Leading an Intimate, Examined & Self-Driven Life, Adult Children of Alcoholics START HERE

Post on the problem iStock_000002490147XSmallIt’s a new year, right?  New year, new you, new habits, new goodness and trying harder, right?

(Just making sure.)  So, let’s get down to adult child basics.  Some simple stretches. OK?

First, a disclaimer:  I make a point not to endorse twelve-step groups as part of GWNI (just as twelve-step groups take care not to become affiliated with other groups!)  This isn’t because I’m against twelve-step groups.

I’m not.*

Frankly, they have done a lot of good for a lot of people.  I’ve attended ACA meetings.  Twelve-step programs are not, however, the end-all be-all or Golden Ticket to happiness or even a sane life.  But, they can certainly be an important part of it.

Today I’m presenting The Problem, which is part of the literature provided by the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization.

It’s truly, truly essential that we read The Problem because it’s one of the most fundamental pieces of literature for all adult children.  It’s like reading Dick & Jane.  It’s the START HERE space on a game board.  It’s like brushing your teeth first thing in the morning.

Where better to start in the new year?

“The Problem”  

Many of us found that we had several characteristics in common as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional households.

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.

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.

We lived life 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.

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.

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.

Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable solutions.

This is a description, not an indictment.

Here is a link to The Problemon the ACA website (it’ll open in a new window).

Here’s My Antidote to The Problem: 

  • I don’t want to isolate, I like being out in the world
  • I can feel comfortable with authority figures
  • I can mingle in the world without losing my identity
  • I will not become an addict, of sugar or people or substances (or I will commit to recovery of addiction)
  • I will work on myself and championing my needs so that I expect the best in my partner and so that I will attract people who can love and are interested in being loving, lovable people who value and actively nurture relationships
  • I do not like to be abandoned by someone’s work or addictions, and I will pass on that so that I can find alternatives
  • I’m shifting the focus from them to me. This isn’t selfish, it’s essential to my well-being.
  • I’m taking action to make my life what I want, and when I don’t like what’s going on—I figure out actions to take to be an active participant in my life.  I am in charge of my reality, not them. I have personal power.
  • If I don’t like how I’m being treated, I will not blame myself—I will speak up.  If the person I love cannot treat me how I want to be treated, I will have the courage to say so, and the wherewithal to seek a new reality.
  • I can survive change, abandonment, and difficulty.
  • I will not hold on to a bad relationship in order to avoid the pain of the break-up and uncertainty of what’s next.
  • I am hopeful about my future!
  • My future is now, tomorrow, and the next day.
  • I will work on myself, in a dedicated way, so that I choose healthy relationships.
  • I like intimacy and want to cultivate it, with boundaries, as part of my relationships.
  • I am not afraid of being engulfed by another person because I stick by my personal boundaries un-apologetically.
  • I don’t abuse sex or mistake sex for love or power or use it as an escape.
  • I’m no longer interested in replicating the chaos that was the hallmark of my childhood environment.
  • I will examine the ways in which I live my life like an addict, although I may not have obvious “addictions,” and work with a therapist to come up with how to figure out how I want to behave and become that change bit by bit.
  • I’m no longer interested in excitement and the ups-and-downs drama offers.
  • I’m home to myself, I’m okay, I’m not broken, and I am in the process of THRIVING.

Three Observations about 12-Step Meetings

* I will make three observations that have to do with people’s aversion to actually doing twelve-step work:  one, there’s the God thing that’s problematic for a lot of folks who’d like to be able to embrace twelve-step programs, but are agnostic and spiritual in non-believing ways, and this feels like having to convert to Christianity in order to take advantage of the Program. Two, it’s hard to actually go to ACA meetings because not only is there adult children’s tendency to isolate, but this being the Digital Age, seeking help online is…easier. And, three, I’ve observed a tendency for twelve-step groups to form into cliques, which can lead to a kind of…replication of childhood problems rather than a safe, neutral place to test out new behaviors and share personal stories.

Those three things said, the value of hearing other people articulate their problems and solutions to those problems is truly invaluable, and nothing else can replicate the experience of looking at and listening to someone thinking through their issues out-loud, face-to-face.  And the value to the one speaking, being heard and having people bear witness, is also powerful.

Be kind to yourself!


  1. denise_kc says:

    great way to start the new year. this post got me doing a lot of relationship surfing, and I was staring to feel a little … ok, a LOT defeated by The Problem. But I still had this page open, and feel better after re-reading The Antidote. thanks.

  2. amy eden says:

    Hey Denise, thanks, I’m glad it was food for thought. :-) Yeah, one thing that bugs me about the literature on adult children (like The Problem) is that it’s SUCH a downer to read the stuff, it’s like getting really bad news. Stll, it’s a starting place. I can’t resist translating it into my own words in order to get to a place of motivation and hope…!

  3. Sue A says:

    This is a great place to start. Seriously. Been an adult child for nearly 50 years, and the resolutions mentioned have been suggested by more than one therapist. So annoying to be educated and still fall into these traps. Regarding sugar, I am just starting to wage a battle. My therapist actually thinks a certain percentage of adult children convert sugar to alcohol. Any one know about this?

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