Dating an acoa
Almost one in five adult Americans (18 percent) lived with an alcoholic while growing up (1), and there are an estimated 26.8 million children of alcoholics in the United States (2).
ACAs often find themselves attracted to or drawn to friends and partners who exhibit the kind of inconsistent behavior and moods they encountered at home.
I receive a lot of emails from people who are in a relationship with an adult child of alcoholics.
They are trying to understand the person they love, or are trying to love, but they don’t know how to decipher the code of adult children of alcoholics.
Concurrently, they may feel “crazy” when they are unable to understand their partner’s behavior.
It can be difficult for ACAs to express their honest emotions, and they may resort to guessing or looking to others to figure out how they should feel or express themselves.
While the confused man stands shell shocked, we can examine his fiancee’s perspective. He had his life together, treated her kindly, and wanted a future with her. Everything seemed to be going well, and although she’d never had a healthy relationship modeled for her, this seemed good.
Other times a person can have alcoholic parents and know it, but not understand the extent to which growing up in that environment affected them.
Yet for people raised in homes with substance abuse, it is even more difficult to envision what a healthy relationship looks like.Over the years, in relationships, I felt constantly let down, disappointed and was treated like crap by people who were supposed to be my “friends”.I didn’t believe I could trust anyone so I figured it was safer to just be alone. Many of us are hard wired to welcome the most emotionally unavailable, destructive people into our lives – only to get burned.Amy Eden, an adult child of alcoholics and long time writer and teacher on the subject, offers insight into navigating the waters of being in love with an “ACA.” Have you heard the one about the confused man whose girlfriend of a year and a half suddenly got mad and left him? The skills that had served her so well in childhood weren’t working. We commit to someone who’s interested in us because we’re the ever-loyal children of dysfunctional, rigid parents, and then we buckle up and enjoy (or something) the feeling of rushing along, fast, on a course to…wherever. It was too much to continue faking a perfect self, being pleasing, affable, not having needs, or sour moods. For people who grow up with an alcoholic parent, getting into relationships is like getting on a fast ride with a one-way ticket.
The sensation of beginning relationships is much like being swallowed whole and re-wiring one’s self for a new identity — the identity of our new love, whatever he or she needs us to be.