ACA is the 12 step program that helped me the most with emotional growth. I doubt that it would have been as effective had I not spent years working the 12 steps in AA prior to going to ACOA. I was living in Orlando (Winter Park) at the time (1985-1990). I was an addictions counselor who ate, breathed, and absorbed recovery as if I were an oxygen-deprived fish. I still am very involved in recovery but I have learned to add other parts of my life–especially the creative side.
I think of ACA as adult children of addicts as I believe few people didn’t experience a confusing childhood. Addiction of any kind is in charge of the family dynamics if one or both of the parents is using the family energy to maintain and/or promote an addiction. Alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, money, power, religion, sex, food, gambling, shopping, and hoarding are a few of the main addictions. The most information is about alcohol because addiction recovery started with AA in 1935.
I also believe that most of our patterns of behavior were established in our family of origin. We use those patterns which generally helped us as children but now hinder us as adults.
From ACA site: “Adult Children of Alcoholics and its Beginnings”:
Adult Children of Alcoholics officially was founded in 1978 in New York. Tony A. is considered the primary founder along with members of an Alateen group. Alateen is a Twelve Step program for children of alcoholic parents. Alateen is sponsored by Al-Anon.
The Alateens and Tony formed a specially focused meeting that broke away from Al-Anon and became the first ACA group. The new group, Generations, focused on recovering from the effects of being raised in a dysfunctional family rather than the Al-anon focus of being powerless over alcohol.
Tony is the author of the Laundry List, the first piece of ACA literature. The Laundry List is a list of 14 characteristics or common behaviors that detail the adult child personality. Tony also developed the ACA Solution of attending meetings, focusing on ourselves, working the Steps and feeling our feelings. Tony died in April 2004 at the age of 77.
Jack E. is given credit for establishing ACA in California and placing the Laundry List in a narrative form known as the Problem. The Problem is read at the opening of most ACA meetings. Tony.s comments on ACA History are from a 1992 interview. This history has been updated based on interviews with Tony and Tony’s family.
While Tony’s story mentions our eventual separation from the Al-Anon fellowship, ACA cooperates with Al-Anon and enjoys a mutual respect of this program.
Hope For Adult Children – Adapted from an Interview With Tony A.
At the end of 1976 or the beginning of 1977, four or five young people who had recently “graduated” from Alateen joined Al-Anon, a Twelve Step fellowship for the spouses, friends and relatives of alcoholics
In Alateen, these young people had explored the impact of being raised by alcoholic and co-alcoholic parents now known as codependents. The teens looked at the effects of living in an alcoholic household. Entering Al-Anon, they were faced with the concept of learning to live serenely in a dysfunctional setting. Stepping up to Al-Anon meant they were faced with attending meetings that focused primarily on adult issues or spousal drinking. Some of the Alateens felt unsafe in their homes and believed they could not relate in Al-Anon.
Tony said Al-Anon taught a few skills to the young people, including how to get their own needs met. These bold teens formed their own Al-Anon meeting which they named Hope for Adult Children of Alcoholics. This first meeting met in the Smithers Building in Manhattan. This group used the Al-Anon format but improvised the meeting discussion. The discussions involved the neglect, abuse and fear that the Alateens thought they could not fully share about in Al-Anon. A second meeting known as Generations would be formed but it would have no affiliation with Al-Anon.
While the first new group was being formed, the Alateens heard about an Alcoholics Anonymous member sharing in AA about his experiences of growing up in a violent alcoholic home. This was Tony, a 50-year-old recovering alcoholic and New York City stockbroker. Cindy, a member of the Hope for Adult Children of Alcoholics group, heard Tony’s AA story and asked him to be a guest speaker at the newly formed group.
Tony said he was 30 years older than the Alateens but their age difference dissolved when he began telling his story. “When we began,” Tony said, “There was a wonderful feeling of mutual love, empathy, and understanding.”
Hope for Adult Children of Alcoholics was technically an Al-Anon meeting, however, something special was happening with each meeting and with each story being told, Tony said. The founding principles of ACA were being unearthed and spoken in these early meetings. The dysfunctional family rules of “don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel” were being challenged. However, the meeting struggled because of a lack of structure and focus, Tony said. After six or seven months, instead of the increasing membership as expected, the fledgling meeting had dwindled to three or four people. The meeting was about to fold. Out of instinct and spiritual insight, Tony said he invited members of AA to join the little group. He reasoned that some of them, after all, had alcoholic parents of their own. He was right. Seventeen AA members showed up for the next meeting of Hope For Adult Children of Alcoholics. At the following meeting there were 50 people. At the next there were more than 100 people mostly from AA. The somewhat radical Al-Anon meeting was on its way with a lot of help from some good AA friends. Yet, the group still lacked consistent structure and clear distinction of its message.