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January 20, 2006

Adult Children

I'm going to share an article that I wrote in February of 2005, for our local paper in the UK; but first, some history:

In April 2003, Izzy (my wife) was on vacation in the UK with our six-month-old son. I had returned to work in the US a couple of weeks earlier and was calling her to check what time her flight would arrive the next day; this is when she told me that she was not going to return to the US. She sent me a letter telling me that if I wanted to be with her, I needed to move to the UK, go to therapy for my anger (I had raged several times), stop being involved with any spiritual groups, and attend couples counseling with her. So I went to the spiritual director of the main spiritual group that I was associated with and sought advice. She directed me to Barry Vissell as well as another therapist, and she also suggested that I go to an Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) meeting.

I started doing seven hours of psychotherapy per week, with two different therapists; that's a lot: most people do an hour a week or perhaps an hour every two weeks. I also went to an ACA meeting. In the first meeting, I talked about my step-father beating me and how it was not right for an adult to do that to a kid. As I spoke, I felt a massive energy travel up through my body; it felt like a four-foot-diameter bubble of air had been released underwater, in the lower part of my body; I felt it rise up through me: through my solar plexus, chest, throat, face, and collect at the top of my head. It was a massive release and I cried intensely while it was happening. I felt so much freer afterwards.

Over many months, I went to ACA meetings once or twice per week, sharing and listening. I felt great brotherhood with the others, especially the regulars: Peter, Fred, and Mike. Except for my most recent visit, over my many subsequent long trips to the US, I dropped in to see my old friends.

Once the move to the UK was complete and things had settled down, I setup an ACA meeting in our local village hall. The first meeting was in early December, 2004; three other people came to that meeting; I don't where they came from or how they knew about it. After that, for the next four months, I went to the hall on my own each Friday night and meditated; no one else came. My article went in the local paper in February, but still no one came. After the article, I waited for another six sessions and then I cancelled the room booking.

I don't really explain in the article about the "adult child" part of the name; it comes from the observation that people who did not have their needs met as children, will, at times of stress, revert subconsciously to behave like children: having a tantrum for example. Having our needs met as children enables us to internalize a good parent and then to parent ourselves well as adults. Those of us who did not get our needs met as children can consciously learn to parent ourselves, and this is what ACA is about: re-parenting. It is an apparent paradox that even the most healthy among us behave as children; but what's really important is the amount of consciousness involved: Jesus said that to be in heaven, we need to be like little children. When the needs of our inner child are being met by our inner parent, we are free to be our whole, sweet, innocent, and creative selves.

I love being an adult child, it's such a blessing. By the bye, the article is written in British English. Here it is:

GROUP THERAPY - A new ACA group has started in [my village]. ACA is short for adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families. ACA provides a loving, accepting and confidential environment in which people can explore and express how they feel. The group supports individuals in looking at the ways in which what happened to them as children affected them then, and how it affects them today. The meetings primarily consist of open sharing in which each person is able to talk about whatever they wish, while the other members of the group act as a benevolent witnesses, listening and honouring, without criticizing or judging.

The meetings can be supplemented by working through the 12 steps of ACA (there is a book that can be used). Because ACA was an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous, a similar twelve step process is used here. In a nutshell, the steps involve admitting that we are powerless over the effects of our childhood environment, and then turning our lives over to the will of a Higher Power (called God by some). The steps culminate in a spiritual awakening.

More people than one might expect can benefit from this program. Our true nature is that of sweet, innocent children. Almost any behaviour that does not seem to come from love can be the result of dysfunction acting in our lives. All forms of addiction stem from a need to self-medicate and alter our mood. These enable us to avoid facing issues and feelings that are arising in our awareness, even though the very purpose of them arising is for them to be addressed and healed. Some examples of mood altering activities are: worry, eating, alcohol, shopping, helping, television, work, religion, sex and drugs. We can become addicted to any activity that we use to prevent us from being still and knowing the truth. Yet the truth is where our freedom from suffering lies.

There are other characteristic behaviours that present themselves as signs of dysfunction: we might be in abusive relationships; we might be having a disagreement with someone and then suddenly burst into raging and destructive behavior; we might experience a lot of jealousy about our partner; we might think of ourselves as inadequate, undeserving or as failures; we might feel ashamed of our thoughts and our bodies. The denial of our deepest, truest feeling is a denial of our authentic self. This denial of life can result in varying levels of depression, even thoughts of suicide. Our true self has an unlimited abundance of love, the denial of which can make us feel isolated and alone.

The habits of ignoring and repressing our true feelings were learned in childhood as a way of dealing with the dysfunctional environment we were in. These habits served us then and in many cases enabled us to survive; but they no longer serve us. We are now invited to examine these habits and to voluntarily and permanently exchange them for peace.

This dysfunction has been passed from generation to generation and its existence reaches back into the distant past. Each of us can choose to work it out or act it out. The acting out of the dysfunction passes it on and perpetuates it. Many people begin this self-examination when they are in their later years, some at middle age and a few when they are young adults. It is never too late to begin. When I see anyone seeking the truth, no matter who they are, I am deeply moved by the beauty of it.

The meetings are free, but a small voluntary donation (often people give a few pounds), is requested at the end of the meeting in order to cover costs such as the venue and any advertising.

For information about the location and time of the meetings, or just to talk, call Duncan or Isabelle on [our phone number]. For more information about ACA, visit www.acauk.org [website has gone]. You might also consider looking at books by John Bradshaw, or search on www.amazon.co.uk for "Adult Children of Alcoholics".

Outside of the UK, the ACA website is: www.acawso.org. Amazon in the US is: www.amazon.com, of course.

"Callum is SO FORTUNATE to have you as his father. Just imagine a playful, kind father! It gives me goose bumps ... You laugh with him, hug and kiss him, there is no reason to fear you — gorgeous!" — Barbara


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