We share these topics in the spirit of the 12th Step, reaching out our hands to those who still suffer. If you find these articles valuable, please print them out and bring them to your meeting to share.
#1 Self Love – A Spiritual Practice
SELF DOUBT – SELF DESTRUCTION – SELF HATE
Most of us came into this Fellowship with a lot of self-doubts. Often what we affirmed was negative, self-destructive and self-defeating. These invalidating thoughts represented what we had come to believe about ourselves and they were based on messages from the past, some spoken, others unspoken. Rarely were they positive or nurturing. Nonetheless, we incorporated these negative statements into our beliefs about who we were.
They included things like:
I’m incompetent and incapable.
I’m worthless and undeserving.
I’m unimportant, even to the people who love me.
No matter what I do, I’ll always be unattractive.
I’ll never measure up
I have no right to exist.
Believing we are “no good” is a heavy burden. It saps our energy – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. When we believe these untruths about ourselves, life seems pretty grim. In ACA, we find hope.
We learned that the love we were seeking would come from self-acceptance and self-nurturance. These were the avenues we must travel in order to regain our birthright – knowledge of our wholeness.
FROM BLAME TO FORGIVENESS
It was difficult for some of us to let go of the past. We wanted to move on, but still felt stuck with the desire to punish ourselves or others for the pain we had so long endured. Steps Six and Seven offered us the chance to release our old ways of coping. We just needed a little help in order to “be entirely ready for God to remove all our defects of character.”
SELF-ACCEPTANCE, SELF-LOVE, SELF-ESTEEM
After completing our Fourth Step inventory, many of us were surprised to discover how little self-worth we really had. Some of us found that deep within there was a belief that we had no reason to be alive, no right to exist. We avoided life with the help of substances such as drugs, alcohol and food. We lost ourselves in a variety of activities – relationships, sex, work, shopping, exercising and gambling. Some of us managed to avoid living by using diversions such as excessive meditation, celibacy or even TV watching.
Having taken our Fifth Step, many of us learned that much of what we thought was true about ourselves and about living was someone else’s opinion, an opinion that we hadn’t thought to question. We were misguided, not worthless, and we had developed character defects in order to live with self-damaging beliefs about who we were and what we thought we were like.
As we worked Steps Six and Seven, our True Selves would begin to emerge.
- I have the right to be here, to exist.
- I am glad I am a woman OR I am glad I am a man.
- I deserve to live a successful, happy life.
- I deserve joy.
- My needs are okay with me.
- I am lovable and I deserve love.
- I can take my own time. There’s plenty.
- I am enough.
- I am effective.
- My feelings are okay with me.
- I am worthwhile and important.
- I deserve comfort and compassion.
Parenting ourselves means learning to take care of ourselves, working our programs, experiencing healthy boundaries, becoming accountable and responsible and learning to love and be loved. We put our faith in a Higher Power and ask for help with the fears, hurts, shame and anger of the child within.
Parenting ourselves means responding to situations rather than reacting. It means practicing acceptance and asking for what we want and need in relationships. We strive to let go of self-shame and blame and take responsibility for ourselves, our happiness and sorrow.
We learn to accept how we’ve reacted to situations in the past remembering that healthy parenting dialogue is filled with strength, unconditional love, understanding, compassion and wisdom. We all make mistakes. When this happens we can make amends and reaffirm ourselves lovingly as worthwhile human beings.
We know we’re not alone when we accept our codependence. Together we’re learning how to love and be loved and how to live life rather than merely survive it. Recovery in ACA is an ongoing process. It’s a life that constantly challenges us. Recovery isn’t earned like a merit badge; it’s a way of living that evolves with us every day.
Learning to “love the self” is part of that ongoing process – IT TAKES COURAGE.
I know a new love and acceptance of myself and others.
I feel genuinely lovable, loving and loved.
END OF READING
PRACTICING SELF-LOVE : AFFIRMATIONS
- As I turn my attention to my physical body, I experience it with gratitude, appreciation and love.
- I have the ability to accept and to give love.
- I choose to accept and to feel my Higher Power’s unconditional love.
- I am a valuable human being and I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
- I deserve relationships with people who honor all aspects of me.
- I am free to express my sexuality in a safe and loving relationship.
- As I learn to trust God and to release my fear of others, love and acceptance fill my being.
- As my self-love increases I receive love from others with greater ease.
- In this moment I apply love in my thoughts, in my words and in my actions.
- In this moment, I am willing to see myself as I truly am, a growing, unfolding spiritual being resting in the hands of a loving God.
WHEN I LOVED MYSELF ENOUGH ……..
- When I loved myself enough – I learned to meet my own needs and not call it selfish.
- When I loved myself enough – I came to know I am worthy of knowing God directly.
- When I loved myself enough – I began feeling such relief.
7 Habits I’m Breaking Now That I’m in ACOA Recovery
The patterns that, bit-by-bit, I work on breaking every day.
When I started recovery as an adult child of an alcoholic, going back and remembering my childhood was painful enough, but more daunting was facing and dismantling the character defects and harmful habits I’d developed to cope with it. Criticism tends to reverberate and expand inside my head, so I avoided it and refused to take responsibility for my own behaviors.
But recognizing I was a para-alcoholic meant actually seeing myself objectively and doing the work to change. As I recovered from my co-dependent, control-freak ways, the things that changed weren’t extreme behaviors but the everyday bad habits that made my life far harder than it needed to be. So here’s some patterns that bit-by-bit, I work on breaking every day.
1. People pleasing, over-responsibility, and having no boundaries
I know, I know: that’s three things! But bear with me—I grouped these together because they all stem from the same source: a compulsive need to be liked. I had such a ninja talent for discerning and then delivering what other people wanted that most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I’d agree to do things that didn’t interest me, or didn’t have time for, and end up stressed and angry. I’d find myself instantly agreeing with things I didn’t, and I’d hold back to avoid conflict.
Almost all of this came from my fear of abandonment and a desperate need to keep people in my life, regardless of whether they were healthy for me. Instead, I’d do what I thought they wanted and feel resentful for it. Now, I no longer need everyone to like me, and I make a point to be honest about what my opinion may be, as long as I’m kind about it. One of the first things I learned was to add a new word to my vocabulary: No. Most people are surprisingly okay with hearing it.
2. Ignoring my own feelings and impulses
Years of burying how I really felt meant that I had trouble identifying my own emotions. I didn’t even have the words for basic ones. I slowly learned to pay attention to my physical responses, but even those were only a clue to the unaddressed layers underneath. Now, if I feel my shoulders tighten, I know that I’m stressed, but underneath that is probably anger because I’ve compulsively said yes when I didn’t want to.
And if I feel resentment toward a person or a responsibility, I can almost always trace it back to failing to be honest with someone else about what I actually want and need. Now, when I feel negative emotions, I accept them rather than resisting. They pass more quickly. And knowing my real feelings also helps me be honest with myself about whether I actually want to go to a friend’s party or when I’ve agreed out of guilt.
3. Controlling other people
Letting go of people pleasing made me realize just how sneakily controlling I’d been with the people closest to me. I’d skirt around the truth to avoid hurting feelings, because I didn’t want my friends and family to feel negative emotions—especially not toward me. And it’d rob both of us of the chance to either make things better or move on. But as I accepted my own feelings, I saw just how fleeting emotions are. So now I own up to the things I want, and let others have their feelings—regardless of how angry they may be. It’s not my job to protect people who aren’t asking for it.
4. Avoiding new situations
For years, I’ve avoided new situations, or kept them to a minimum as much as is actually possible. I wouldn’t take on new endeavors unless I knew exactly what to expect and precisely what the rules of any potential environment might be. Not knowing them gave me unbearable anxiety. But this meant that I became isolated and missed out on things I actually wanted to do.
I still have to talk myself through new situations, but when deciding whether to do something as simple as taking a class or even going to a party, I set aside my initial resistance and ask myself, “Do I want to do this because I’ll enjoy it?” If yes, I do it. And if I feel anxious, I self-soothe and remind myself it’s okay to be scared and that my worst-case-scenario fears will hardly be realized. This is how I ended up taking adult ballet classes. Two years ago, I would have talked myself out of it using a barrage of excuses all covering up my fear. But now, I can (uh, almost) do a pirouette.
My unflagging perfectionism was a large part of why I avoided new situations. No matter what task, job, or hobby I’d take on, I expected myself to be perfect at it before I’d ever even tried it. I couldn’t bear for others to witness my embarrassing novice attempts, whether it was in writing, performing, or even something as basic as putting oil in my car. Worse, falling short of perfection (which was always) led to an internal berating.
When I started to be kinder to myself, I realized just how hard it had been to hear anything over the sound of my own voice yelling at me. My inability to let go of my imperfection meant I missed a lot of important information. Now, I let myself have whatever terrible first draft may be needed and recognize that’s the first step to getting better. I haven’t let go of excellence, but I’m more forgiving of my process now. I didn’t rewrite this article from top to bottom, I just line edited it.
6. Seeing myself as a victim
Before recovery, I saw myself as the perpetual victim, always at the mercy of other people’s inconsideration. But I soon saw that playing victim was just a way of avoiding responsibility for my choices and/or my part in a situation. Any time I’m tempted to complain about a friend who doesn’t return calls or a boss who yells, I remember: I chose this. And if it’s all that bad, most of the time, I can unchoose it, too.
7. Reading into other people’s actions
Before recovery, I not only thought other people’s actions were always about me, but because of me, too. That lovely bit of narcissism made me both anxious and paranoid, particularly when meeting new people. I lived in fear of judgment and assumed everyone could read the (perceived, totally made up) misdeeds all over me.
But ACOA recovery taught me that generally other folks have their own unruly emotions to contend with, and most of the time their grumpy moods have nothing to do with me. Even when they are in response to Little Ms. Paranoid over here, it’s easier to spot a personality that just can’t resist the urge to point out I’m wrong or who interrupts consistently and refuse to take it on. That’s their crap, not mine.
Letting Go Of Shame And Blame
EXPERIENCING FEAR AND SHAME AS CHILDREN
As children our identity as well as our relationships with our Higher Power, ourselves and others were damaged each time we were abused or neglected. We felt shame and naturally feared its re-occurrence, yet we allowed our sense of self and well-being to be shaped by those who abused and neglected us. As children, we had no choice.
As we continued to experience abuse or neglect, our fear and shame intensified; we gave more of ourselves away. Over time, (most often without our knowing), our abusers became our Higher Power. We learned to fear their authority. As the abuse and neglect continued, the possibility of developing an emotionally fulfilling relationship with ourselves, others, and our Higher Power diminished.
We learned survival skills in order to cope. We controlled or avoided potentially volatile circumstances. We cast away our childhood, tried to become little adults or rebelled. Many of us didn’t understand our actions because they were often instinctive.
Over time, we learned how to alleviate our fear and shame by controlling and/or avoiding ourselves and others. When we felt overwhelmed or stressed out, we relied on what we knew best to survive. In this codependent cycle, we took greater control of life, allowing less room for a Power greater than ourselves to work through us.
CONTINUING THIS BEHAVIOR AS ADULTS
Without some form of help, we carry these emotional conflicts and survival patterns into our adult lives. We hope to find peace and happiness and leave the past behind; but instead, we recreate similar or opposite circumstances in our adult relationships. Neither extreme is healthy.
We unknowingly transfer the characteristics and power of our childhood abusers to significant people in our lives today. Sometimes we transfer abusive characteristics to our Higher Power, too.
In our adult relationships, we fearfully guard against any sign of shame, abuse or neglect. We become manipulative or avoid other people and circumstances. This fear can grow stronger than the shame itself. It forms a shaky foundation for relationships. We continue to draw others near us, (hoping for intimacy) but when they get too close, we push them away because of our fear of shame.
WHAT IS A SHAME SPIRAL?
We may have experienced overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, apathy or panic. We may feel there’s no solution or end to the pain; we feel isolated, rejected stupid or foolish. We call this a shame spiral. We may berate or push ourselves harder to meet someone else’s expectations, engage in unhealthy sexual behavior, compulsively eat or starve, or try to escape from a situation by avoiding others.
All of these behaviors cause us to feel more pain and confusion. If we don’t stop this cycle, our shame will spiral even worse and result in some form of crisis. At these times, it’s important to reach to our Higher Power for guidance and strength. We write about our thoughts and feelings, and more importantly, go to meetings and talk with our sponsor and recovery friends.
Many of us find that the intensity of our shame fades as we reach toward our Higher Power. We’re better able to focus on our choices and regain a sense of empowerment and self-esteem.
WHAT IS FEAR OF SHAME?
Fear of shame is our fear of being shamed again by our boss, mate, family members, friends or parents. It has much greater control of our lives than shame itself.
We may be afraid to hear about our mistakes or shortcomings, and in turn, become defensive or critical, possibly avoiding or lying about a situation. We become terrified of being discounted or abandoned. We control others out of fear of their disappointment of or anger with us. The shame we fear most is the same type of shame we experienced in our childhood.
Many of us find it helpful to share these fears with our sponsor or friends. When we confront
these original feelings and the resulting progressive fears, we’re able to soothe and possibly
eliminate their intensity.
FROM BLAME TO FORGIVENESS
It was difficult for some of us to let go of the past. We felt stuck with the desire to punish ourselves or others for the pain we had so long endured. Steps six and seven offered us the chance to release old ways of coping. We just needed a little help in order to “be entirely ready for God to remove all our defects of character.”
I make peace with myself as I practice forgiveness
I am accepting, loving and forgiving
I am filled with tolerance for myself and others
I trust God and release my fear of others
Making Choices p8.
SHAME AND STEP FOUR
For many of us self-abuse has been at the core of our disease. We made our abusers our Higher Power. We took on the abuser’s shame, blame, hostility and put downs often unconsciously. We became hostile to ourselves; we put ourselves down. There were “tapes in our heads” telling us we were less-than and worthless. Doing a searching moral inventory of ourselves includes seeking out our assets – our good points.
For many of us it is the hardest part of the inventory for it involves silencing the inner critic, reprogramming the “tapes” with positive affirmations, and slowly, with Higher Power’s help, learning to love ourselves.
As co-dependents shame has often been a large part of our unmanageability. Often our misguided attempts to be free of shame enhanced this defect instead of removing it. It can be helpful to remember that shame is the flip side of pride. Both stem from lack of self acceptance. The alternative to both is humility – healthy self-acceptance.
FROM SHAME TO ACCEPTANCE
Many of us have experienced life as a series of maneuvers to avoid feelings of shame. Even when we constructed elaborate walls to protect us from the scrutiny of others, an inadvertent slight by another could crush our defenses and send us into a tailspin of fear and shame. Working the first 5 Steps of the ACA program has helped us to see some of these patterns. Step Six offers us a beginning – to replace our “wall of shame” with the painless protection of acceptance.
I let go of all the negative thoughts I have held about my body. I feel at peace.
I forgive myself for judging my body as unworthy.
I accept, own and experience all my feelings
I have the ability to accept and give love
I think clearly and I determine what is right and wrong for me
I am entitled to my own opinions and can change them whenever I choose
I am grateful that God is always with me
I am an expression of my Higher Power
The following questions are intended to help identify how shame patterns might operate in your life.
Am I overly concerned with my appearance: face, hair, body size, skin color, age?
Do I judge others on how they look?
Do I try to control how others see me?
Do I try to control the appearances of those close to me?
Am I critical of my intellectual capacity?
Do I criticize myself or others for being “dumb”, “slow”, “boring”, “not with it”?
Do I always have to be right?
Do I habitually assume others are right and I must be wrong?
Is admitting I’m wrong a sign of weakness?
Do I believe I can’t or shouldn’t make mistakes?
Do I over-react if others make a mistake?
If I make a mistake, do I assume I am a mistake?
Am I touchy, easily hurt, quick to take offense, defensive?
Do I assume other people’s feelings (e.g. anger) are because of me?
Do I think my feelings are unimportant?
Am I emotionally needy and dependent?
Am I ashamed of my financial circumstances?
Do I value material goods as a way to fulfill my needs or as something to enhance my self worth?
What role does lack of self-acceptance play in my attitude to money and possessions?
When do I judge my behavior too harshly?
When do I feel “not-good-enough”
Do I find myself saying “well at least I’m not…”?
Do I put others down or gossip about their behavior?
Do I feel inferior/superior because of my gender?
Do I accept put downs about myself as a woman/man?
Do I put down others because of their gender?
Have I used sex to get love?
Have I used others sexually?
Do I avoid social situations?
Do I have difficulty taking the initiative in social situations?
Do I compare myself to others?
Am I ashamed of my family or background?
Am I ashamed to be seen with certain people?
Do I need a partner to feel acceptable?
Do I make the religious beliefs/values of others right or wrong?
Do I make others my Higher Power?
When have I played Higher Power to others?
Do I frequently seek assurance that I’m OK?
Do I need others to like me before I can like myself?
Do I manipulate others into bolstering my self esteem?
Am I numb to my needs?
Does shame prevent me from asking directly for my needs to be met?
Do I take comfort from the martyr role?
Do I consider the rights of others, including their right to have difficult experiences?
Do I interfere in the lives of others because I know best, or to ease my pain, or for any other pay-off?
Do I assume people won’t like me or want to be around me?
Do I believe I must be capable of everything?
Am I stingy with myself, not giving or sharing who I am?
Am I reluctant to reach out to others?
Am I unable to trust others?
Am I unable to receive?
Is my attitude closed and avoidance out of fear of being discovered?
Do I rebuff and avoid others?
Addiction to Excitement / Inner Drug Store 101
Presented by Deb K. & Saska R.
When I first came into these rooms over four years ago, I was emotionally shut down and almost completely isolated. My therapist had suggested I try a 12-step program, so I came to prove to her that a 12-step program could not help me. But I heard something in that first meeting that convinced me to come back, that there might be something here that would help. I joined a newly forming step group as I was told that was the next step.
I sat in a room with 13 strangers, convinced I would get through the steps and never form a connection with any of these people. But I was wrong. Slowly I learned to become vulnerable, to trust, and eventually to love – maybe for the first time. I owe a great debt to ACA, and I am here today in part to try to pay some of that back.
A few years ago, I began listening to audio recordings from previous Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) WSO convention lectures. I found a series of lectures given by therapists who also had many years of recovery in ACA. These Adult Children helped write sections of the ACA Big Red Book. In these lectures, they talked about Addiction to Excitement and the Inner Drug Store. Some of the quotes in this document are from these lectures and from Marty S. — one of the main speakers.
I then reflected on how this information gave me insight into my own life and Recovery, as well as the lives of friends in ACA. I began to see patterns, and I’m here today to share with you some of my observations.
This is a fairly advanced topic in Recovery, not often discussed in ACA meetings. During this workshop, we’ll cover some difficult subject matter, and Saska is here to guide us through some gentleness breaks, along with group and individual sharing.
Our goal: To move toward greater healing of the core wounds we all suffered as children. We hope to expand awareness around this addiction/compulsion to excitement, to offer compassionate insights, and create safe space in which to hear the wisdom of our community. We are here to focus on the Solution.
Emotional Intoxication / Addiction to Excitement – The Hidden Addiction
A. “Origin of Emotional Intoxication: To withstand the intense pain of living with insanity and to have any sense of control we must deny our feelings and hide our vulnerability. Without the guidance of our emotions, we become dependent on others to direct our behavior. We move from an internal sense of direction based on our own perceptions of the truth to a dependence on alcoholic/dysfunctional authority to interpret reality. We are caught in the trap of being obedient to a system of beliefs and behaviors that is actually the cause of our confusion and pain.
Underlying Terror: We continue in our obedience to an alcoholic/dysfunctional view of the world because the expected consequence of disobedience is more terrifying. Disobeying the rigid beliefs of our childhood means to risk being overwhelmed by unpredictable chaos. We cling to the familiar pattern of unthinking reactions and see anything new as a source of confusion and a threat to our tenuous sense of control. We avoid the terror of abandonment by holding fast to our childhood beliefs, but pay the price of enduring the abuse which comes from following the family’s distorted idea of reality.” (ACA Big Red Book)
When I first came into ACA, I was stunned by my identification with the Laundry List. The one item I did not initially identify with was Addiction to Excitement. I didn’t bungee jump off bridges, or drive my car 100 mph. How could this apply to me? What excitement?
I’ve since realized Addiction to Excitement is a cluster of negative emotions and actions including, but in no way limited to: anger, fear, anxiety, guilt, codependency, dishonesty, controlling behavior, intolerance, shame, perfectionism, and resentment.
In time, as I moved through Recovery, I began to see that drama and anxiety were major forces in my life. Not only did I identify with that Laundry List trait, it may be the wellspring from which all other problems flowed.
I believe understanding this topic is key to understanding what it is to be an adult child.
B. “Addiction to excitement may sound like a good thing, but for adult children it takes a very bad turn. We seek out negative excitement — dangerous situations, travel with untrustworthy individuals, and live life precariously — all the while complaining about our circumstances. As children from alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional families, we received our first doses of excitement very early on, sometimes even in utero — before we were born. We were deprived of our innocence as our families struggled with the destructive nature of alcoholism and family dysfunction and the aftermath alcoholism and dysfunction left for the family to clean up. We were thus always in a state of excitement — negative excitement….Negative excitement can come from either being a victim, a victimizer, or a rescuer.
In each role, the internal dosing leaves us emotionally intoxicated. Whether at work, home, or even at our meetings, we can conjure up the familiar excitement (fear) we seem to believe is natural. (The Laundry List). ACAs come to meetings because they have hit a bottom, but that bottom is only the beginning of the re-sensitization — the return of feelings. In the Game of Dissociation, we may have used outside substances, a flurry of activities, or a cocktail of internal substances to keep ourselves deadened, numbed, and armored.
The result of this was that we felt nothing. The bad news is that we couldn’t even have genuinely good feelings beyond the superficial “okay” we would utter when asked. This inhibition eventually stops working for us. Slowly the feelings slip through the cracks of our armor and in our quiet moments we often wonder, “What’s wrong with me that I cannot feel?” (The Other Laundry List). The ACA Laundry Lists Workbook (Workbook II)
How do we generate excitement? One common tool is the “Karpman Triangle” also known as the “Drama Triangle” (diagram below) which was mentioned in the previous quote. The roles are Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. This is a process or “dance” learned in our Family of Origin. We tend to identify with one “role“ as our starting gate role. Other members of our family assume other roles.
We learn to generate excitement (shame, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, guilt, etc.) by playing on this triangle. We can switch roles in an instant. We carry this triangle with us when we leave home, and invite friends, partners, and co-workers to dance on the triangle with us. A Victim will hold space for and allow a Rescuer to rescue. A Rescuer will hold space for and allow a Victim to be a victim. They need each other to thrive. And they often engage in an emotionally intoxicated interaction.
The Drama Triangle could be a separate workshop. So, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but if you are interested in more information there is a link to Lynne Forrest’s website at the end of this document.
When two people come together and make each other insane, they are objects of addiction for each other. – (Marty S.)
C. “I believe that every dysfunctional interaction, in relationship with other or self, takes place on the victim triangle. But until we become conscious of these dynamics, we cannot transform them. And unless we transform them, we cannot move forward on our journey towards reclaiming emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. I’ve sometimes referred to the victim triangle as a “shame generator” because through it we unconsciously re-enact painful life themes that create shame. This has the effect of reinforcing old, painful beliefs that keep us stuck in a limited version of reality.” (Lynne Forrest)
2. Inner Drug Store:
For every emotion we feel, a corresponding biochemical substance is automatically released in our bodies. Think about how the felt sense of anger is different from the felt sense of calm or amusement. Especially for those of us who have trouble connecting with our bodies or our emotions, these chemical changes may happen below our level of awareness. But they still happen.
The inner drug store is not all bad. There are bottles of joy, peacefulness, and spirituality to name a few. But we Adult Children often gravitate toward the drugs of negative excitement.
Growing up in dysfunctional households, our everyday state can become one of hypervigilance. Am I safe? What mood is Mom in? We walk on eggshells trying to be invisible. Dad’s car just pulled in the driveway, is he drunk? We scan the house for things that might anger him and quickly try to neutralize them.
Or perhaps we were ignored or emotionally abandoned by our parents, creating anxiety and the general feeling of being alone and unsafe. Our normal can become anxiety and fear. And since it is perhaps all we have ever known, and since we may already have learned to shut down access to our feelings and our bodies, we may not even be aware of our anxiety.
Hypervigilance creates a stress response in the body, it even releases dopamine in our brains. As children, our small bodies are marinated in those chemicals. Even if we have never taken a drink of alcohol nor any drugs, we are all addicts. We, as Adult Children, learn to be addicted to our own inner drug stores. We can subconsciously seek out situations which recreate these feelings.
Emotional Intoxication is getting high on our inner drug store.
The more I understand it, the less it controls me. – (Jarvis)
“Subconsciously” is an important concept here. Generally, we don’t consciously choose to take these actions. It may be like breathing. Our minds are in control of that process, but normally we aren’t consciously aware of taking each breath. If we were we might have trouble thinking about anything else.
The subconscious mind takes over certain processes. I think maintaining our “normal” level of emotional intoxication or sobriety may be one of those. If we were raised in a dysfunctional home, our normal can be anxiety and fear. And we seek to re-create what is normal for each of us.
D. Trait 8: We became addicted to excitement.
When ACA Founder Tony A. wrote this trait, he originally stated: “We became addicted to fear” but changed the wording to “addicted to excitement“ for clarity. Either way — excitement or fear — adult children use both to mimic the feeling of being alive when in reality they are recreating a scene from their family of origin. Gossip, dramatic scenes, pending financial failure, or failing health are often the turmoil that adult children create in their lives to feel connected to reality.
While such behavior is rarely stated as such, these behaviors are an “addiction” to excitement or fear. Because we were raised in chaotic or controlling homes, our internal compass is oriented toward excitement, pain, and shame. This inner world can be described as an “inside drug store.” The shelves are stocked with bottles of excitement, toxic shame, self-hate, self-doubt, and stress. Other shelves include canisters of lust, fear, and worry.
As odd as it sounds, we can seek out situations so we can experience a “hit” of one of these inner drugs. We can create chaos to feel excitement. Or we procrastinate on the job to feel stress. Before finding ACA, we picked relationships that triggered our childhood unrest because it felt normal to be upset, persecuted, or shamed. During these moments, we thought we felt alive with excitement, but in reality we were staying just ahead of our aching childhood. Our actions as adults represent our addiction to excitement and a variety of inner drugs created to survive childhood.
Many of our repressed feelings have actually been changed into inner drugs that drive us to harm ourselves or others. Without help, we cannot recognize serenity or true safety. Because our homes were never consistently safe or settled, we have no true reference point for these states of being. Without ACA, we can view emotionally healthy people as boring or confusing.” (ACA Big Red Book)
3. The inner drug store addiction process:
Distractions vs. Addictions: Life on the continuum
There is no end to what we will do to distract ourselves from remembering what drove us away from reality. – (Marty S.)
Distraction: Something that makes it difficult to think or pay attention. Something that amuses or entertains you so that you do not think about problems, work, etc.
Addiction: A strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble).
Any activity can be rated on a scale between healthy and unhealthy. Watching TV, drinking alcohol, having sex, shopping, working, playing computer games, eating, etc. And we adult children tend to live on the unhealthy end of the scale in whatever we do. We can almost turn knitting into an addiction. This is because we can skillfully use distractions to keep ourselves from thinking, from being present, from feeling our feelings.
What can we become addicted to?
Tools of the Adult Child:
The question may not be as much as what do Adult Children do, but why do we do it. What do we get out of it?
The ACA Defects of Character are not only very real symptoms of the disease of being an Adult Child, they are also tools an adult child can use to increase adrenaline, anxiety and fear.
Judgment, Fear of Abandonment, Greed, Fear of Authority Figures, Mistrust, Pettiness, Envy.
Procrastination: The longer we can put something off, the more internal anxiety we can generate.
Perfectionism: Setting an unachievable goal is a guaranteed way to fail and get a “hit“of shame.
Isolation: Has its own bio-chemical signature. The lack of connection. The lack of oxytocin.
Black & White Thinking: As we limit our options, and paint ourselves into a corner, we can raise our anxiety.
Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel: “Habitual repression of emotion leaves a person in a situation of chronic stress, and chronic stress creates an unnatural biochemical milieu in the body.” (Dr. Gabor Mate, M.D.)
Fear of Abandonment: Is this fear not just of losing someone close to us, but perhaps losing a current, proven, dance partner in dysfunction? Someone we know is a reliable source of hits from our inner drug store?
Shame Hits: Our inner critic can belittle and berate us, and we can take a hit from that.
Anger and Resentment: Two extremely powerful inner drugs.
Lust (Sex): Attraction and sex provide powerful internal “hits.” We can distract ourselves over and over, yet afterward we still have to return to the internal pain of being ourselves. So we begin the cycle again.
We came to believe we could not face life straight up. – (Marty S.)
Perhaps the inner drug store and addiction to excitement partially answer the question of why people in dysfunctional relationships stay together, sometimes for many years. Because they are meeting each other’s needs on a biochemical level that can overpower logic. I believe this is a core reason I stayed in a long-term abusive marriage. Why I stayed is complicated, but a piece of the puzzle is I didn’t stay in spite of the shame, anxiety and fear; I stayed because of the shame, anxiety and fear.
The Bridge in the Problem:
“We were dependent personalities, terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship in order to not to be abandoned emotionally. Yet we kept choosing insecure relationships because they matched our childhood relationship with alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.”
These two sentences seem disjointed. We are terrified of something, yet we seek it out. Perhaps it is our Addiction to Excitement that creates the bridge between those two lines. You could almost cross out the word “Yet” and replace it with “And so.”
What is Layering?
Layering is subconsciously taking multiple minor, addictive/distractive substances and blending them together to get a bigger hit of anxiety. A hit which is available to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can create a hormonal symphony to try to escape from our lives and our feelings. We create a “normal” biochemical state that is anything but beneficial. It is a masterful distraction from our internal pain.
● Our romantic relationship is dramatic and unstable.
● We put off filing our tax return until the very last moment.
● We may live paycheck to paycheck. If we get a raise, we may simply start spending more money so we continue to live paycheck to paycheck.
● We drive too close to the person ahead of us on the freeway.
● We are having an affair with our best friend’s spouse, threatening both our marriage and the relationship with our best friend.
● We would feel better about ourselves if we could just afford to buy (fill in the blank).
● We either tend to stay “busy “with lots of scheduled activities, or we stay isolated at home.
● Rather than wake up 10 minutes earlier in the morning, we often risk being late to work.
● We compulsively try to rescue a friend, then may flip to anger or victimhood if we feel they don’t appreciate us enough.
● Our inner critic berates us for a minor mistake we made.
● We may binge watch TV.
● We tend to take responsibility for other people’s feelings.
● We often check social media even though we may end up feeling worse after we do because we just don’t measure up to others.
● We wish we could talk to someone in our fellowship about all this, but we can’t pick up the phone to call — so we belittle ourselves for that.
● Our boss berates us again and we think, again, about finding a new job; but we never look for one.
● We focus on others, using gossip and judgment rather than focusing on improving ourselves.
● We eat something full of sugar and fat, then beat ourselves up for doing it.
We compound and layer the stressors. When one drops off (like we finally file our tax return) we add another one or two. By layering, we never risk having no excitement in our lives.
The state of being distracted can become an addiction.
The Perfect Storm:
When we layer enough things, we may end up over-stimulating ourselves, perhaps bringing on an emotional crash.
“For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. To such persons stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided.” (Hans Selye)
Switching compulsions and addictions:
We can overcome an addiction in our lives, just to replace it with another one. We stop drinking, but take up being a workaholic. We break up with an abusive partner, then start playing computer games obsessively. We give up smoking, but start over-eating.
We may not see the connection. We may think we are doing something new, maybe something healthier. But the underlying problem is still there driving our actions. We wrap it all up in a blanket of denial so it slips away from our awareness.
Getting technical sobriety is wonderful. But as soon you get technically sober, you are left with the inside addiction. – (Marty S.)
We can ruminate over something that happened previously, like a conversation that didn’t go exactly as we wished for example, then compulsively re-enact it. Like a dog with a bone, we chew on the memory, trying to perfect it, while taking shame and guilt hits for initially failing.
Or we can focus on a future event. Create a fantasy in our minds of what might happen. And chew on that obsessively. Maybe generating an adrenaline or dopamine rush based on something that hasn’t even happened.
We can set up invisible mental hamster wheels we can jump on any time. We can run until we become exhausted. We hone our skills in distraction and addiction but they rarely bring us happiness or safety.
E. “Growing up in dysfunctional homes meant that chaos was normal. As a result, we may have become adults who could not feel at ease when things were calm. We may have craved drama and excitement on such a subconscious level that we were drawn to it without realizing the reason why…Our minds went 100 miles an hour, and many of us had trouble turning them off at night to go to sleep. We couldn’t sit still with our feelings. We used activities as a drug to numb ourselves when we were uneasy.” (ACA Daily Affirmations – Strengthening my Recovery)
How do we reduce the negative excitement in our lives?
The answers to this question are continuously being revealed as we walk our paths of Recovery. The answers we offer to you are some of the things that we have personally found to be useful and loving.
- Awareness. These addictions often lie just under our awareness. We need to bring them up and into our awareness to see them more clearly, to begin to understand their sly, coy, almost indiscernible ways. We must be able to identify what and when we choose distracting behavior to get ourselves high.
- Work the Steps, especially Step 4.
- Develop connections with others in Recovery, via step groups or going out before/after meetings. Step out of isolation.
- Meditate. Practice yoga. Practice mindfulness.
- Slowly, gently, peel away and discard individual distractions. Thank them, and let them go.
- Some folks in our home community have had success in giving their addictions new jobs. For example, when becoming aware of an addiction to Anger that just keeps coming up and spinning its wheels, one member has shared about giving Anger a new job. Now Anger has the job of being the messenger to the conscious mind that something disrupting is happening. This is an opportunity to investigate with the kind of compassion we would offer a child who came running to us to tell us another kid kicked them. They are asking for help, they don’t need us to kick the other kid back.
4. Trauma & Healing
It is important to keep in mind that trauma can result from emotional abuse as well as physical abuse. Trauma can also arise from an accumulation of small incidents rather than one major incident.
F. “The motivation behind Freud’s repetition compulsion (a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again) is to stay dissociated through emotional intoxication. This unfortunately keeps traumatized people trapped in a cycle of demoralization and despair. The therapeutic goal in ending the repeating cycle of struggle and fail is to get to the bottom of the conditioned chain of traumatically associated material without dropping out the bottom into systemic failure or shock.
Traumatized people are thymophobic (afraid to feel). Thymophobia protects the vulnerable child hiding behind all the defenses by punishing and stopping any relaxation of body armor (the sense that the feelings will be intolerable), and by rewarding and increasing distractive/avoidant behavior by attending to obsessional/phobic material higher up the chain. This pattern of avoidance keeps people from getting past the point of spontaneous recovery and completely extinguishing the dissociative cycle.” (“Confusing the Outside with the Inside: A Two-Tiered Model of Addiction Workshop,” 2006 ACA International Convention)
You are your past, until you are not. – (Marty S.)
How do we “get to the bottom of the conditioned chain of traumatically associated material?” One part is by working Step 4. We talk about what happened with trusted people (step group, fellow traveler, and/or sponsor). Talking about it makes it real. If it is real it can be felt, honored, grieved, and healed.
Healing brings us to a point where triggering (responses to buried trauma) may no longer occur, or occurs to a much lesser degree. We learn that feeling our feelings is not a dangerous thing to do, but a beneficial thing to do. We break down our defensive walls and slowly begin to live.
Compassionate curiosity about the self does not mean liking everything we find out about ourselves, only that we look at ourselves with the same non-judgmental acceptance we would wish to accord anyone else who suffered and who needed help. – (Dr. Gabor Mate, M.D.)
Step 4 allows us to go back to the past. To address the individual incidents of pain, loneliness and anxiety that we felt as children. First to be able to talk about them objectively, “This happened to me “, and then, with patience, to be able to feel what we felt as children. To release the fear and honor the memories. To sit with the feelings and learn we will survive feeling them.
I think THAT starts to set us free from bondage. To address the original fears, because they are the ones still driving us today. Because the frightened child inside each of us is still doing battle with them daily. And when we practice overcoming our fears, we slowly take the urgency out of our various compulsions. We no longer need to compulsively distract ourselves.
We can slow down. And breathe. And we can release our chronic anxiety and allow our bodies to try to heal from the cumulative damage we have inadvertently placed on them.
The inventory is about safely getting to the original traumas so they can stop driving you. – (Marty S.)
“Learn to know what you know and feel what you feel. And that’s where psychotherapy comes in: finding the language for internal experience. The function of language is to tie us together; the function of language is communication. Without being able to communicate, you’re locked up inside of yourself.” (Dr. Bessel van der Kolk)
But we must do this work with gentleness. We do this work over time. Slowly and gently. Because re-traumatizing ourselves is not healing.
5. Emotional Sobriety:
A few attributes:
A general sense of calm.
Not inclined to be triggered.
Experiencing high levels of self-love and self-acceptance. Embracing our Inner Loving Parent.
Having a sense of self. Being centrally located. And not looking for a definition of who we are from the outside.
Being truthful with ourselves and others.
Being present and conscious of what we are doing.
Having developed the ability to communicate our needs effectively.
Having developed the ability to set effective boundaries.
Having a sense of connection to others.
Having no excess tension in our bodies.
Having the freedom to feel and express our feelings even when they cause us pain.
Having compassion for ourselves.
Having developed the ability to build empathy for, then forgive others who may have harmed us.
Emotional Sobriety is a process. Awareness of our addiction to excitement will not bring instant change, like flipping a light switch. It takes time to bring about change in how we think, react, and exist in the world and in our bodies. This work is best done with gentleness and loving kindness.
We should expect slow progress, not perfection. Again, any activity we take part in falls on the continuum from healthy to unhealthy. Our goal is to slowly move toward the healthy end of the spectrum.
The Yellow ACA Workbook has a section on what ACA Recovery Looks like. It reads, “We measure emotional sobriety by the level of honesty, mutual respect, and the acceptability of feelings in our relationships. If our relationships are still manipulative and controlling, we are not emotionally sober no matter what we tell ourselves about our recovery program. Emotional sobriety means that we are involved in changed relationships that are safe and honest.
G. “In ACA, we seek “emotional sobriety” by making a commitment to love ourselves and be good to ourselves. We stop harming ourselves by attaining ACA emotional sobriety.” (ACA Big Red Book)
H. “Through meditation, we begin to visualize emotional sobriety. We find out what ACA recovery looks like. We begin to see that recovery is a noticeable freedom from the damaging effects of The Laundry List traits. We realize our Step work has brought some measure of healing from the trauma and neglect of our childhood. We intuitively rely on the Steps and ACA meetings to face every situation in our lives.” (ACA Big Red Book)
I. “True emotional sobriety brings a connectedness to ourselves and to others. This connectedness in relationships is characterized by expressed feelings, trust, mutual respect, and an acknowledgment that a Higher Power is real. We realize we don’t need to chase after others to sooth our childhood fear of abandonment. We begin to see that we can bring our True Selves to a relationship.
We have something to offer that is different than unhealthy dependence. This is what ACA recovery looks like. It addresses our rupture from our primary relationship with our family. This is the relationship template that has colored every relationship going forward.” (ACA Big Red Book)
J. “In ACA, we seek emotional sobriety by attending ACA meetings, working the Twelve Steps, and mentoring others. Emotional sobriety is measured by the freedom we gain by abstaining from acting out on The Laundry List traits. We cease self-harming behavior and make an effort to mature emotionally and spiritually.” (ACA Big Red Book)
K. “Life goes a lot smoother once you let go of grudges and forgive even those who never said they were sorry. Grudges let negative events from your past ruin today’s happiness. Hate and anger are emotional parasites that destroy your joy in life. The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge create a stress response in your body, and holding on to stress can have devastating health consequences.” (Dr. Travis Bradberry)
Forgiveness is a difficult but powerful step in Recovery. I found that as I was able to embrace the idea of the bundle of “shame, abandonment, and loss” passed down from generation to generation as stated in the BRB, I was able to forgive not only myself for my actions, but my parents for theirs. For we are all victims of childhood abandonment, abuse, or neglect.
L. “The dysfunctional situations we’ve lived through can be likened to watching water drain in the bathtub — there’s a whirlpool at the end. In Recovery, we learn to identify recurring situations that pull us into the current of chaos and keep us stuck. We begin to step away from caustic situations and avoid being sucked back into insanity. We start to make better choices and learn to walk away from “crazy.” (ACA Daily Affirmations – Strengthening my Recovery)
M. “As we work the ACA Twelve Steps, re-parent ourselves, attend meetings, and process our grief, we begin to see our use of fear as undesirable. We discern the difference between positive and negative excitement and make spiritually conscious decisions to avoid emotional intoxication. Once we have our feelings and buried memories expressed, dosing ourselves with fear or excitement no longer attracts us.
In fact, we are repelled by it because it is the life-robbing experience of our childhood. Instead, we look for and engage in workable relationships. No longer dissociated or in denial, we accept when a relationship is fraught with constant upset, and we look for life enriching relationships to further our spiritual development.” (The ACA Laundry Lists Workbook (II))
N. “Many of us came into ACA perhaps unaware of the depth of chaos we had created around us. We felt we were in a fog we couldn’t see our way out of. We didn’t consciously cause this chaos. Our behavior resulted from the emotional and perhaps physical chaos we experienced in our childhood dysfunctional, abusive homes.
As we learned more about the addiction to excitement that drove us, we began to see how our fear was feeding us. And we realized that we needed this inner drug store to be closed for business. The adrenaline rush that we were not even aware of was blocking any progress. We knew the chaos had to stop.” (ACA Daily Affirmations – Strengthening my Recovery)
Some of you may be feeling a little bit triggered now. Maybe a bit angry at being called an “addict”. Maybe this all feels like blaming the victim, after all we needed these distractions and addictions to survive our childhood. But there is another way to look at this. That this information empowers us to move out of victimhood.
To move away from the idea that life simply happens to us, and we have no choice. We do have choices. We are the ones who hold the power to change our own lives. Through Awareness we can make these changes happen. And our lives can improve.
The more I understand it, the less it controls me.
I first listened to the ACA WSO convention lectures on the inner drug store over two years ago. I’ve slowly come to understand how fundamentally this topic has shaped my life. With that knowledge, has come grief. If you believe this information to be true, and I do, you are left with a question. Have we been living our lives, or just distracting ourselves from living them?
For me, the answer is mostly, “I’ve been distracting myself from living.” I learned as a very small child that I could not bear to feel my feelings based on what was happening to me in my Family of Origin. So, I started running from my feelings, and running from myself. And I’ve run ever since.
I’ve spent most of my life broken, without the knowledge of the possibility of wholeness. And there is a great deal of justified grief over this loss. But as I wrote this document in preparation for this workshop, I realized a door has opened for me to a new dimension in Recovery. I am powerless over my past; I cannot change it.
But I am not powerless over my future. With Awareness and loving Gentleness, I can begin to change my life going forward. And there is the Hope.
A. The audio can be purchased via ACA WSO from here.
C. ACA World Service Organization has made available several audio recordings from past conferences. There are a series of three lectures on Addiction to Excitement and the Inner Drug Store from 2006, 2007, & 2008.
If any of you are interested, you can listen to these on your phone. (Note: To make this easier I purchased an app for my phone called “Tapeacall“ which allows you to make a phone call, tape it, and move it into your music playlists. This way I can pause, stop, back up, and replay the lectures as desired).
Call the “Speaker Tape Line” at 712-432-8809; conference ID 8273#, (which translates to “TAPE#”). Please see the list below for extension numbers for each individual talk.
1. Marty S., “Confusing the Outside with the Inside: A Two-Tiered Model of Addiction” 20063
2. Marty S. and Friends, “A Crime Scene Reconstruction” 20073
3. Don C., “Completing the Circle in the Cycle of Violence” 20082
So to listen to talk #1 you would:
when prompted enter 8273#
when prompted enter 20063#
“Trauma strikes (events) and their cumulative, debilitating after-effects, or what in the First Step is referred to as the “effects of alcoholism and dysfunction” over which we have no power and that make our lives unmanageable (loss of control). The descriptive versions of these effects are the Laundry List traits, and as The Problem says they are the “result” of being raised in an alcoholic/dysfunctional family. There are experimental, empirically measured laboratory equivalents of trauma strikes where the sympathetic nervous systems of animals have been deliberately raised to the top, and they can be used to illustrate how to make an adult child. These experiments are openly acknowledged and not hidden and denied as they are in an alcoholic/dysfunctional family.” (A Crime Scene Reconstruction Workshop 2007, ACA International Convention. Marty S. and Friends)
“The Problem: An Operational Statement of The Problem”
This addiction [to excitement] can be seen as an endogenous, or internal, addiction to conflict, a continuously repeating cycle of alarm and collapse, or fight, flight and exhaustion. Children learn that they can pull themselves up out of depression and despair by focusing on the conflicts going on around them which they then internalize in symbolic form. Their world is filled with the sights and sounds of conflict that drive them until they collapse in exhaustion only to get back up and do the same thing all over again. Children are forced to remain in this pattern of addiction in order to stay above the ever increasing sense of demoralization they feel at being trapped in a cycle of despair and the cycle becomes self-sustaining.” (Marty S. and friends, ACA WSO Convention)