One of the ten factors to understand about adult children of alcoholics is that “we don’t know normal.”  In today’s world, we all may well wonder just what is normal for children in families where there isn’t the burden of growing up with substance users. Normal may be perceived as fairly consistent behavior where it’s easy to learn and follow guidelines of right from wrong, kind from cruel, loving from abusive.

An Un-normal Normal

In a family with substance use, however, one day the parent may be super loving, and the next he, or she, is angry, screaming, yelling, violent, depressed, or a whole host of other negative emotions and behaviors. Children cling to the memory of the kind and loving person under it all; yet they cannot stand up to suffering or cruelty. The inconsistently and constant danger is the actual normal.

One idea in learning to understand yourself as someone who has grown up in a an emotionally damaging environment is the thought that all behavior is learned and can therefore be unlearned in adulthood if it doesn’t serve you.

So how do you get to good mental health when you have a closet full of memories and fears you’d like to dump in the ocean and be gone forever?  You work on them.  First, you find people you can trust by word of mouth and recommendation who are good at what they do, have received a degree in a mental health care field.

Then, with your new competent guide, you begin your journey of self discovery.  Perhaps that is why thousands of years ago the great philosopher Socrates admonished us to know ourselves.  Dr. Robert Mueller, one of my mentors who opened a school for children, included in is his curriculum three questions:

  1. Why am I here?
  2. What is my purpose?
  3. Where am I headed?

There Are All Kinds Of Recovery

Whether someone is in recovery from addiction, or the effects of living with people in addiction,  these questions cross all barriers. As someone who has studied the 12 steps, I do believe the three questions also coincide with the first 3 steps: what we didn’t cause, what we can’t control, and what we can’t cure.

Seeking Is Finding

We know from history that as people seek they find, and thus cures for diseases are always in progress.  Part of knowing ourselves is following our inner promptings; which I believe is a higher calling to what you would be good at.  When I was a rebellious teenager, my mom asked, “who do you think you are?”

My response was, “a human being.” Her question was prompted by her own limitations. She was a woman born in 1924. She was unable to fulfill her own dreams. My answer was basic. Who could argue with it. We are all human beings and need to find our own paths to normal.

If you are an Adult Child of an Alcoholic or substance user, you too are a human being. You have the same right to be here and a right to be healthy. Keep exploring until you find your normal.


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Deri Ronis Ph.D.
My approach was always a more holistic one which included the mind, the body and spirit. For this reason, in treating people, I have found it much simpler to encourage healing on an individual soul level, not by labeling.


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