From The Red Book:
“We find that a difference in identity and purpose distinguishes Adult Child of Alcoholics from other 12-Step Programs and underscores the need for our special focus”
“The central problem for ACAs is a mistaken belief, formed in childhood, which affects every part of our lives. As children, we fought to survive the destructive effects of alcoholism and began an endless struggle to change a troubled, dysfunctional family into a loving, supportive one. We reach adulthood believing we failed, unable to see no one can stop the traumatic effects of family alcoholism.”
These self-accusations ultimately lead to self-hate. Accepting our basic powerlessness to control alcoholic behavior and its effect on the family is the key that unlocks the inner child and reparenting begins. When the “First Step” is applied to family alcoholism, a fundamental basis for self-hate no longer exists.Following naturally from this pervasive sense of failure are self-blame, shame and guilt.
The ACA Program
Two characteristics identify the ACA Program. The program is for adults raised in alcoholic homes, and although substance abuse may exist, the focus is on the self, specifically on reaching and freeing the inner child hidden behind a protective shield of denial. The purpose of ACA is three-fold: to shelter and support “newcomers” in confronting “denial; to comfort those mourning their early loss of security, trust and love; and to teach the skills for reparenting ourselves with gentleness, humor, love, and respect.
Moving Out of Isolation
“Moving from isolation is the first step an Adult Child makes in recovering the self. Isolation is both a prison and a sanctuary. Adult Children, suspended between need and fear, unable to choose between fight or flight, agonize in the middle and resolve the tension by explosive bursts of rebellion or by silently enduring the despair. Isolation is our retreat from the paralyzing pain of indecision. This retreat into denial blunts our awareness of the destructive reality of family alcoholism and is the first stage of mourning and grief. It allows us to cope with the loss of love and to survive in the face of neglect and abuse.”
Feeling Our Feelings
The return of feelings is the second stage of mourning and indicates healing has begun. Initial feelings of anger, guilt, rage, and despair resolve into a final acceptance of loss. Genuine grieving for our childhood ends our morbid fascination with the past and lets us return to the present, free to live as adults. Confronting years of pain and loss at first seems overwhelming. Jim Goodwin, in describing the post-traumatic stress of Vietnam veterans, writes that some veterans “actually believe that is they once again allow themselves to feel, they may never stop crying or may completely lose control….”
“Sharing the burden of grief others feel gives us the courage and strength to face our own bereavement. The pain of mourning and grief is balanced by being able, once again, to fully love and care for someone and to freely experience joy in life.”
“The need to reparent ourselves comes from our efforts to feel safe as children. The violent nature of alcoholism darkened our emotional world and left us wounded, hurt, and unable to feel. This extreme alienation from our internal direction kept us helplessly dependent on those we mistrusted and feared. In an unstable, hostile, and often dangerous environment, we attempted to meet the impossible demands of living with family alcoholism, and our lives were soon out of control.”
To make sense of the confusion and to end feelings of fear, we denied inconsistencies in what we were taught. We held rigidly to a few certain beliefs, or we rebelled and distrusted all outside interference. Freedom begins with being open to love. The dilemma of abandonment is a choice between painful intimacy and hopeless isolation, but the consequence is the same. We protect ourselves by rejecting the vulnerable inner child and are forced to live without warmth or love.
Without love, intimacy and isolation are equally painful, empty, and incomplete. Love dissolves hate. We give ourselves the love we seek by releasing our self-hatred and embracing the child inside. With a child’s sensitivity we reach out to explore the world again and become aware of the need to trust and love others. The warm affection we have for each other heals our inner hurt. ACA’s loving acceptance and gentle support lessen our feelings of fear. We share our beliefs and mistrust without judgment or criticism. We realize the insanity of alcoholism and become willing to replace the confusing beliefs of childhood with the clear, consistent direction of the Twelve Steps and Traditions, and to accept the authority of the loving God they reflect.