I wrote this post when I had just been able to break out of isolation by attending ACA meetings. Since then I have found A LOT that I do not like with ACA. Some people describe AA as an organisation designed by narcissists for narcissists. I am not in AA but I have to admit that I see a lot of ways that the traditions and the steps of ACA (same as those of AA) could be and ARE used to facilitate emotional abuse and create platforms for people to create a position and gather narcissistic supply.
I still attend meetings, simply because I believe in the idea of sharing and there are a lot of good people on the meetings (mainly among those not yet totally “saved”….) but I have come across enough narcissists and “narcissistic culture” to address it in my on sharings on several meetings during the last month. Very scary having to question my “new family”, the one where I, during healing from a life in abusive relationships, has been promised to “find unconditional love and support more than I could ever imagine…..” But I did not feel safe and refuse to just change one dysfunctional regime for another so it was either “break the rule of not talking” or quit…
FEAR of abandonment, FEAR of missing out the core issue that ALWAYS protect the dysfunctionality and hidden abuse in families even if they happen to be 12-step families….. This is not an easy thing to solve, especially in a program where you are supposed to be loyal, obedient and focus on your own character faults.
I dont want to give up ACA, I need the meetings and there is even another set of steps that is “allowed” to use that I have no problems with. The question is if I can find the strength and motivation to work towards a change. Right now I will take my healing to another very intense social environment for 10 weeks and not visit any meetings under that period but I might follow up with posts where I step by step discussing the problems.
Here is my original post, with just a few updates:
The official name is actually Adult Children of Alcoholics / Dysfunctional Families though at least here in Stockholm it’s mostly about understanding and healing from narcissistic abuse. I found out about these guys perhaps some six weeks ago, in fact through a person in this online support group Complex PTSD Recovery who turned out to live only about 500 meters from my home… How likely is that on an US based closed Facebook group with 12 500 members….. 🙂 though she did and she became my first offline friend that gets what we are dealing with 🙂
I went to a couple of these meetings in July and after having spent the last 6 months in almost total isolation it was such a relief! Just to physically be among people that, even if they were afraid to connect with a newcomer and mostly were looking down to the ground, didn’t hide behind a mask was fantastic. On top of that they were brave enough to show their vulnerability, even though most of them seamed to be more scared than I was. My positive experiences didn’t end there…. No one questioned or even commented on anything of what anyone else shared!
This is something I have almost never experienced in my life…… and I had a bit of a struggle to keep my own mouth shut, though it didn’t take more than 10 minutes to realize that this was pretty much the whole idea…. OMG! how much wrong I have been doing with this throughout my life, simply because I never knew anything else. In my family of origin Everyone questions everything instantly, often before you even have finished your sentence….. and I have, without bad intentions, been the same, simply because I saw this as normal way to “talk” and was used to have to prove myself and raise my voice to defend any idea. I am pretty sure this has helped me to develop my capacity of self reflection and analyze though it has certainly not helped me to connect with people on a deeper level……
ACA is basically a structure held together by a collection of texts of which a few are always read in the beginning and end of every meeting. You are not a member of ACA, people come and go as they please and the only organisation is that particular day and time in the week when there is a meeting to attend. If you go together with some people and organize open meetings based on the texts once a week you are a group. There is no board and almost no hierarchy at all on the meetings (no visible hierarchy, update…), only a person responsible for the “finances” (enough money to rent the room and by some tea and candles) When the meeting starts a person is chosen to lead the meting. His/her responsibility is only to follow the procedure with texts, the sharing and in the end closing the meeting. The most important texts are the 12 Steps listed below and the 12 traditions, basically statements and principals around the purpose of the group and how it relates to the “world outside”.
The sharing is voluntary as well as all reading of texts, you are in your full right to just sit and observe. To attend an open meeting you don´t even have to commit to the idea that you in fact are a grown up child from a dysfunctional family though most people realize this pretty soon after the sharing has begun. The Laundry list and The Other Laundry List 14 signs that are an Adult Child, either taking the position as the victim or the controller (narcissist).
The person that likes to share something begins with saying “My name is XX and I am an adult child” and the group greets the person with “Hello XX”. During the sharing the scene belongs only to the person speaking. No comments, questions, touching or soothing is allowed. You are asked to not even hand over a napkin to someone if they start to cry, simply because that might for some people feel like you interfere. The person that have shared ends with a “Thank you” that is greeted by the group.
The people that follows with their own sharing are not allowed to, in any way, comment or refer to anything someone else have shared. This goes on until 5 minutes before the end of the meeting. During these remaining minutes The group choose the person responsible for unlocking the door, making tea and opening up next meeting. Everyone is asked to make a small contribution to the costs needed to keep the group running, then a text reminding everyone that whats been spoken stays in the room and then everyone is encouraged to keep in his heart what he/she has found valuable and let go of the rest. Everything ends with a holding shoulders and reading a short “Prayer” encouraging everyone to keep working on the steps.
The 12 Steps of Recovery
Uppdate 2018-06-01 There is another set of steps suggested by Tony Allen, often claimed to be the founder of ACA. I like them a lot better than the ones the official ones that are just a copy of those in AA. I might compare them step by step in a future post but until then you can read them as well ass comments to them here: Tony Allen’s 12 steps of recovery’
We admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Well, unless someone ordered you to visit a meeting you must at least have entertained the idea that everything might not be all your fault
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Simply underlines the fact that We can never heal alone!
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God.
Basically a decision to “trust the process” (step 2)
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Well basic though difficult if you for those to far out on the narcissistic spectrum. An absolute necessity.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Again, absolutely essential! If you keep things “private” (or even with only you and God…..) there is a huge risk that you only reinforce your narcissistic defenses….. Confessions IRL in front of real people is by far the most powerful and healing, simply because it involves your body (feelings)
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Not knowing any details I would assume this is about , stopping and reflecting if we really are redy to take all the consequences that will come as we move on and through.
Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
Learning to ask for what we need, another core issue for grown up traumatized children that we once “decided” this was more or less life threatening to do, we had either to control other or please them or we would not survive. Call “him” God or whatever you like, the thing is to ASK for help, learn to trust something/someone outside yourself.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
I began some of this soon after I had fully understood the kind of dynamic that have characterized all my relationships with people and especially with women. Still, it was just a beginning and I am looking forward to work with these step in this very well tested tradition. 🙂
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Well, walking the talk from step 8….
Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Of course, personal development is a life long process and I focus on this constantly.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
For me this simply means to stay in contact with “the program” in fact with your embodied self and with others in every day life not only once in a week on a meeting….
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who still suffer, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Well I am here writing this…… 🙂 I see a lot of these problems (“emotional power dynamics”) in all families I am or have been closely involved in and actually, on varying levels almost everywhere where people are gathered. After have been stuck in my own bubble, blaming myself and stayed way too long in dead alley relationships, for 55 years until I was finally able to break free, I doubt that I will ever stop sharing my story, my understanding and knowledge about this. It’s a part of my own healing, a way to show my three own children, as well as anyone in the same situation as I was that there is a way out. It’s simply an act of compassion an important part in a good life that increases your feeling that we are all in this together.
To be honest I am not able to see any real cons… I could argue that more feedback and interaction in the group could be of value though then we have to remember that with the way it is all organised, with no one “in charge” and first time visitors attending at any moment, often coming alone from isolation….. No, it would not work. The purpose of the meeting is to create a safest possible sacred space for everyone willing to accept the principals stated in the steps. The role of the group during the meetings is “only” to be physically and emotionally present non judgmental witnesses of this persons truth, something that many, including myself….never or rarely have had.
The biggest Pro of them all is that This is How We Heal! not just adjust our psychological defenses in order to be able to keep living our lies, go to our jobs, keep dreaming our dreams, buying stuff…… Apart from that it is extremely cost effective, we heal one another and the only costs are renting the room, some stationary, tea, coffee, and some consumables like napkins matches and candles, pretty hard to beat 😉 Here in Stockholm there is I think almost 20 meetings a week and you are allowed to visit as many as you want, no registration and, unless you are responsible for unlocking the door you don’t even have to arrive on time.
Why this is how we Heal
We were once hurt by people. Our wound made us split from our true self, feelings and needs (our bodies) and create a more or less false self. This made it impossible for us to fully trust and connect with people. Our wound is not our confusion, our depressions, our cutting, our tempers, our anxiety, these are just symptoms. Our wound is our disconnection from our true self. The stronger our fear to be “disclosed” as fakes gets the more isolated we become, the more energy we have to spend to keep running/holding back, the more we need to drink, smoke, fuck, work, run, gym, isolate, get depressed, masturbate, gamble, risk our lives, you name it… The only way we can fully heal, is by reconnecting with our true self, needs and feelings together with other people we feel safe with.
Before you even consider attending your first meeting you are likely to have struggled with your fear and your self image. Opening up in front of other people, perhaps for the first time in your life is for most people not just scary, it’s petrifying and might require attending several meetings just listening before you feel safe enough. This is why the overall goal for the meetings must be to create an as emotionally safe place as ever possible for everyone at anytime Period!
To get to know and express your true self in the physical presence of other emotionally present, non judgmental and equal human beings is the very act of breaking that bubble you once had to create. This can never be done only by talking and never in a situation with “power-dynamics”, like toxic friends, family or spouse. Even a non narcissistic therapist makes this difficult, ANY kind of authority figure will cause your alarm system to block your feeling of safety. The feeling that “we are in this together” is crucial!
My perspective and believes about healing comes from front line ideas and knowledge behind Daniel Siegels concept interpersonal neurobiology, CPTSD, polyvagal theory and the complex concept of Narcissim. ACA has developed their system from practical healing work during almost 40 years and to me it’s obvious that everything in ACA can be explained and motivated from this scientific standpoint. I can also see that ACA could become even more effective if it included more of education on “how it works”, as well as actively encourage us to make more use of the power in the social engagement system that we all have. The polyvagal theory again 🙂 This 4 minute video clip explains why I believe in this idea.
Keep working, it works if you work it so work it cause you’re worth it!
Is ACA a sect
No! The way ACA is organized rules it out as a sect. A lot of the traditions are in fact formed as a way to keep focus on the healing and avoid the organisation to become it’s own goal. ACA as a organisation is limited to an absolute minimum, only to serve and be a link between the groups.
Update 2018-06-01: Unfortunately I have to say that ACA often tends to function as a sect…..
The role of ACA on my jounrey
When I came to my first meeting I was coming out from a fairly extreme isolation. No job, no friends and I often spent 23 out of 24 hours alone in my apartment in pain or searching the net for all kinds of information and knowledge in order to understand what was wrong and how to heal.
During my isolation I had identified and been able to kick out “the enemy” of my head. I had let go of every idea of who I was, good and bad. I no longer judged myself, making everything worse. I had got in touch with my pain and my loneliness, well I lived in it constantly as a physical pain and constant fear (restlessness). I had began to push myself even further by starting to write my story, thus risking and experiencing even more hostility and rejection from family and former friends.
Writing with online survivors on the internet had been and still is an important source for encouragement though I didn’t do the job of calming down and regulate my nervous system, simply because it was not involved. I had come to understand the need for and power of social engagement though I was not able to find a way to get it. Just walking out into the world and take part was a too big step. Finding ACA became my chance to brake my physical isolation.
I needed eye contact, calming voices, friendly body language and if possible even some physical touch. After a few meetings, with most participants still living only in their heads mostly muttering while looking away, even giving me evil or frightened looks and moving their chair if I sat down beside them I realized that what I mostly received was negative or at the best no signals at all so I quit, with the idea that I had somehow overcome a barrier and now could get more of this in the Real world. I soon found myself stuck in my online isolation again with the feeling that I was talking to empty space. Sleepless nights, no sense of time or hunger, several hours in the bathtub just to calm my body and once I manged to get to my writing I soon found myself desperately clinging on to the illusion of connection from dating apps and social media, Online Isolated….
I realized I had to go back and give it a try and what a relief it was… Returning I soon realized that all meetings were not the same and that I had been a bit impatient as well, it always takes time to build trust on an individual level, not only among Adult children. To be honest I have a bit of an issue with this. I have no problem to open up in a group and on my first few meetings I never really got past that level…..
However, If you continue to visit meetings you will begin to create new personal relationships with people in the groups that you feel safe with and can relate to. In the end of every meeting the participants are actually encouraged to stay and talk afterwards, make friends, call one another for support as well as find a sponsor to support you with more systematical work with the steps.
To make new friends as an adult isn’t easy for anyone and VERY difficult if you are a 55 year old “beginner” without even a job. I am not sure I have ever had a real friend the way I understand and define it now and I still have a bit of a hard time to imagine that someone would want to “hang” with me for no particular reason….. though since I returned only two weeks ago it feels like I am already beginning to make such connections 🙂 For me this is a very strong reason to go to meetings regularly, though the more I get into the “concept” the more I realize that there is a lot of healing involved in every aspect of it.
I used to say that my Journey has been going on for quite a while and that’s true though that was my journey inwards towards myself, to understand educate and break down. It was definitely a journey and a very creative process though my Healing Process started the day I began to attend the meetings. This was the day I launched the beta test version of the Mats I had found and learned to love and accept during my isolation. The Mats inside my head that I am now “embodying” in the presence of and connection with other human beings. It’s now that my healing begins!
I began writing this post two weeks, ago as soon as I had returned to meetings, with the intention to post it within a day. I didn’t, there was way too many things that happened as soon as I began, my more or less fixed me wasn’t just ready to “function”….. This article became a way for me to get to know more about the program other than the meetings and a lot of things that I would have been skeptical or at least unsure about then is now making perfect sense to me. I am definitely on and I can’t wait to start the actual work with the steps, though first I have to overcome my resistance to ask someone for help…….
I will come back and post more on my journey with ACA, that’s for sure.
It works, if you work it, so work it, cause you’re worth it!
Some of the short texts read in the beginning of the meetings
The Problem (based on the Laundry Lists)
The Promises What we can expect if we follow true