DarkHorse Ministries

The ACA/Al-Anon Divide: Bigger Buttons

I am an adult child from a very dysfunctional alcoholic family. Since 1987, I have been attending the 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). The following story describes a very powerful intuitive discovery that I made while engaged in solitary 12-step work one afternoon. But first some preliminary information.

It is useful for the purpose of this story to define several personality types with respect to alcoholism and other forms of addiction. These would be 1) the alcoholic or addictive personality, 2) the "al-anon" or co-addictive personality, and 3) the "adult child" personality. We might also find it useful to distinguish within each between untreated and treated modes of these personality types. An al-anon can then be defined as any person whose life has been affected by dysfunctional drinking or any form of addiction in a relative or friend. An adult child of an alcoholic is further defined as an adult that was affected by alcoholism or any form of addiction that was present in their family while they were physically growing up.

One afternoon in 1994, I sat alone working on my fourth step moral inventory in the back room of a 12-step recovery club. I began to wonder about how the three 12-step programs that deal with alcoholism were psycho-spiritually connected to each other: AA for alcoholics, Al-Anon for the friends and families of alcoholics, as well as the ACA program for adult children of alcoholics that were raised in alcoholic or dysfunctional families.

I somehow sensed that they must be related but I could just not figure it out. In my ruminating, I vaguely imagined different generic personality types for each of these areas and questioned how the untreated types might differ from one another. Then I suddenly had a thought that evidently stumbled upon the truth of the situation that may be said to be common to the human condition in general for all individuals that have been subjected to an adequate level of this adult child of alcoholic (ACA) dis-ease. When the thought arrived, I received a huge intuitive jolt of energy and leapt straight up out of my chair as I suddenly realized a major distinction between the generic al-anon and adult children of alcoholic (ACA) dis-eases. This realization was so powerful that at the time I was convinced that I was one of the few who really understood it and I thought that I would write a book that would change the world!

The natural psycho-spiritual distinction that I internally resonated with may be said to separate the "general al-anon" from the "general adult child" personality types. This might be best understood as an invisible line that must be crossed in the recovery process before the general adult child's condition of dis-ease upgrades to the general al-anon's level of dysfunction. Unlike a regular Al-Anon type, a person that grew up in a seriously dysfunctional family may actually have emotional buttons so large that they cannot even see that the buttons are theirs. After the onset of this healing experience, I could now see for the first time, that this most definitely was the case with my own emotional dis-ease. In other words, the adult child may think or rationalize that they are actually responding to problems and dangers out there in the world outside them, but in actuality they are only projecting their own unconscious stuff onto the world. Interestingly, in Barbara Brennen's "Hands of Light," she teaches that in this situation the person's chakras are actually spinning backwards. They therefore interpret their own inner fear, anger, shame, and other buried emotions as coming from outside them and directed towards them. In reality, the person or event happening outside them is really only a trigger that initiates the cascading e-motional explosion (acting out) or implosion (acting in) from within. The person is psychologically projecting; an unconscious process that is effectively 'painting their external world with the unknown colors of their inner selves.' A simple example is a man that has not discovered his own innate musical talent, who is attracted to an accomplished woman musician, while being unaware or unconscious of the true reason. Rather than going within himself to discover and express his talent, he unconsciously projects his undeveloped talent onto her. Although basically unhealthy, projection often provides a false sense of relief. For example, anger or rage addiction is fed by the powerfully intoxicating high of getting to be right, and therefore not having to incur the pain of looking at one's own part in one's life problems. However, no real healing of any kind occurs through projection, in fact, the sickness is only further reinforced. This is because projection re-suppresses the feelings rather than emotionally processing them by consciously feeling them and allowing them to be released or cleared once and for all.

So, I very slowly came to understand that on some level, my own unconscious was continually scanning my environment for situations that it could projectively dump its contents onto. The only requirement for this projective dumping is that the current situation be similar enough so as to be able the justify the emotional reaction as a possible real response to the here and now. When a situation arises that is close enough for me to be able to rationalize my reaction, I project, without even realizing the real reason that I am doing it. This perfectly fits one of the common definitions of the word rationalize: to rationalize is to give a good reason, but not the real reason.

I connect this process of rationalization, or any form of reality distortion, with the need for those of us who have been seriously affected, to think and feel that they are to some degree in control and that they and their actions somehow make sense. It is just too scary or painful for anyone to admit just how unmanageable and unable to function in a reasonable manner they truly are. Everyone has a need to believe that they are at least to some extent in touch with reality and in control.

In 1993, I found the book "Emotional Clearing" by John Ruskan. It is essentially a complete self-therapy guide. After some time, I became convinced that sitting in my emotions and taking full responsibility for my current feelings was in fact the way to healing and integration of my repressed emotions. However, a major problem was that, in the heat of the moment, when old repressed emotions were triggered, the last thing I thought about or could get myself to do, was sit down and quiet my inner disturbance. Rather, I would be convinced that the person that triggered me had in fact harmed me and had intended to do so. In my fear-based mind, I reasoned if I let them get away with it, that they would think that they could repeatedly abuse me, and that I would not be able to handle or survive it. So, even with this great discovery, it took a very long time for me to learn to apply this to my life consistently.