can read a scan of Tony’s book The Laundry List - here.
Tony A’s Laundry List
a. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
b. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
c. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism
d. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
e. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
f. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. This enables us not to look too closely at our own faults.
g. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
h. We become addicted to excitement.
i. We confuse love with pity and tend to “love” people who we can `pity” and “rescue”.
j. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (denial).
k. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
l. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
m. Alcoholism is a family disease and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of the disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
n. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
The Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization used his list as the basis of their six-item identification list, “The Problem,” adapted directly from Tony’s laundry list:
1. We had come to feel isolated, and uneasy with other people, 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.
2. We either became alcoholics ourselves, married them, or both. Failing that, we found other compulsive personalities, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need for abandonment.
3. We lived live from the standpoint of victims. Having an over developed sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We got guilt feelings when we trusted ourselves, giving in to others. We became reactors rather than actors, letting others take the initiative.
4. We were dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. We keep choosing insecure relationships because they matched our childhood relationship with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.
5. These symptoms of the family disease of alcoholism or other dysfunction made us ‘co-victims’, those who take on the characteristics of the disease without necessarily ever taking a drink. We learned to keep our feelings down as children and keep them buried as adults. As a result of this conditioning, we often confused love with pity, tending to love those we could rescue.
6. Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable solutions.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS
Here are Janet Woititz’s Characteristics, published in her book Adult Children of Alcoholics.
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 read the “Characteristics” list long ago, before I read Tony A’s list. Two key differences between the lists exists: Tony A’s is an “us” list, while Janet’s is a “them” list. A humility is present in Tony’s list that I admire. Both lists are illuminating.
THE 10 ABILITIES OF PEOPLE FROM ALCOHOLIC FAMILIES
Wait. There is no such list.
Lists are liberating, neat and tidy. But, where is the list that expresses the positive, the growth-oriented side of this dark side of the moon?
I’m working on it.