In 1976, when I came to AA, there were few female members. In my third month of recovery, I had a profound spiritual experience which I have related in another post. I quickly learned to shut up about God as many members wanted to talk about alcohol only. Being female and a God-person almost insured that I wouldn’t have a lot of group acceptance.
The focus for my recovery took a profound change in direction when I discovered ACA. I have never “forgot” that I am first and foremost an alcoholic and am deeply grateful to be in recovery. Nor have I ever considered myself as recovered. Why change something that works for me?
ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) has gone through several name changes. In 1977, (one year after the beginning in my recovery in 1976), a group of Al-Anon members realized that they were all children of alcoholics. In later years, ACOA became ACA.
Up until 1983, any Al-Anon meeting I attended was to help heal that child inside me who grew up in a very troubled family. But when I shared at Al-Anon meetings about my alcoholism, I felt a subtle change in the group of some members feeling that I didn’t not belong in an Al-Anon meeting.
But when I found ACA meetings, I immediately knew that I belonged because they talked about feelings. I continued to be completely committed to my recovery with AA groups. But the AA groups were male-dominated groups whose members seemed to be proud of how far they had fallen to their bottoms. So I started attending ACA and Codependents Anonymous as well as AA.
The reason that ACA changed the direction of my recovery is that I had learned as the oldest child in the alcoholic home to be the parent for my parents. This overdeveloped sense of responsibility contributed to my feelings of guilt about my own recovery. At ACA, I learned that my feelings weren’t right or wrong or good or bad, but were simply feelings.
It goes without saying that I chose men who needed to be mothered. The sad part is that they tried to be the father I had never had as my Dad was the irresponsible one in our family. Even after years of recovery, my parents stayed united in the belief that if I had just kept quiet, I wouldn’t have had the beatings I did. I never could understand why my opinion was such a threat to them.
Family roles in dysfunctional families (which all of us are part of at one time or another) were introduced by Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse in her book, The Family Trap.
In our family of origin, we each chose roles as our way to belong in the family. After using these in five groups for over five years, I realized we choose two roles.
Possibly we were indirectly “assigned” these roles. However, we settled on two of the roles. One is our “doing” role (how we appear to others) and the other is our “being” role (the role we choose to solve our emotional problems through).
The roles are family hero, scapegoat, lost child, and mascot.
In the roles that children adopt in the core family, I was the “family hero” in my doing role and the “scapegoat” in my being role. These roles are part of my Changemaker Test and I have a page explanation for each of the Changemaker labels. As the family hero, I worked every evening after school in a drugstore, was on the Honor Society, Junior Prom Queen and editor of the yearbook. But at home, I was referred to as Queenie. When I was friends with my Dad, then I was on the outs with Mom and vice versa. I can remember few times we were all content with each other.
The recovery I learned in ACA was to learn to parent myself. When I started releasing feelings of love and acceptance toward myself, I was finally at ease with myself.
One of the techniques I used early in my recovery to get in touch with my wounded feelings was accepting my inner child. Transactional Analysis helped me to discover my parent, child and adult states. Eric Berne was the founder of TA and introduced the idea of the games we play to get what we want.
Games People Play was the title of his first book and was a best-seller in the 1960’s. After 40 years and 5,000,000 copies, Games is still relevant today.
Two of the main concepts for the TA philosophy are we are each worthy of being accepted and people can change. Of the three ego states—parent, child and adult—when I studied TA in 1977, I found that I could only identify 2 ego states. I had a very judgmental parent (these are thoughts and ideas I had adapted from my parents) and child (mine was the willful me-only child state). I found that I had no adult (the ego state used to live in the here-and-now with responses dependent on new responses). No wonder I lived in either yesterday or tomorrow. I had no inner guide to deal with today.
In choosing elements to include in a recovery program, the first requirement is to surrender to the God of your understanding. The second requirement is a recovery team to help you. Having three-five people who support recovery with “tough love” will support someone through the rough times. Your support team doesn’t have your answers; he/she has an individual recovery plan of his/her own that is shared with others. I quickly learned to make not drinking my number one priority in life no matter what.
When I was getting sober in the late 70s-early 80s, two Catholic priests were very instrumental in my recovery. Having been reared Presbyterian in a small town, I had no experience with other religions or faiths. I am grateful that I had the courage to try new ways because it began a journey I still enjoy of trying all the spiritual techniques and/or ideas that I seek out.
The two priests were Father Martin (who was a recovering alcoholic with a ministry of “chalk talks” that opened up worlds of acceptance and understanding) and Father John Powell (a retired Loyola Jesuit priest who has written 21 books and is the second best-selling Christian writer). They are both deceased now but they changed the direction of my recovery.
Father Martin’s “Chalk Talk” movie was widely used in DUI classes in Florida. I was fortunate to have been able to teach these classes every week for five years to multiple offenders. The course was 12 weeks long with the focus on alcoholism. I was also fortunate to have seen Father Martin in person several times. I was only sober a few months the first time I saw him. During the talk that evening, he said that you go after the kind of recovery that you think you deserve. What a concept! I had just assumed that the same things happened to everyone in recovery. Instead I started to forge new paths for myself.
Father John Powell was one of my early mentors although I never met him. His books—especially Why Am I Afraid to Love—helped me to accept that I had the opportunity to begin a new life by letting go of old concepts.
By the time we are 21, it is estimated that we each have retained 20,000 hours of negative self-talk. Father Powell’s books are easy to read and loaded with dynamic self-help concepts. These were some of the first in this field. The huge concept that I learned from him was the Copernican concept that the world didn’t revolve around me. It was my first step toward living life on life’s terms. In the movie “10 Million Ways to Die”, the hero (Jeff Bridges—one of my all-time favorites) is at the beach after his slip for his 6-month chip. In his acceptance speech, he says that he never knew that he lived in a world that he hadn’t created. I identified.
I was also slowly learning that although addiction has some common roots for everyone, we each had to wrestle our own demons. So recovery becomes as unique as we each are. The only being large enough to know what we each need is God. The most beautiful gift that we each receive in recovery is that every experience and trial that we have had is a tool to help others with his/her recovery.
The fear we experienced as children created frozen feelings in our adulthood. But in accepting ourselves, we need to remember that that fear protected us when we were small and had no clue how to respond in the world of adults who also were struggling with life plus addiction. So our fears are our protection that we no longer need. Letting go and letting God works much better for my life.
As the main addiction recovery program progresses, other addiction problems will surface. I believe that everyone needs to examine the codependent side of the addiction experience. Over the 40+ years (since 1976) I have been in recovery, I have seen hundreds of relationships between sponsor and addict. Many of these relationships could be enriched by delving into an understanding of the codependent dynamics in this very special relationship. I see no reason why the examining of these dynamics couldn’t be shared by the two.
One of the main codependent relationship choices is the top-dog or underdog positions in power. I was the top-dog—the one who always ran things and had all the answers for everyone else. The “top-dog” is a natural magnet for all those who don’t want to be responsible for him/her. Of course, I attracted underdogs who “needed” me for everything and who generally weren’t around when I had needs. I now know that this is an underdog game because they get everything done for them.
Not surprisingly, many codependents end up in the helping professions—policemen, fire departments, social services, teachers, clergy and medical professions. For people seeking help from therapists, be careful not to accept a professional who has your answers. No one can know what is best for anyone else. Choose professionals that offer a free session in which you can explore the helper’s own recovery. A healer can only help you as far as he/she has healed.
In recovery, books help much because they can be referred to time and time again. The main criteria I used in choosing what helped me was that the book had to be easy to understand. I believe wisdom is simple.
In June, 2009, I reached my emotional bottom after being in recovery since Nov. 1976. The book that eventually allowed me to accept my primary addiction (having been born into a home dominated by alcohol) was the Red Book of ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics).
ACA Red Book and other ACA material can be ordered from the ACA World Headquarters.