I finally made it out to see A Star is Born this week. I was well aware of the hype in the recovery community around the film, so I wasn’t exactly surprised by the emotional content; however, I definitely didn’t expect how it would impact me. (I’m attempting to refrain from spoiling any material parts of the film, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you may wish to use caution when continuing through this first paragraph.) As I sat mesmerized by the screen in front of me, it was my father that came to mind. I’m sure the drinking and the musician aspects were all contributing to this, but it was something much more. There was a brief, but profoundly important scene that reminded me of dad’s being so lost in his own demons that he never noticed much of anything else, not even his children. His struggles of addiction had him leaving a son behind when he was very young, and even though we lived in the same house together for years after, he didn’t know a thing about me. I existed within a childhood of silence and learning to stay out of his way. Much like was referenced in the film, there was also a time that I thought I could construct a relationship with dad by becoming his drinking buddy. The result was only a flimsy veil of connection. That was the summer that I turned 18 and my last attempt at being seen before he ended his young life. He would never know me.
Watching this movie obviously hit a nerve. It reminded again me of how growing up in that sort of environment shaped not just me, but so many of us. Those demons that the addict carries evolve into a multitude of burdens for their children if they don’t get help. When I first started writing about the subject, I shared a post that listed the common traits of an ACOA. I evaluated how it’s present in our relationships, with our families and friends, how it impacts our careers and creates barriers that we didn’t even know existed. It may present differently for some of us, but there are substantial underlying commonalities. When I wrote the original post a year and a half ago, I had not yet identified that I had my own problem with alcohol, but in looking back I can see that it was certainly a starting point in acknowledging how deep the burdens of my father ran. Let me be clear that I take responsibility for my actions around drinking and not every ACOA heads down a path of addiction. However, the reality is that there is a strong likelihood of turning to a mechanism to numb after lacking a healthy environment during our crucial formative years. One of my mechanisms happened to be alcohol, and it worked. Until it didn’t.
Even without an addiction or numbing mechanism, ACOAs will typically identify with any number of challenges from the Laundry List of characteristics or common behaviors of the adult child of an alcoholic. Because I’ve found so much value in being able to piece parts of my life together as a result of this list, I don’t think it’s possible to share this information enough. There are a number of variations, but the one below originated from AdultChildren.org, and you will find this rooted within most other ACOA content. My hope is that if you identify with traits on this list, you will take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.
Laundry List of Adult Children of Alcoholics
We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
We live life from the viewpoint of victims and we are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
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.
We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
We became addicted to excitement.
We confuse love and pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue.”
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).
We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
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.
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.
Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.
For additional resources on the subject, I’m happy to talk about what else I’ve found to be helpful. I encourage you to drop me a line on my contact page.