Books to help understand and move forward
February 27, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Are there recommended books for adult children of alcoholics?

Asking for a friend: She's recently started talking about her childhood and dealing with her parents, and how just maybe she's not as fine as she was saying she was. I'm suggesting Al-Anon and ACOA, but she may not be ready for that yet.

She was asking if I knew of books that she might read. Do you have any to recommend?
posted by miles1972 to Human Relations (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have forgotten the name, but I read a relatively readable book by Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse about this stuff. I loathe self-help-y books but still managed to get useful information out of it with out wanting to throw the book across the room (very often).

The other books I've read that were recommended to me were old-fashioned- probably from the 1980s or so. It seems like a lot of the authors, most of whom were women, where having a hard time separating out the ACOA/co-dependent stuff with the general changing of gender roles that was going on. It makes sense, as there was so much overlap, but for myself, who's younger it was very off-putting. I just mention that, because a lot of those books are "classics" in the field now, and will likely be recommended. If your friend picks them up and they don't work for her, that might be why.

Also, if she DOES decide to try Al-anon or ACoA, she should try a couple different meetings. They're all different and it would be a shame if she discounted them as a resource just because she was unfortunate enough to run into a meeting that doesn't suit her. For instance, I've gone to a couple that were 1) super Christian & 2) really old (65+). Those aren't the majority around here by a long shot but if your sample size is 1, you wouldn't know that.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:45 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll second small_ruminant's warning about the possible datedness of those books.

Also, for me, putting my issues in the "adult child of alcoholics" category was helpful only at the very first. After that, it seemed healthiest to get out of that category, because I didn't want to be labeled by things that had happened in the past, and a lot of the books I saw seemed to see this as some sort of permanent disability.

For example, mass-market stuff on assertiveness helped me more, because it gave me practical tools I could use to change my life now.

I also agree about having to look for a suitable group. Some groups I tried seemed stuck in their own misery, predicting lifelong struggles instead of talking about getting better.
posted by ceiba at 1:24 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes yes yes to all of the above; the ACOA group made me feel like a perpetual victim in a way that Al-Anon groups have not. I will recommend this collection of three books, though:

The Complete ACOA Sourcebook

I don't necessarily stand by every word of these books, but there was enough in them that I recognized in myself to make them really helpful. Also, reading them first might make her feel a little less unmoored if she goes to a meeting later; she'll know a little more of the philosophy and what to expect.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:37 PM on February 27, 2012

A side benefit of Al-anon is that it made therapy more useful. I had given up on therapy because it never felt like it got anywhere and I always just felt like crap.

Eventually I started going to Al-anon (I didn't like ACoA for the same reason fiercecupcake didn't) and two things happened.

1) I got a vocabulary for talking about my feelings and reactions and so on.

In this psychobabbly age you'd think that would be no problem, but until I heard other people talking I just couldn't figure out where to start. The therapists I tried, whom I am still convinced sucked, just went with my depression-inducer-du-jour, rather than figuring out patterns or ways to move past it.


2) I now have a lot of sort of brain-hacks, for lack of a better term.

Little behavioural changes that just STOP! my brain's knee-jerk defensiveness or 3am obsessive anxiety & hurt misery circles.

Fwiw, I eventually ended up doing some EMDR, which was enormously helpful to me, though it isn't for everyone. Before going to Al-anon meetings, I wouldn't have been able to articulate what I wanted to change in my brain.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:43 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the ACOA opinions. Pertetual victim is perfect. Also seemed everyone stayed in the Child part and not the Adult part which made everyone seem even more like a victim. Some even brought in stuffed animals to hug. 30 years later I ended up in AA (quell surprise! right?) and the difference is so much more in the solution and not the problem.

I did go to a couple of Al-Anon meetings recently for relationship issues - many AAers (female if it matters) say Al-Anon really kicked their AA program up a notch. But I was horrified when someone said they hate the people meeting downstairs where the AA group was meeting! Understand but hated hearing that. So I will try another Al-Anon meeting perhaps.
posted by shaarog at 2:56 PM on February 27, 2012

I have to chime in on al-anon, and it's radical degree of helpfulness for me personally, in a way that no other forms of self-help even began to approach. I don't know why it is so effective, but there has been something in the meetings and literature that just keeps me focused on the present, and making better and better choices, rather than re-hashing the various tragedies of my past, wallowing in blame, or other unhelpful (for me) things. I'm fairly new, and only came to it through metafilter suggestions, but despite being the last person in the world who i thought could benefit from it...well, i'll stop and just say it has helped me enormously. And I second trying a number of different meetings (if the idea seems appealing at all), because they vary somewhat widely in tone and approach. Good luck.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:57 PM on February 28, 2012

I found Toxic Parents to be a good, validating place to start learning how to talk in more exact terms about childhood failings.
posted by human ecologist at 10:55 AM on February 29, 2012

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