Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Laundry List of Adult Children Of Alcoholics

My very first meeting of Adult Children of Alcoholics I was given a packet of information which included what was called The Laundry List.  It is a list of characteristics for Adult Children.  This list works for Adult Children of any dysfunctional family. 

From Becoming Your Own Parent, The Solution for Adult Children of Alcoholic and Other Dysfunctional Families, by Dennis Wholey, Bantam Book, New York, New York, 1988, page134-135:

"The list came into being in the mid-1970's in New York City.  It was authored by Tony A., a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The list of characteristics resulted from his own written personal inventory.  It was presented to a group he belonged to at the time, an offshoot of grown-up Ala-Teen members called Hope for Adult Children of Alcoholics."

Here is a list of the characteristics for Adult Children of Alcoholics from the above book and from the list that I was given at my first ACA meeting back in January 1989:

1. "We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
2.  We became approval seekers and lost our identities 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 are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
6.  We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility; it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our faults.
7.  We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
8.  We become 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.
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 we will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience the painful abandonment feelings that 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 who took on the characteristics of that disease, even though we did not pick up the drink.
14.  Para-alcoholics [co-dependents] are reactors rather than actors."

When I first read this list of characteristics, I could circle eleven of the fourteen as pertaining to me---#1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14.    I grew up in a home with a dad who was an alcoholic and a mother who was a para-alcoholic or co-dependent.  I grew up to become co-dependent.  I married another Adult Child of an Alcoholic.  Almost all of the young men that I dated before I met my husband are possibly alcoholics today.  I took on some of the characteristics of my dad and of my mother even though I choose not to drink because I carry the gene for alcoholism.  Both of my children also know that they carry this same gene.

I went into those first ACA [or ACOA]  meetings knowing that I didn't have a clue as to who the real me was.  For years, I had stuffed feelings down deep inside of me where I wouldn't have to feel and I could deny that the alcoholism and the incest wasn't still affecting me.  My family was dysfunctional because of the alcoholism and also because of the secret of incest.  I also discovered that I had major control issues and abandonment issues.  When I left home, I started to be controlling so that I wouldn't feel the abandonment.  If I was in control, you wouldn't leave me.  The reality is that it is a miracle that I didn't push my husband away with my demanding control of our lives.  In promising myself that no one was going to ever have the control over me that my dictator dad had when I was a child, I became the rigid controller in my life.  After ten years of living that way, I realized that I was not happy with being "in control."  The reality was that I was very much out of control and becoming more and more fearful by the day instead of feeling safe like I wanted.

Can you relate to any of these characteristics?


me as i am said...

hi patricia, again your post feels like it could have been written straight from my own heart. thank you for continuing to write about ACOA issues. they continue to be so relevant and helpful for me. i feel like the above list describes so much of my life and the ways i've been and felt and still struggle to overcome so much of it. but i'm finally starting to feel like i'm making progress. and my experiences blogging, and interacting with people like you has been an important part of that.

thank you again for all you do. sending hugs and love your way~~~

Patricia Singleton said...

Katie, you are so very welcome. You have been a loving and encouraging part of my own journey. You inspire me with your courage and tenacity. You are like me in that you just don't quit. That is a very important trait.

If we grow up in abusive or neglectful homes as children, we become Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families, of which alcoholic and incest are just two causes. Many will find themselves able to relate to this list when they come out of the denial that the dysfunctional family wants them to stay in. We can only stop child abuse if we open our eyes and remove the blinders of dysfunction and denial.

Katie, have a glorious day. You deserve it.

Colleen said...

I can relate to -
2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12,
I saw a similar list when I went to an incest support group. Very similar problems.

Patricia Singleton said...

Colleen, thank you for your comment. I knew you could probably relate to many of these. This original Laundry List has been used and adapted by many support groups since it was first presented in a meeting in New York City so many years ago.

Unknown said...

Oh man, Patricia, I first went to ACOA years really helped too! But I am somewhat disappointed to realize I STILL have many of those characters today...of course I only recently became aware of and started to work on my abuse that must be the reason my progress has been so slow. Geez.

Great post though! Enlightening!

Patricia Singleton said...

Leslie, I am glad that my post gave you this awareness of work that still needs doing. Don't forget to give yourself credit for the progress that you have already made in your life. Slow is better than not at all. Taking small steps means you are moving forward. That may be the way that you do your processing and that is okay. Thanks for sharing.

Journey of a Genie in a Bottle said...

I recognize myself in everything on this list. Neither of my parents were alcoholics, but both had an alcoholic parent. And both grew up in neglectful and abusive homes. That is what they continued into their own parenting, the neglect and abuse.

Thank you for posting this list. I know I have seen it through the years, but I was living in such dissociation until now, I was unable to absorb the full meaning of how my life was affected.


Patricia Singleton said...

Carla, I recognised myself in about 3/4 of the characteristics back when I started going to ACOA meetings in 1989. You are very welcome. This list can be an eye opener. It certainly was for me too.

Anonymous said...

Adult Children of Alcoholics published their own text in 2006. since then the fellowship has really been growing. They welcome anyone who relates to any of the Laundry List. We're never "cured" of our childhood. recovery is an ongoing process, a spiritual discipline, rule of life, what have you. Check out

Patricia Singleton said...

Anonymous, Thank you for adding this information. I have checked out the online group in the past. It is always helpful to me.