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Breaking The Cycle

Breaking The Cycle
Breaking The Cycle

This past week has been a sort of hell for me. As an Adult Child Of an Alcoholic, I have many wounds from childhood that have not healed yet. Those wounds were closed, buried, until now. You see, my oldest niece is now the same age I was when my parents were fighting, and consequently divorced. Right now, my sister is separated from her husband, and it feels, to me, like my oldest niece is re-living my childhood.

It is painful to write about this right now, and I must admit that I am having trouble forming words to write. My inner child feels like she’s curled in a ball, deep down inside me, crying and scared. I gently remind her that I am here with her right now, in this moment, and that she’s not alone. That I will protect her.

As painful as it is to write this, I know it is a necessary process that I must endure to heal that inner child, and help her move on.


I don’t remember when my parents started fighting. I only remember that they would wait until my sister and I would go to bed, and then start in. I could still hear them though, because we lived in a trailer house, and my bedroom was a short distance away from their room.

When I was 9, going on 10, my parents sat my sister and I down, and said they were getting a divorce. That night, my mom moved out. I remember that night vividly. I thought if I hid under my bed, with my mom’s coat, she couldn’t leave. I didn’t want her to leave. Unfortunately, she found me, and her coat, and left.

Shortly after my mom moved out, my dad got a new job, in another city about an hour away, and we moved, leaving my mom behind.

There were periodic visits to see her, always in a different place, and sometimes with a different man. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. Looking back now, I see it clearly, though at the time I was too young to understand.

Even though my mom wasn’t in the house, her disease of addiction still permeated our household. My sister and I paid for her alcoholism and drug addiction. Those payments came in the form of a stressed-out father who was working full-time, long hours, so he could put food on the table and clothes on our backs. It came in the form of having my grandma and aunt trying to teach me about feminine products, shaving my legs, and bras. It came in the form of a well-meaning family friend taking me shopping for a dress and slip for my 8th grade confirmation. Those payments came in many other forms as well.

The repercussions from this type of childhood were not clear to me until I reached adulthood however. When I got sober, and began to learn more about what it meant to be an Adult Child Of an Alcoholic, I had a clearer idea about why I was the way that I was.

“The Laundry List”

Personality traits of an ACOA (Adult Child Of an Alcoholic) can be found on the ACOA World Service website, as well as the flip-side of those traits. Listed below is their “Laundry List – 14 Traits of an Adult Child of An Alcoholic”:

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. 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, etc.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue”.
  10. 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).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. 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.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease; and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

-Tony A., 1978;


Today, there are still many characteristics from the list above that I carry with me. For example, I am still afraid of authority figures, when they raise their voice, or there is a certain tone in their voice. I am still frightened by angry people and personal criticism. I still love chaos, or excitement, but only when I create it. And, I also get guilt feelings when I stand up for myself. The difference between then and now is, I recognize these characteristics in myself. I recognize them in my sister. Part of my recovery today is continuing to recognize these characteristics, and work on improving them.

One of the ways I work on improving these characteristics is, paying attention to my feelings when I feel triggered by an authority figure, or someone who is raising their voice. Recognizing when I am creating chaos. Recognizing when the guilt feelings crop up, and remind myself that that is not my truth today. Also, I remind myself that it’s okay to stand my ground.

It is a constant work in progress because, like I said, those wounds are generally covered up. It is my job to recognize when I am being triggered, to feel the feelings associated with that trigger, and bring myself back to the present.

Breaking The Cycle

Today, I am powerless over the ability to change my past. What’s done is done. I am also powerless over the ability to prevent my three nieces from growing up the way my sister and I did. I am not powerless however, over breaking that cycle. I am not powerless over helping my sister break the cycle of re-living my dad’s life. I am not powerless over re-living my mom’s life.

I was able to choose recovery from alcohol addiction, where my mom was not. I am able to help my sister recognize the characteristics of being an ACOA, and help her heal from those wounds. I am able to help her break the cycle, and give my nieces a better childhood than we had.

It won’t be an easy feat. There is always the possibility that my nieces will grow up and experience the same hardships that my sister and I endure today as adults. But, the difference between then, when my sister and I were children, and now as adults is, we have the tools our parents did not. We have the tools to recognize un-healthy behaviors, and the ability to change them into healthy behaviors. Today, we have the ability to break the cycle of addiction in our family, and give those girls the life they deserve.


For more resources on Adult Children Of an Alcoholic, please follow this link. For ACOA meetings near you, please follow this link.

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