for adult children of alcoholics



Finding the Light

I am having to remind myself again and again about finding the light. And remembering not to believe the things said to me when I was so much younger. But oh my how easy it is to remember the sting of those words, spoken by drunk parents all those years ago, and give far too much weight to them today. It erodes our curiosity and our confidence, forcing us to operate from a place of scarcity, fear and not-enoughness. Carrying those thoughts into challenging work days and hard conversations with loved ones and sleepless nights where we question it all can double convince you it’s all true. But it’s not.

Repeat after me: I am not what they said about me. I am magic. I am unfolding. I am becoming me. The me of my dreams. When it feels dark, I will take care of myself by seeking light. I am enough and I don’t need anyone else to reflect that back to me because I’m reflecting that back to me.

Morgan Harper Nichols shared a few lovely words today that reminded me how important it is to be patient with ourselves and seek the light when we are getting a little lost in the painful words we heard when we were younger. I’ve shared them in my stories but I share my favorite here: “So keep your eyes fixed on Light, and be reminded deep into the night, even in your unknowns you are still being directed.” I’m learning to trust the direction of my own heart and my own mind. And to trust that something greater is at work and that I truly am being directed, even when it’s so tough to trust it without fully seeing what’s ahead. Sending you so much love as you patiently navigate the night.

Layers of Healing That Put Distance Between Us

When I think back on past years – years before I fully understood all of the profound ways being a child of alcoholics affects you – it seems to me now that I was living my life well below the surface. I worked hard at a prestigious and well-paying job, I had lovely friends, I took amazing trips and I made great dinners and threw great parties for those in my life. All outward signs of a life well-lived. But it is the strangest thing: I realize I was so many layers below the surface that I never really connected with anyone in a way I could have. In the way I do now. In full awareness of my ACOAness. In full knowledge of who I am as a person. I was so out of touch with myself after doing whatever it took to navigate my alcoholic home that even in my dearest relationships, I could not fully express what I needed or even understand who I was enough to know what I needed that it breaks my heart a bit. Lovely humans whom I adore were meeting me with their above the surface selves and I didn’t even know how much space there was between us because the distance I had to travel to heal – to pierce through all the layers of pain and understanding – was too great. And I didn’t even know. I had a wall of damage around me, a sound layer of protection I wasn’t even aware I carried around. And so when you met me then, when you loved me then, even when I was giving everything back, even when I seemed to be up at the surface with you, I was still deep in the depths of my own unknowing. I did not realize I wasn’t meeting you at the surface. I thought I was.

The good news: I’m at the surface now! The sun on my face, the light reflecting off the water, fresh air in my lungs. I know who I am. It has taken me years to sort, but I’m here.

The less good news: without ever understanding why, I lost wonderful relationships. I lost people I adore. I could see in their faces a confusion, perhaps even an understanding on their part that I wasn’t quite ready for life in the way they were. And I didn’t know. And it wasn’t my fault. But I’ve carried the shame of this inability to be pre-healed for so long now, I’m wanting to speak it so I can finally let it go.

Old Patterns Persist Until We Learn the Lesson

“Old patterns persist until we learn the lesson.” You hear this a lot. And it makes sense. But it’s only when you realize that you’ve been locked in a persistent pattern that you realize just how powerful they are and how tough it is to really learn that lesson.

To wit: as an #ACoA, I’ve spent much of my life as a workaholic. I’ve heard it said that children of alcoholics are often workaholics. And I’ve been that. First it was a way of escaping the crazy in my house (if you’re at school forever or studying forever, you’re not home to see the ish). Then as a way of escaping my life. If you work 80+ hours a week, you don’t have time to think about how much it all hurts. If you give yourself entirely over to work (your company, your boss, your clients) you create a system of so much anxiety and struggle and people-pleasing and things you don’t want to do which exactly mirrors your home life and so in a weird way you don’t have time to deal with your family situation but you have created that family situation inside your job. So you can live and re-live it and feel a strange comfort in the familiar victimhood and frustration of “I give so much, why doesn’t anyone give to me, this isn’t fair.”

And at various times in my life, I’ve seen the game I constructed for what it was and I walked away. Said no. Said it’s time for me to choose me instead of allowing a company or a client or a boss to rule my world in the same way my alcoholic parents ruled my world.

And I’m good for awhile and I set clear boundaries. And I feel aligned. Less chaotic. Not a victim. Full of flow.

But I always come back. I always find some way to get myself into a situation where I have to choose between the work and myself. Where there is no balance, only extremes. It is a lesson I’ve clearly not yet learned and I’m facing it again.

So today I’m burning some palo santo and I’m getting rid of old beliefs about myself and my worth and what I deserve. I’m clearing the space for new (balanced!) behavior where I actively honor and CHOOSE what I want instead of accepting what I don’t so I may finally put this lesson to bed.

Beautiful photo via