Monday, October 20, 2008

Responsibility and Adult Children of Alcoholics

From "Opening our Hearts, Transforming our Losses," Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, 2007, page 61:

"If we were in the role of defending or protecting other family members, we may have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for those around us. Blaming ourselves for the alcoholic's behavior can weaken our self-esteem and lead us to believe that every conflict is our fault. Likewise, if we assume others are out to hurt us, we might habitually guard ourselves against real or imagined threats.

'I felt personally responsible for everyone's unacceptable behavior.'

Often the coping mechanisms we learned as children in order to survive get in the way of our developing meaningful and trusting relationships as adults. Identifying how we were affected by alcoholism is not about blaming the alcoholic or other family members for all our problems. Rather, it's about taking responsibility for our struggles so we can begin to heal. As children, we may not have had the power to change our circumstances. Now that we are adults, we can make that decision for ourselves."

I could take the above statement, "I felt personally responsible for everyone's unacceptable behavior." a step further and say the I felt personally responsible for everything that went on in my world and for everybody that was in my world. Because of my dad being a dictator when I was a child, I felt so out of control of my life. The result was that when I left home, I stepped into that dictator role and became a control freak. When I first started working on myself in Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Al-Anon, that was the first thing that I discovered about myself. I was a control freak.

Where did the control freak come from? She came out of my feeling responsible for everything and everybody. She came from my fears of failure of being responsible. For the first half of my life or more, fear was the main emotion in my mind and in my body. Fear was in control of my life. I certainly wasn't.

Responsible wasn't what I was. Super-responsible was what I strived to be. That meant if you came into my sphere of life, I tried to fix you and whatever your problems were. I didn't do it in a mean way. I just wanted to help. That was what I told myself and you, if you asked. You see, my feeling good about myself came from helping you. If I could fix you then I had some value in this life other than just taking up space. I didn't know that I was telling you, by my actions, that you were too stupid to think and act for yourself. Al-Anon taught me that, when I was ready to hear it.

That was the day that I stopped doing everything for my children and husband. Of course, being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic that meant I went to the other extreme. Instead of doing everything for them, I did nothing for at least a year or more before I realized that wasn't healthy either. Of course, I wasn't home much either. When I wasn't working with my husband on a parking lot, I was probably in an Al-Anon or ACA meeting or reading a book about being an ACA. Going to meetings all of the time was also an extreme, maybe a healthier extreme but still an extreme. I went to a lot of meetings over the next 10 years. Finally I realized that there were some things that I could do that weren't me being controlling or super-responsible. They were appropriate things for a parent to do for their children. Doing extremes of behavior and feelings is a characteristic of being an Adult Child. It is called All or Nothing Thinking.

I am talking about my life from the view of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, but these issues are the same for an Adult Child of any kind of dysfunction. Dysfunction is always fear-based.

Related Articles:

Let Go And Let God---Al-Anon Slogan

Boundaries And Inappropriate Behaviors

Growing Up With Alcoholism In The Family


Deb Estep said...


I am the child of 2 recovered alcoholic parents. The day you made this post was my Mom's 33rd anniversary of stopping alcohol.
My Dad quit 2 years later. Both were near death accidents that prompted the quitting. I sent my Mom a belated anniversary message today, as she was out of town yesterday. I told her that Oct 20 is a ~special day~ for me and every day since has been a blessing.

Thanks for sharing this info, I will check out the links and do some reading.


Patricia Singleton said...

Deb, congratulations to both of your parents on their years as recovering alcoholics. That is fantastic. That is a wonderful gift for both of them to give to themselves and to you. said...

Hello there!

This is a very informative post!

It's great that you provided resources!!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Patricia Singleton said...

Lisa, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your comments. I like sharing my resources when I remember where I got the information.

Daughter of Addiction said...

Thank you for this very informative post. I have concentrated so long on how to try to help my dad, I haven't concentrated on how his drinking affected me as a person. Very eye opening.

Patricia Singleton said...

Daughter of Addiction, a lot of us tend to focus on the alcoholic to the exclusion of ourselves. Everyone who lives with the disease of alcoholism is affected by it. I lived in denial of that for many years pretending that I was ok. I wasn't until I changed my focus to myself. I am glad that this information was helpful to you.

Stop Drinking said...


So, to stop drinking alcohol on your own, you must liberate yourself from the direct fundamental cause. And, that cause is the underlying emotional pain caused by family dysfunction. You must also learn how to empower yourself, rebuild your self-esteem, and re-discover your identity.

Thanks for this information. :)


Patricia Singleton said...

Stop Drinking, I don't know too many people that are actually able to stop drinking on their own. Even when you do it on your own, then most are still what is called a "dry drunk"---you aren't drinking any more but the characteristics that made you an alcoholic are still very much present and active. I have known many recovering alchoholics in AA who tell stories of how many times they have been unsuccessful at attempts to quit on their own.
This is not an easy process but it can be successful with the support of a 12-Step group and/or rehab.

Dan L Hays said...

Patricia -
You're going to enjoy my Minute to Freedom on "Responsibility" - I relate to this post, and I know you'll relate to that message! I had one friend one time say "you need to give up this save the world complex" and stop trying to take care of everybody!" Yup, super responsible!


Patricia Singleton said...

Dan, I did like what you said about responsibility. Here is the link for anyone else interested in hearing Dan's "Minute to Freedom" talk on Responsibility.

I spent too many days being super-responsible. In stressful times, I can slip back into this pattern and take too much onto my own shoulders rather than delegating to others.

Patricia Singleton said...

Correction to the link. Sorry about that. I didn't read to the end. Here it is: