I had been in recovery for 20 years for my own alcohol and drug addiction.
I had been to therapy, EMDR, Reiki, a hypnotist, and I tried many other spiritual solutions.
I was an avid yogi. I tried meditation. I even got a hydrotherapy colon cleanse.
I truly wanted to be rid of the behaviors that were holding me back. I had tried different medications to make me feel more “normal,” which in turn made me feel more like a zombie.
A few years ago, I was drawn to a book called, Adult Children of Alcoholics by Dr. Janet G. Woititz EdD. I had picked it up at the library thinking there may be more to my problems of being insecure, short-fused, emotionally uptight, and withdrawn.
I had a hard time with intimate relationships, letting people get too close, and was an isolator. I was highly anxious, hypervigilant, and found it difficult to have fun and let loose. I was in a constant state of fear. I am an overthinker, analyzer, and an empath—the list goes on.
Years before, I had gone to an ACOA meeting and found a group of people sitting in the dimmed basement of a church. They were friendly enough, but throughout the meeting, I was distracted by them passing around a dish of candy. I felt like if I stayed, I’d end up in that basement forever, drowning my sorrows with candy too.
I thought, I can’t do this. I’ve already got recovery—I just need to buckle down. These guys are just wallowing in the pain or their childhood and I need to rise above it.
Ten years passed and I found myself really alone. My parents had passed on, I had kids of my own, and I was still struggling with my moods, emotional reactions, and not being able to fully process my past and the traumas that had occurred.
I suppose it’s like when the student is ready, the teacher appears; I picked that ACOA book up and went to the gym to read it. Luckily, there was no one there on this cold wintery Minnesota Sunday afternoon, because I read and wept, read and wept through the whole book.
I cried uncontrollably. I related so much to the traits I had carried for so long. I had felt so different my whole life and tried to be normal, but it seemed impossible. It’s like I never got the owner’s manual for life. I couldn’t figure out what seemed to come naturally to most people. I had a deep, gaping hole that I tried to fill in a myriad of ways.
I looked up the Adult Children of Alcoholics website and found a meeting in the town I was living in. I had only lived there nine months. I was having some culture shock and had yet to meet anyone I could really relate to, hence my desperation to connect. I felt like I had hit an emotional bottom and was ready to rise back up from the ashes.
It was around Christmastime, so I emailed the facilitator of the meeting and she warmly responded. The first night I went, no one else showed up. I was bummed, but she let me know they would be there the following week. I attended that first meeting and it was light and warm and friendly. Very different from my first experience.
They did some readings and I felt like I was kind of in a blur. Perhaps years worth of denial and dissociation will do that to you.
I knew the things that I had witnessed as a child, and I knew what I’d lived through and been a part of, but to me, it was somewhat of a story. I began to hear people tell similar stories; through them, I felt less alone and began to see I was the little girl those things happened to. It wasn’t a story—it was my actual life.
I began to integrate that little girl into my adult woman self. I began to ask her questions and to learn how to heal that sweet child’s existence. Her childhood had been robbed from her, but how could I now bring her up and out, and help her to heal and feel like a welcome part of myself?
I slowly began to talk, share, and open up in the meetings about my past. Things that I had kept hidden and in the dark shadows of my psyche, I let come to the forefront by communicating, writing, and, most of all, through cathartic tears.
I had visceral crying jags that would last for days. I would breakdown on my yoga mat. I would cry while driving. I would wake up in the night with a soggy pillow.
It was a complete transformation. I went from stuffing and medicating to harnessing the feelings and releasing them. I began to walk a little taller. I felt less ashamed. I could name certain traits that I had learned growing up in an alcoholic/drug addicted home.
Last year at a trauma workshop, I learned about the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences).
Here’s the quiz to take it yourself.
I scored a 10/10, which is probably the best I’d ever done on any quiz—all joking aside. This really is no joking matter.
My childhood set me up to have more problems, especially if I didn’t have any caring adults in my life (I was lucky to have some structure with more stable, loving grandparents and aunts) but my home life was over-the-top dysfunctional.
Learning again that the things that happened were not my fault, I was not alone, and that I could seek safe people who have been in similar situations with similar feelings really helped me to feel less alone. Hearing others’ stories helped me to see outside of myself for the first time and to feel more empathy.
I am working the ACOA steps currently with a fellow traveler (as they call it), and I can’t wait to find more freedom on the other side.
Here is a reading from a book they use called, Strengthening My Recovery: Meditations for Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families:
“Using a substance to alter the feelings is the second way to dissociate from feeling pain. The most easily available substances are alcohol, sugar, nicotine, and caffeine.
Many of us came to ACA with addictions to drugs or alcohol. Others came with addictions to money, food, sex, or gambling. With the help of other 12 step programs, we successfully worked on these presenting problems. But there were other seemingly more acceptable addictions that we picked up as a way to mask our pain. In our quest for emotional sobriety in ACA, our feelings have to be available to us in order to locate the underlying trauma in our lives. Even if we’re participating in these more acceptable addictions, like watching hours of TV each day, a nicotine habit that interrupts everything we do, or excessive caffeine, our feelings are being masked.
If we continue to alter our feelings in these or similar ways, it may be because the underlying trauma seems too scary to face. But to find true freedom for our Inner Child requires that or feelings be accessible. We need to be ‘present’ to work our program if we are to become our own loving parent, which means rejecting the role models of our childhood. We make a commitment that the abuse stops here! We allow ourselves to be imperfect and move towards our ultimate goal of being fully awake without reservation.
On this day I will be honest about what I may be using to numb my feelings. I will reach out for help so that I may find the peace I deserve.”
It has been a long process, but I can say that I have been able to say goodbye to many of these defects in my character that have kept me stuck for so long and not living my ultimate life.
I had given up drugs and alcohol in 1998, and cigarettes a few years after that. I gave up caffeine a couple years ago, and I don’t watch TV or eat sugar. This has been a long road, as I’ve said, and it takes baby steps and a “one day at a time” decision to make better choices.
For me, impulsive spending was the main addiction that I clung to. I can say with the help of a super patient financial advisor/friend, I’ve been able to be accountable financially for a year and a half with no crazy, outlandish financial purchases made. I masked my pain with shopping and it did work for a long time—until I was in debt and lying and hiding from my loved ones.
The road to recovery and emotional sobriety is a long one, and like any grief work it is not linear.
I hold close the ideals that were laid before me, and although sometimes I feel like the pain may kill me—it only makes me stronger.
This work is such a passion of mine. I would love to connect with anyone starting this process of a cleaner, more accountable way of living and/or beginning a 12 step program or therapy.