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Q: I am an adult child of an alcoholic, and have many unresolved issues. What should I do?

A: One of the interesting components of growing up as an ACoA (Adult Child of Alcoholics) is the feeling that "no one else knows what this feels like." In reality, many know, because many have grown up in similar situations. It doesn't really matter whether or not the parent suffering with addiction was our mother, father, and even a sibling or uncle, aunt, etc. The damage is still the same, and includes lots of what I call "abuse and abandonment issues." Abandonment can occur even if the parents stay together and do not divorce or leave the house. This kind of abandonment is called "emotional abandonment." Likewise, abuse can occur even when there is no physical abuse, and manifests itself as emotional/verbal abuse. Co-dependency is always present, in one form or another, within the addicted family unit. In my book Prodigal Song: A Memoir, I write about what happened to my two sisters and me, how we split apart rather than bonding together when addiction began destroying our home. This “lonely in a room full of people” kind of family existence is a lonely place indeed, and I can certainly relate to your pain.

Two things are very important regarding our recovery. First, although much can be gained from working with a professional counselor, I personally feel strongly that those of us who suffer from this particular disease dynamic need to connect with other recovering people... people just like us. A counselor might be well-trained in his profession, but none of this can substitute for having lived through the experience ourselves. I would urge you to try and locate a counselor who is a recovering addict, and familiar with ACoA, etc. I can tell you that this is not a philosophy embraced by everyone who works in my profession. But I believe it to be true.

Second, simply seeing a counselor once a week, though potentially very helpful, won't get the job done. Your issues will continually try to creep back into your life. It is never "cured." I have to work on my recovery daily, never forgetting to do the things that are healthy for me, and never taking the destructive nature of this thing for granted. The main way I do this is through FELLOWSHIP-ORIENTED RECOVERY GROUPS. This can be Al-anon/Alateen, AA, NA, CODA, ACOA... there is a long list. I recommend you look in the phone book for 12-step meetings like these in your area. If you've never done this before, it probably sounds a bit scary. But I cannot stress strongly enough the importance these meetings in my own life.

It's critical for you to break the satanic illusion that you are alone in this. You are NOT alone! Christ waits to heal you, to free you from the leftover shame and hurt and heart-woundedness that come from your life experience. And He does this, often, through the loving embrace of others just like you and me. Don't be afraid to reach out.


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