Adult Children of Alcoholics: My Experience – By Dan L. Hays

For many years, I denied that there was any effect from growing up in a household where alcoholism was present, telling friends “I got out OK, it didn’t bother me.” Yet by my early ‘30s, I constantly struggled to cope with life. I finally admitted to myself that, when I was growing up, my parent’s drinking had affected me. I couldn’t develop intimate relationships or even let people get close. I needed everyone to approve of everything I did. I was really frightened by anger – especially my own! Authority figures – and that was almost anyone but me – frightened me terribly! If I received personal criticism, it was devastating. I was overly responsible, couldn’t stand up for myself, felt like I was stuffing my feelings, had a low sense of self esteem. I was terribly dependent – if I got focused on someone, I would cling to them to avoid feeling abandoned – and I felt abandoned all the time anyway. Things were spinning out of control, and only getting worse.

Finally in 1983, at age 33, I did something about it. I went to a 12 step meeting for people who were living with an alcoholic, because that seemed like the closest fit to what I would have experienced. After the meeting, a woman – who I had never seen before and haven’t seen since, but who was an angel for me, said:

“You know, there’s this new group for people who grew up with alcoholism.
It’s called Adult Children of Alcoholics.”

As soon as I heard that, just the name of the group resonated with me for some reason. I explored the resource, and started reading the “characteristics we have in common as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic household.” I was blown away – it was describing my world!

“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.”

And the Laundry List continued. Then I heard the childhood lesson I’d learned all too well  …

“Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.”

It was one of the most astonishing moments of my life – someone understood! Someone knew what I had been through. Someone knew what I was going through! That moment began a healing journey for me which continues today, and those characteristics are the reactive childhood traits I have worked to put to rest.

Of all the resources I’ve found in my recovery, the concept of adult children of alcoholics still explains my struggle – and how to move past it – in ways that few other things have. I am forever grateful to the people who put together that concise Laundry List of characteristics which illuminate my struggle, and started that group which helped heal my world.

Here’s how I characterized my healing process:

Goodbye the Child

To honor the child,
Is always my aim.
But to live as a man,
My goal to attain.

I parent myself,
Learn how to talk,
To trust and to feel,
Is part of my walk.

As I become free,
To do as I must,
My child comes along,
To follow in trust.

I let him run happy,
Safe and secure,
Nevermore terror,
His to endure.

But part of my child,
Has passed away.
Becoming the man,
That I am today.

His fantasy world,
I lay now to rest.
We no longer need it,
I’ll give him the best.

I honor the passing,
Saying goodbye.
To the terrified child
With a tear in his eye.


Here are some great resources:

Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service site
The Laundry List Of Characteristics
The Solution
The Twelve Steps

Here are some books that I found helpful:

There are now a lot of books and other resources for adult children of alcoholics, and they are easy to find on the internet with a search engine.

Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Woititz
Struggle For Intimacy by Janet Woititz
It Will Never Happen to Me by Dr. Claudia Black
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller

Some people have really liked the John Bradshaw books – Healing The Shame That Binds You, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child. I never read them, but heard they were really good. The irony is that John Bradshaw was lecturing at The Palmer House in Houston while I was living there, and I never got by to hear him.

*Author Dan L. Hays speaks of his experiences growing up in an alcoholic family, providing insights into his healing process and valuable information for others who may be in a similar situation. Dan also offers inspirational seed thoughts and  hope in his series, Minute To Freedom.

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