When I spoke at the rehab center recently, the substance abuse counselor in training told me she wasn’t sure she belonged in Al-Anon because she was an adult child of alcoholics, but she didn’t hear anyone talking about parents.
Instead, they talked about spouses or children. I assured her that Al-Anon was also for adult children. I’d wager that a majority of people I’ve encountered in the rooms grew up in this disease. It may have been their children or significant other who got them there, but in many, many cases the disease started much earlier.
Maybe we don’t talk about our childhoods as much because we’re usually grappling with how our disease is affecting us today. I don’t know. I was surprised the other day when a man in a group I attend regularly approached me after a meeting in which I had shared and said, “I didn’t know your parents were alcoholics.”
I thought you could look at me and know that.
I shared that with the counselor and mentioned that there we even two books that were written with adult children in mind. They are two of my favorites. “Hope for Today” is Al-Anon’s third book of daily meditations, and it’s written from the perspectives of adult children. The other is “From Survival to Recovery.”
I have been reading "From Survival to Recovery." I've related to and enjoyed the whole book but one section, in particular, got my attention. It says that the prescription for the alcoholic is difficult but obvious. But "for those affected by someone else's drinking, the prescriptions and triggers are less obvious. Unlike drinking, behaviors of excessive responsibility or caretaking are not necessarily characteristics e want to wipe out entirely.... Often we suffer from an excess of a good thing."
I’m generally not a big list person, but this book offers a list of questions to help recognize the need for recovery work that I found helpful.
1. When difficulties occur, do you need someone to blame, even if it is yourself?
2. Do you feel uncomfortable or draw a blank when asked what it is you really want?
3. Does a dark cloud of despair or a creeping depression sometimes seem to appear from nowhere to weigh you down?
4. Do you feel guilty or selfish whenever you say "no"?
5. Are you lonely and isolated? Do you feel like an outsider in the midst of a crowd?
6. Can you identify only one or two extreme feelings, such as anger or fear?
7. Do you think in all-or-nothing terms? Is life either wonderful or miserable, with little in between?
8. Are you numb or flat, with no extremes in your feelings whatsoever?
9. Does you memory fog out or have giant holes where you remember nothing?
10. Do you feel suicidal or have a need to hurt yourself or others?
11. Do you tolerate unacceptable behavior even after you have said you won't?
12. Do you have difficulty relaxing and having fun? Would you not recognize fun, even if it were right in front of your nose?
13. Are you frequently impatient with yourself or others?
14. Do you think you are the only person in the world you can depend on?
15. Do you feel compelled to do things for other people that they could do for themselves?
16. Do you do things you don't want to do, rather than risk disappointing other people?
17. Do you have difficulty trusting your own perceptions? Do you need to prove you are right and others are wrong in order to convince yourself?
18. Do you feel embarrassed or ashamed because of someone else's behavior?
19. Do you startle easily?
20. Do you think the best way to take care of your needs is not to have any?
I was surprised by how many questions I could answer yes to, either now or in the past. That surprised me. Years ago, a friend decided I was an adult child in need of help. He had a book that had a checklist on the back. He sat me down and made me read it.
“Do you see yourself there?” he wanted to know.
“No,” I answered truthfully.
“What about this part about having trouble finishing things?” he said, as if he had just uncovered proof positive.
“I don’t have trouble finishing things,” I said.
“What about it taking you until you were 30 to finish your degree?” He looked smug.
“I finished my degree,” I said, feeling equally smug.
My friend and I had this discussion shortly before I moved. Moving frequently wasn't on his list, but it might have been. We saw each other a few times after I moved, then lost contact. I heard from him not long ago. I told him I was in Al-Anon. That he was right all along.
My sponsor told me that we recognize truths only when we are ready. That’s been true for me. It took me most of my life to accept that I had been affected by the disease of alcoholism. I take it as a measure of my progress how many of these questions I can answer “yes” to. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before I answer “yes” to them all.
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