Healing Through ACOA

The mind has time to wander and wonder while walking along a beautiful beach.  Connections and realizations seem to occur more easily when Nature is your companion. Here is how my mind “wandered and wondered” while on a recent vacation.

What do Antigua, Eliot Ness and Rutgers University have in common?  What about Eric Clapton, Al Capone and Dr. Janet Woititz?  The connections will become evident shortly!

While on vacation in Antigua, my husband read a biography on Eliot Ness (yes, he really did exist and he really went after gangsters and the organized crime syndicate).  The book revealed it was estimated that in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, the average consumption of alcohol was 90 gallons per year, per person. If a gallon is approximately 4 litres, then each person consumed approximately 360 litres per year.  That’s almost 1 litre of alcohol a day!  The devastation this level of consumption played on the family and community was highlighted, in part, by the efforts of the Temperance Society.  Their action was one of the factors that led to the Prohibition Era.

During Prohibition, Al Capone made a lot of money bootlegging and smuggling alcohol throughout the States. So although no one was supposed to drink alcohol, a lot of people could still get their booze through illegal sources.  The consumption rate went down slightly, but never actually stopped.  So all the issues associated with alcohol use, abuse and addiction continued on.  And although Eliot Ness got Al Capone in the end, the bootlegging and smuggling never stopped.

Fast forward to this month. While walking on an Antiguan beach, I recalled that many years ago, Eric Clapton gifted the island of Antigua with an addictions recovery facility called Crossroads.  It is a place where anyone can go to get clean and sober and set a healthier course for their life.  Anyone from outside the island must pay for their treatment program, but Mr. Clapton has ensured that any Antiguan wanting to detox and recover can do so, free of charge. It occurred to me that the cycle of alcohol abuse and addiction in North America has lasted more than 130 years.  We would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has not been affected in some way by someone addicted to alcohol.  How has this affected families from generation to generation?

In her 1976 Doctoral Dissertation at Rutgers University, Janet Woititz explored “Self-Esteem in Children of Alcoholics” This then led to further investigations into how the self-perceptions of these children change as they move into adulthood.  Without interventions to help these adults change their self-perceptions to something more positive and empowering, they continue to exhibit low self-esteem, feel discouraged or depressed, believe themselves to be unlovable and unloved and have a sense of isolation from others.  They also have difficulty expressing their feelings and can be so preoccupied with anxiety that they truly can’t connect honestly or comfortably with others.

In her 1983 book, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Dr. Woititz describes the adult child of an alcoholic as being affected and has reacted in ways that those who are not adult children of alcoholics may not have. She found there are certain generalizations that can describe these adult children.  Here are some of her original findings:

  • Adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) guess at what normal behaviour is
  • ACOA have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
  • ACOA judge themselves without mercy
  • ACOA have difficulty having fun
  • ACOA take themselves very seriously
  • ACOA over-react to changes over which they have no control
  • ACOA constantly seek approval and affirmation
  • ACOA are super responsible or super irresponsible
  • ACOA are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved

From her work, a network of support groups has sprung up around the world.  The current support programs help people achieve “emotional sobriety” – a way of functioning that helps them get their needs met in healthy, helpful ways.  It also helps them reprogram those low self-esteem issues and negative self-perceptions that they have held from childhood onward.  It is as if they are detoxing generations of emotional pain and suffering so that they can lead happier healthier lives now.  And so can their children.

The current ACOA programs are actually open to ANYONE who grew up in a dysfunctional home.  It was found that many of the issues, emotional traumas and relationship difficulties of ACOA were also true for those who grew up in households where there was gambling, drug abuse, over-eating, chronic illness, profound religious attitudes, were adopted, lived in foster care or in other potentially dysfunctional systems.  There is help and hope for these folks and their families, too, through the ACOA support groups and programs.

And all this came to mind because of a book, a beach, a guitar hero, a gangster and a university doctoral student who asked the right questions at the right time.


Article written by Pat Antoniak  Registered Nurse – Registered Aromatherapist and owner of the Natural Comfort Wellness Centre in Tsawwassen, BC.



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