Hi, let’s jump right in – I’m Lily and I’m an ‘adult child’ or ‘ACOA’ (adult child of an alcoholic). Writing those words (& saying them in my head) feels as difficult as I imagine it would be to stand up at an AA meeting to say “I’m an alcoholic”, except I’m not the alcoholic, my parents are but I still carry the shame, pain and stigma attached.
Life was different
It means that growing up my life looked different to others around me and it was very dysfunctional. It means that as an adult, my childhood wounds show up in ways that make life harder than it needs to be. Perfectionism, people pleasing, poor boundary setting to name but a few. ACOAs share a lot of these similar personality traits but can go years without realising they have any problems, until most of the time, something forces them to face it – and here I am facing it!
I have asked myself a lot ‘Why Bother’ sharing my story, and recently the typical ‘instagrammable’ quote told me exactly why;
Because right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words. Sean Thomas Dougherty
Healing power of words
Words have been, and will continue to be, incredibly healing for me. I’ve been consuming other ACOAs stories, realising I’m not alone and that there are other people out there like me who struggle with the same everyday things. I’ve been reading books on trauma, addiction and shame; listening to podcasts about anxiety, emotions and burnout. The hardest of all, speaking my truth to a therapist for the first time where I learned that my childhood wasn’t just a bit s**t, it was traumatic and ignoring it isn’t going to do me any good.
All these bits of information and realisations that they sparked have been like little puzzle pieces joining up together to make me feel more whole. If my story can be a little puzzle piece for someone else on their journey then it’s completely worth sharing.
My self development journey – lockdown gratitude
I’m only really at the beginning of my self development journey that I would say kick started 15 months ago, when I had no real idea what ACOA meant or the wonderful communities and charities that exist to support us.
March 2020 is a date we will never forget. The month our lives just stopped and we were faced with unprecedented change, when Covid19 closed in on the UK, we shut up shop and flailed about trying to work out what the hell was happening and wondering how do we stay safe? For me, a lot of those sentiments had already hit me prior to the first official lockdown. Because, a few weeks before it, I was signed off sick from work with “stress”.
I quote stress, because I see now it was so much more than that and that word just doesn’t do justice to the range of conflicting and confusing emotions I was feeling. If I had to pick a better word for walking out of work one day without telling anyone because I just couldn’t do it anymore, it would be burnout. Dont hate me, but I’m really grateful for the timing of that first lockdown because I know that without being forced to really stop, I would have never learnt and grown in those following few months as much as i did.
There I was burnt out at age 28, how did that happen? – what a failure, I believed. I’ve only been in the workforce for 7 out of 50+ years and I’ve already had enough. How am I going to get through the rest of my life if I can’t even handle working hard? Little did I know there was so much more to it than that, and I believe that ‘future me’ will also look back at this sentence with a chuckle and think… oh how little she still knew.
From that low point my journey has taken me through 5 weeks off work with a phased return, 4 counselling sessions (EAP provided through work) 6 CBT Sessions (also provided through work), an 8 week meditation course (via a book) and a new love of dance fitness exercise – all of which significantly changed my life in their own ways and I could write an essay on the best bits of all of them! (maybe I will) .
Why haven’t I fixed it all by now?
*spoiler alert*, throughout these few months I went from thinking I was a mental health advocate to realising I had no idea what anxiety really was or that I in fact suffered from it – to then thinking great I’m cured, I have so many new tools now and I understand how my brain works so I’m back in the driving seat. I am in control (I can hear you smirking). As you may have already guessed it’s just not quite as simple as that. Perfectionism got the better of me, again. I thought, but I’ve put in all the hard work – why haven’t I fixed it all by now?
Feeling like something still wasn’t quite right, and knowing my crappy childhood was likely to have caused a few issues, a year later I embarked on private psychotherapy for around 3 months. I felt that CBT taught me practical tools, but something emotional hadn’t been resolved and needed to be explored. I understood how to work through my unhelpful thoughts when they tell me I’m not good enough, but I wanted to understand how I got to that point in the first place. I knew logically why I burnt out, but what fueled those behaviours for so long, without me ever realising it was an issue.
I remember very vividly the moment my therapist called my childhood ‘traumatic’. I responded so eloquently with “oh” I genuinely had no idea. and when she asked me how that felt (as they so often do) I mustered up “validating”. It may have only been a single word but I felt it so deeply and it truly marked the start of my healing journey. A healing journey I didnt even realise was required a year ago and will be with me for a while as I navigate bottled up emotions, limiting beliefs, and my triggers and responses.
Somedays I do still question if I’m worthy of wearing the “trauma” scar. A lot of children had it much worse than I did (and from my experience this should be the slogan for ACOAs) but the more I read, learn and process I recognise that regardless of how bad others had it, I needed more as a child! More safety, more attention, more stability, more support, more affection, more fun.
My “Little Me”
Now it’s my job and privilege to be able to provide that for myself. ‘Little me’ deserves to feel safe, worthy and loved and my hope is that my journey, wherever it takes me, achieves this and sets a path for ‘future me’ to flourish and enjoy life. I’ve noticed a powerful shift in my mindset during my journey so far because I can honestly say that right now I do feel hopeful for the future and for that I’m very grateful. It’s all about progress not perfection!
Word from Jo
I’m so grateful to Lily for agreeing to share her story so publicly, this is never easy and I don’t underestimate how hard it was to write and be ready to write it. Like a lot of ACOA’s, Lily is on her own journey, processing, understanding, putting the pieces together, and recognising that just maybe, it wasn’t her fault. I’m glad to see that she is looking at the “little Lily” and understanding what she needs to feel safe, worthy and loved, something so many of us struggle with.
I hope you’ve found something in Lily’s story and experience that has helped you to no longer feel alone.
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If you’d like to chat then do get in touch, I’m happy to gift you some time. Simply email email@example.com or call (07732) 403305.
Remember you aren’t alone and you can always join my Daughters of Alcoholics Facebook group, where other daughters of alcoholics support each other with challenges they experience from the past or present. You may have lived with an alcoholic in your past, but it’s still impacting you in the present.
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