“The Laundry List” was written by Tony Allen in New York City in 1977. He helped to begin the first ACOA (which became ACA) meeting. It was started to address the healing needed for those of us born as children of alcoholism. I have found grief and loss issues about the child who I could have been. But I live with what Maya Angelou said: “We all did the best we could. And when we knew better, we acted better.”
Tony A. included his list in his book, The Laundry List: The ACOA Experience.
The list is:
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.
In the past few years, PTSD which has been long recognized as a byproduct of war and severe trauma, is now being used to define some long-time less severe traumas. Last year, at the age of 70, I realized I have lived with PTSD since I was about 5 years of age. I have based most of my major emotional decisions on the core belief that if I don’t expect much emotionally, I can’t get hurt. The reality is that other people are going to do what they choose to do.
The symptoms for PTSD are generally considered to be:
1. Feeling Bulletproof:Prior to the trauma, they often felt invulnerable as if nothing could harm them (the way a very wealthy person who can buy anything — and sometimes anyone — can feel all the way to a freshly trained soldier before they enter battle).
2. Horrendous Trauma: There is usually something horrific about the trauma. Horror has a way of destabilizing the acting, feeling and thinking parts of their brains so they can no longer work together. This may explain the use of the expressions: “Wigged out,” “Coming unglued,” “At wit’s end.”
3. Raw Vulnerability: As bulletproof as they once thought they were is as vulnerable as they have turned out to be. There is a belief that they don’t know how they survived the first trauma and an unconscious belief that they wouldn’t survive being re-traumatized. One of the reasons for anniversary reactions.
4. Brittleness: Not being able to find peace outside or inside their life or inside their psyche, leads to a brittleness where anything can set them off. This leads to the heightened startle respond common to people with PTSD.
5. Terror: Inside there is a deeply held belief that any re-traumatization will cause them to shatter and fragment and there is an feeling of impending inevitability that it will happen which creates a state of terror, difficulty sleeping, heavy self-medication (which also dulls ones rational thinking).
6. PTSD Symptoms: Most of the symptoms of PTSD from withdrawing to alcohol and substance abuse to not sleeping (since the experience of and fear of nightmares adds to the terror) are attempts to avoid re-traumatization.
7. Fragility: Feeling on the brink of going from brittle to shattering, fragmenting, losing their mind and never getting it back can cause a person who needs to be in control to take desperate measures. That is because to such a person, losing complete control is a fate worse than death.