"Perhaps the biggest tragedy in our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns. Entangled in the trance of unworthiness, we grow accustomed to caging ourselves in with self-judgment and anxiety, with restlessness and dissatisfaction." —Tara Brach Hello, my name is Elene. I grew up with two alcoholics, my father and paternal grandfather, who lived with us. I was an only child until I was eight and a half years old, and I lived in constant fear of what would happen next. My coping mechanisms for growing up amidst the chaos of alcoholism were to figure out how to do it right, be perfect, not rock the boat and be the good little girl. All the while, I wondered what I had done wrong. I searched for many years to find a way out of the entanglement described so vividly in the opening quote. I looked good on the outside; I was super-responsible, capable, and a "nice" person. On the inside I was a mess—full of fear, anxiety, anger, self-hatred—and much practiced at keeping it all on the inside. Or so I thought. It leaked out in controlling behavior, people-pleasing, compliant behavior, approval-seeking, and judgment of self and others. Oh, yes, and did I mention living life from the viewpoint of a victim? There wasn't a name for the web of emotional pain and unhealthy behaviors I experienced as a child in an alcoholic family. Yes, there was Al-Anon, and that is where I began my recovery journey. Al-Anon was very helpful, a significant part of my healing from the collateral damage of growing up amidst alcoholism. It helped shift the focus from my alcoholic parent and addicted family to my own behavior. Yet, there was something missing. In my 40s, I discovered the missing piece; I was an adult child of an alcoholic. I first heard of ACA in 1985 and immediately felt a resonance. (The terms ACA and ACoA are used interchangeably as both are acceptable.) At last there was a name for what I was experiencing, and there were others like me who knew what it was like to have an addict or alcoholic as a parent or caregiver. I wasn't alone. There was high energy, enthusiasm and interest in ACoA groups for many years, followed by a decline of meetings and struggles in the program. In more recent years, due to the hard work of some ACA pioneers and others in the movement, there has been a resurgence. It was in 1978 that the name first emerged, Adult Children of Alcoholics. ACA began with a group of Alateens who eventually became young adults and wanted a program more specific to their needs and issues of concern. Soon they were joined by a recovering alcoholic known as Tony A. He was a New York City stockbroker, about 50 years old, who would become a co-founder of ACoA. Tony grew up in an abusive alcoholic home and noticed a set of behaviors that, in his observation, were common to himself and others who were raised in families with alcoholism or addiction. He listed 14 traits or characteristics that have lovingly become known as "The Laundry List." You can find the complete list of characteristics on the web by searching "the laundry list by Tony A." In 1991, the idea for an ACA basic text was ignited. In 2006, the ACA "big book" was published followed by a Twelve Step workbook the following year. Other materials continue to be published, giving new strength and clarity to ACoA recovery. What exactly is meant by the term, "Adult Child"? It refers to adults who have grown up with alcohol or other drug addiction in the family or home, typically a parent in active addiction. In Tony A.'s words, "An adult child is someone who responds to adult situations with self-doubt, self-blame or a sense of being wrong or inferior—all learned from stages of childhood. Without help, we unknowingly operate with ineffective thoughts and judgments learned in childhood. The regression can be subtle, but it is there, sabotaging our decisions and relationships." (page III, Twelve Steps of Adult Children) In summary, it means we meet the demands of adult life with survival techniques learned as children. As in Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a statement of the problem and solution. "The Laundry List" is a statement of the problem. As stated in the literature, "The solution is to become our own loving parent." All of us have two distinct aspects of our personality: the Adult and the Child. When our adult self and child self are connected and working together, there is a sense of wholeness within. When these two parts are disconnected, because of being wounded, dysfunctional, or undeveloped, there is a sense of conflict, emptiness and aloneness within. Healing happens when we make the decision to learn from and with the Inner Child. The Twelve Steps of ACA are the heart of the Adult Children of Alcoholics program. They are the pathway to emotional sobriety. Emotions and the body feelings connected to them were deeply buried inside of me. I came to see that the problem was not that as a child my needs were unmet, but that as an adult they were unmourned. The hurt, betrayed child inside me cried out for what she missed. She so much wanted to let go of the pain and the stressful present neediness she felt in adult relationships. In fact, the neediness itself told me nothing about what I needed from others; it told me how much I needed to grieve the unchangeable past and get in touch with my own inner sources of nurturance. I did this in a variety of ways: Twelve Step work, therapy, body work and spiritual direction. The principles of ACoA are not about blame. They are about owning your truth, grieving your losses, and being accountable today for how you live your life. Step by step, one day at a time, the movement is from shame to self-worth, from secrecy to honesty, from loneliness to connection with self, others and a Higher Power—and from silence to having a voice.