- Christie Pearl, LMHC, LPC
7 Reasons Why Being an ACOA is a Superpower
Most of us are aware of how being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Family impacts your life in a negative way. But what we don't talk about as often is how experiencing early trauma can actually have a positive effect on your life.
You have to do the healing work, of course.
And if you do, it is possible to not only recover but discover new aspects and strengths in yourself that you might not have had otherwise.
I can bear witness to this from my own experience. I’ve done the work of healing my own childhood wounds, to the extent that you’re ever “done.” OK, so what if it took me three decades? Trust me, if you had seen me back then, you’d be glad I stuck with it. Just ask basically anyone from my 20s - that is, if you can catch them when they start running after you mention my name.
If personal growth was a career, I’d have a PhD and a lifetime achievement award. And now I can honestly say I’m grateful for my perfectly imperfect childhood and the superpowers it gave me.
How is that possible?
I’m so glad you asked! And, no, I’m not going to give you the standard it-made-me-the-person-I-am-today answer. Although, to be fair, there is some truth in that. But first, let me define what I mean by “perfectly imperfect.” I mean painfully dysfunctional. I mean family demons passed down for generations. I mean a family of wounded people trying to do the best they could with what they knew how to do - and a lot of the time their best was pretty crappy.
If you're an ACOA in the messy middle of recovery right now, here's a sneak peek at your future superpowers.
1. You can accept yourself for who you are (most of the time)
First, let me give you the "before" picture. Many ACOAs grow up feeling like a ghost of themselves. They are lousy with self-consciousness, insecurity and perfectionism. They wander around dragging their old emotional baggage down all the wrong paths. Before doing the work to heal, ACOAs are usually good at hiding and blending into the scenery, blaming themselves for anything that seems remotely wrong around them.
I know what you’re thinking. Um, yeah, I thought this article was about superpowers? Think this sounds a little heavy? It is. The thing is, in order for you to appreciate your superpowers, you need to recognize exactly how far you've come.
Now let me give you the “after” picture: You can genuinely appreciate yourself and what you have to offer the world. You truly have peace on the inside. You know you don't have to be perfect. You can look in the mirror and smile at the person you see. If you had not had the experiences you did, you might not appreciate this feeling, or maybe would never have done the deep work that allowed it to happen in the first place.
2. You are grounded in your values and beliefs
When you invest the time and energy into resolving your issues, you get to know yourself really well. You can get really clear on who you are and what you're about. You know what’s important to you, and you're not easily swayed by the many flimsy influences that can sometimes show up, like that new thing that everyone just has to have or that new trend you just have to do if you want to be a better person, be more successful, etc. These distractions come and go, but you are now really good at exercising discernment about what does and doesn’t pass the smell test with you.
3. You have empathy and compassion for other people
I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to wake up in the morning and every fiber of your being just wants to curl back up with the covers over your head. When the inner critic in your mind keeps asking you Who do you think you are? every time you try to take a step forward. Or when work feels like a prison sentence because you know you're settling for less than your true calling and you find yourself having fantasies of getting into an accident during your morning commute so you don’t have to go there anymore. I mean, not losing a limb or anything, but just enough to take leave for a few weeks to break the monotony.
Because there are certain things that most of us struggle with at one time or another, and when you've been through it, you can really put yourself in other people’s shoes. This superpower gives you an uncanny ability to bond with people no matter where you go and cut them some slack when they are less than perfect. For me, this superpower allows me to be equally comfortable in a country club or a biker bar because I can connect with the heart and soul of the person in front of me.
4. You can handle what life throws at you
When you’ve already made it through a storm or two, you’re not as thrown off by unexpected things when they happen. The ability to roll with the punches is another one of the ACOA superpowers. You are probably good in a crisis, and the one who could always handle the “difficult” people at work that no one else knew how to deal with. Fortunately, since you've overcome your addiction to chaos and excitement, life feels a lot calmer these days. Sure, you might still have your moments, but there is a certain security in knowing that you're equipped to hang in there in those rare occasions when the you-know-what hits the fan.
5. You appreciate the good times
Those of us who know how bad things can get know better than to take the good times for granted. Now, I’m not saying I worry about the next bad time being just around the corner. I’m just saying that when you’ve been caught in the rain, it feels really good when the sun comes out. There was a season in my adult life when all hell was breaking loose with seemingly every member of my family. I was afraid to answer the phone because it was usually someone reporting a new horrible thing. I’m talking cancer, strokes, family discord, relatives gone wild. Kinda felt like the good ol’ days (to be read with sarcasm). Gradually this season passed and eventually my “phone PTSD” did too. Right now we’re in a good season, and I’m loving every minute of it. Hopefully it will last a long time. If it doesn’t, please see #4.
6. You can find meaning in a higher power and purpose
There is a reason that the serenity prayer starts with "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change" and why surrender is the first step in recovery communities. At some point, in order to stop fighting our old battles and move on, we have to wave the white flag and acknowledge that we had no control over other people then, and we have no control over them now. One way of doing this is surrendering to a higher power - which is in essence learning to trust and release control.
It's not about religion. It's about relationship - with yourself and with something bigger than you.
When you surrender to a higher power, you can see a larger purpose and meaning within your suffering. You can zoom out and have a more integrated view. In trauma therapy, this is the phase of trauma recovery that involves integration and moving on, where the past no longer takes up all the space in your day to day life today. You are living through the eyes of your present day self, so focusing on your own purpose, gifts and impact becomes much more possible.
7. You can learn to take risks and go for your dreams
This superpower is what it's all about! Many ACOAs go years with their past experiences, self-doubt and fears holding them back from pursuing their goals and dreams.
Personally, I have taken a circuitous route to finding my way. I used to see the fact that I didn’t follow a straight line to success as a flaw in myself. I felt shame and jealousy when I saw those annoying people who seemed to have everything all mapped out and just followed the steps to their inevitable success, and asked myself why can’t I be like them?
What we eventually realize is that everyone has to walk their own path and follow their own schedule. We each have different things to learn and different barriers to overcome.
As we heal and develop our ability to reclaim our authentic self, we can begin to take healthy risks. We can try new things we never thought would be possible, without getting too overwhelmed. We come to recognize our our willingness to go off-road and forge our own path as a superpower instead of a fault. We discover new avenues for experience that we would never have seen if we had stayed on the main route. Our uniqueness begins to shine through.
Which superpower is your favorite?
Comment below and let me know!
So there you have it. You can learn to see - and use - your superpowers.
If you are a recovering ACOA, you get to feel accepted for who you are, you get to know yourself and your values, you get to feel competent and capable, you get to connect through compassion for other people, and you get to pursue a higher purpose and meaning in your life through healing and learning to take risks and go for your dreams. Recovering ACOAs learn how to be their own loving parent. In other words, you can be your own superhero.