A nice big box actually, like the big box of Crayola crayons that have the sharpener in it. That way if I dare to pull a color out and actually use it to broaden my otherwise go to of black and white hues of my chaotic life and wondrously fun childhood. What if I could go all out and risk breaking a crayon because I tried too hard. I can sharpen it and try yet again.
Yup, I need a box of bright crayons with a vast array of colors to choose from.
I’m a pretty classic text book example with traits and behavior patterns of an ACOA. I live them and I embody them. Un-fucking my childhood will be a lifelong process, it was accept this or be consumed by it. I’m not going down without a fight, I’ve known this since I was a child.
Alcoholism impacts lives and not just the life of the alcoholic. Its impact comes with a substantial emotional costs to those who are at highest risk – the highest cost is quietly paid by children who live in it, often living it in the shadows by the very insidiousness of the cycle.
Our childhood is the accumulation of every interaction between caregiver and self. When the caregiver is splayed out on the front lawn because she was too drunk to make it into the house… It doesn’t exactly help develop a healthy sense of expectations of functioning. It results in the interruption of normal, healthy psychological and neurological growth and development. Life is chaotic and the big old world a child will one day grow to live in, that shit doesn’t make sense.
Void of a consistently rational (aka sober), safe, and secure parent who provides and models skills of emotional regulation (aka not drinking, breaking down and crying endlessly for the mother who died in her own childhood – almost every.single.time.she.was.shit.faced.) and appropriate self-soothing (aka a hike in nature to process feelings vs. downing a pint of straight vodka and setting the house on fire because mom passed out) the capacity to assess and understand what is happening – it ends up being an inaccurate representation of how to navigate adult relationships.
Plainly put, it fucks with our wiring.
The experiences and relationships that were modeled – or really not modeled are an immensely powerful component of who we will grow up to be and how we see, live, and function in adulthood. It’s the core of who we become. As with every label someone creates… probably for some insurance billing purpose – We all need a label and some kind of diagnosis it seems.
There are some “common” characteristics that can be seen in adult children of alcoholics.
- Depression & Anxiety – shocking I know.
- Numbness – One of my favorite self-preservation angles, I’m really cornering the market on this one. Why feel when shutting down is a defense against what would otherwise be overwhelming pain you have no base line for dealing with in a healthy sense!
- Hyper-Vigilance – Another classic trait I’m rather fond of. It is a subconscious yet constant scan of environment, people and relationships for signs of potential danger or crisis.
- Easily Triggered & Hyper-Reactive – Oh those beloved associations of trauma… yelling, loud noises, criticism, a smell, touch or even a subtle look can trigger those black and white reactions. Shut down or the other end of the spectrum, a very intense emotional reaction. Like losing your shit kind of intense emotional reaction. I may have lost my shit once or twice in life…just saying.
- Rigid Psychological Defenses – That shut down could be part of dissociation, denial, repressed memories, minimization of how something impacted you. Walls put so high that none will ever be able to breach them.
By far my favorite – like neon pink crayon favorite – is intellectualization. As my therapist so gently put it “I know all I need to know”… he mumbled some shit about ‘feeling’ it. But that circles right back to my old school buddy of numbing. Why fuck with it if it’s working…
- Self-Regulation Problem – How about those crayons now…the deregulated limbic system we end up toting into adult life can manifest with some slight problems with regulating many things like thinking, feeling and behavior. That saying “0 to 10” or the flip of 10 to 0 without intermediate stages that ‘normal’ folks have. Ya, we totally have that shit down pat. Black and white thinking, feeling and behavior, and no recognition of shades of gray – check.
- Learned Helplessness – I’m ok on this one, my defiant streak – also seen as that fuck yourself and die side may help a wee little bit here.
- Distorted Reasoning- Convoluted attempts to make sense of chaotic, confusing, frightening shit and really not the best experiences of good parenting.
- Ability to Accept Care or Support – Well there’s that inherent numbness, shutdown, fears of trusting and being let down all over again… I have absolutely no idea why an ACOA would struggle here… I don’t need anyone’s help!
- High Risk Behaviors – For me, I think this manifests more in high risk relationships. I try to stay alive and whole because of being a mom gig to dependent humans I’m supposed to raise to be contributing members of society.
- Desire to Self-Medicate– I will never give up my vice of coffee, never.
- Survival Guilt- Having survived or “getting out” of an unhealthy family, nope. I earned getting out of it. Well that and everyone pretty much drank themselves to death anyway. I think I have one family member on my mom’s side that is actually alive and breathing.
- Cycles of Reenactment & Relationship Issues- Grabbing my crayons and going to color now…