Adult Child

What Powerlessness & Unmanageability Means To An Adult Child

September 11, 2021 Season 1 Episode 24
Adult Child
What Powerlessness & Unmanageability Means To An Adult Child
Show Notes Transcript

In today's episode, we take a deep dive into Step 1 of the ACA program - "We admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction - that our lives had become unmanageable."  It is through accepting our powerlessness and unmanageability that we gain power and create a manageable life.
Twelve Steps of Adult Children Steps Workbook
Adult Children of Alcoholics /  Dysfunctional Families

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Welcome back to adult child, where we take a deep dive into the impact of growing up in a dysfunctional family. 

So today we are diving deep into step 1 of the ACA program – we admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction and that our lives had become unmanageable. Now to be completely honest, I have been on the fence as whether I really wanted to dive into the steps on this podcast, because this isn’t an official ACA 12-step podcast. However, this is a podcast that provides y’all with information of tools and resources for healing from our dysfunctional upbringings. The 12 steps of ACA has helped a shit load of adult children to do so. And then 2 days I ago, I received a DM from Rebecca on Instagram saying that she had just started working the steps in ACA and wanted to know if I could share my experience in working step 1 because she is having a hard time with it. So I took that as confirmation from the universe that this is a topic that I should cover on the pod. So today we are going to talk about what powerlessness and unmanageability looks like for an adult child and what that looked for me. I think this is a nice piggy back off of last week’s topic of hitting butt – yes I am still trying to make that a thing – don’t you worry. But part of this acceptance piece This is part of this acceptance piece that we talked about – part of that includes recognition of our powerlessness and unmanageability. 

But before we proceed, I just want to make it clear that I do not represent the ACA program in any respect, I do not speak on behalf of ACA, and everything coming out of this yapper today is based off my own opinions and my own personal experience. So take what you want and leave the rest.

So today y’all are just getting me - 


Step 1 for ACA is We admitted we were powerless over the effects of alcoholism or other family dysfunction, that our lives had become unmanageable.

In a nutshell, this is step is about lifting the veil of denial – it says in the big red book - 

“Step one requires that we admist our family is dysfunctional and the dysfunction affects our thinking and behavior as adu.ts. We must admit that we are powerless over he effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family. Our lives are unmangable regardless of appearances of self-sufficiency. Social standing or compulsive self-reliance does not equal recovery. We must realize that will power or self-determination is no match for the effects of growing up in a sick family.”

So we all that my adult child syndrome showed up in relationships but that it took me a very long time to realize that that’s what was going on with me. Initially my dating issues to being early sobriety, or the normal process of dating and finding myself. Right, like that’s normal, we find out what we want and don’t want in a relationship through experience. But the whole premise behind is that in each relationship, hopefully we are getting closer to that ideal, and also making better decisions as well. Well as you know that was the case for me. But I think what was also preventing me from understanding what was going on was the fact that I didn’t hop from one relationship to the next, there were significant periods of time between of time – a year and year and half – between each relationship. And in that period of time, after I got over the initial heartache (that I had been completely convinced I would never get over, but always would), I felt good y’all. I felt good myself, I felt about life. I had a lot of fun, I had amazing, my life was full and fulfilling. So I would enter the next relationship in this state, confident that this time things would be different. And they never were. And I didn’t understand in a matter of a few dates, all that I thought I knew and believed about myself would just fly out the window.

Dr. Drew

But not once I had considered that my broken picker was related to my childhood until a-ha #2 w/ Brian #1 – this feeling is a feeling I felt often as a child. And then reading the ACA book, I’m okay – this all makes sense. But still after reading that book, I didn’t internalize that I was suffering from a disease just as powerful as my alcoholism or that I was truly powerless. Remember my comment to the lady 

Last week we talked about this period time where we sit in the pain of our awareness before we truly find acceptance. And instead of beating ourselves and viewing this as period of self-inflicted, I think the more accurate and compassionate way of viewing it as gathering more data, doing more research. You know it says in the big book “We do not like to pronounce any individual as alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of jitters if you get a full knowledge of your condition.”

We do not like to pronounce any Andrea as an adult child, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Get yourself back on that bumble app and find yourself another Brian with a drinking problem. See if you can stop seeing him after he drunk dials you and sends you one direction music videos. Try staying in a hotel room with him for 72 hours where he drinks nonstop the entire time. It will take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth feeling like a miserable junkie for 6 months, when you actually have been sober for 9 years, if you get a full knowledge of your condition.”

And guess what – it was worth it. Because by the end of that relationship, I had full knowledge of my condition and just how powerless I was. And I don’t mean powerless over alcohol or alcoholism – I knew this already. It didn’t matter how many bottles of my mom’s booze I poured down the drain as a kid – there was always another bottle. It didn’t matter how many times I told myself I wouldn’t get completely shit faced and turn into a monster - I always blacked out and 9 times out of 10, I always sloppy shitshow. I had no qualms about being powerless of over alcohol. It is in this moment that I finally saw how I was powerless over the effects of alcoholism, the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family, this deep soul wound I had no fucking clue was there. 

Powerlessness for an adult child means that we are were not responsible for our parents’ dysfunctional behavior as children or adults. It means that as adults we’re not responsible for going back and “fixing” our dysfunctional family through our present day families. Whether we consciously know it or not, we feel that we failed in fixing our families, so we find ourselves in similar situations and relationships in attempt to fix what we failed to do as children – and then fail at that as well. 

And this is what we call repetition compulsion which a psychological phenomenon deemed by Frued in which we repeat the emotional, psychological, or behavioral aspects of a traumatic event over and over again without awareness, re-creating pain from yesterday in relationships and circumstances of today. We repeatedly find ourselves in relationships with alcoholics, or addicts or narcissits, thinking we can some how change. We repeatedly find ourselves in relationships and situations that make us feel exactly how we felt as children growing up in a dysfunctional family – reproduce the same trauma and abuse we endured. 

Many people also balk at the idea of accepting their powerlessness in any capacity. Our culture tells us relentlessly that we should feel empowered, that we can conquer anything we set our mind to, and that failure is a result of weakness. Accepting one’s powerlessness over the disease of family dysfunction doesn’t mean giving up and has nothing to do weakness. It’s about accepting a harsh truth, which often takes a great deal of strength to do. To face the problem head on and accept that we are powerless over the impact of our dysfunctional upbringings takes a tremendous amount of strength and is also the vehicle through which self-compassion and self-empowerment can be cultivated.

I saw the underlying cause of this powerlessness was two-pronged. The first being the faulty programming - the limiting beliefs I held about myself that I was inherently flawed, unworthy & unlovable. And the irrational fears, this is the last guy on earth that will ever like me and this was my last chance at love and this would be the last guy on earth who will be interested in me. And this resulted in finding myself in relationships with partners that affirmed and further ingrain our faulty beliefs and fears.  

The other root of my powerlessness was stored trauma. As soon as I Got in a relationship, this stored trauma would come out of hiding and I lost my personal agency. I went in survival mode and lived in a trauma response. I lost control of my emotions, my thoughts, my behaviors, my body. And because of this. And living in this trauma response is what made my life real fucking unmanageable. 

List – 

So now for unmanageability – I think this can also be mistrued. Unmanagaebility doesn’ it’s hard for an adult child to rexognize and acknowledge unmanageability in our lives because its all we know. We grew up homes that were unmanageable that we thought we were manageable. I said in the very first episode that what makes a family dysfunction is not the dysfunction itself, but how the dysfunction is managed. The dysfunction is ever is every present, it is either flat out denied, or if it is acknowledged its never resolved. That is what we call unmanageable, even if things looked pretty from the outside. So here were my examples of unmanageability. 


1.       Lying – I will lie to friends/family/sponsor about various things – how much Brian is drinking or not drinking, details of an evening, if I am seeing him or talking to him, details of conversations, lies to cover up other lies.

2.       Neglecting myself physically – smoking A LOT, not eating or eating very unhealthy when I do eat, not working out

3.       Perform very poorly at work – not being able to focus at work because I am so anxious and in fear related to the relationship, making up excuses for why I can’t come into work or leaving midday so that I can pull him out of a bar, or babysit him at his house so he doesn’t go drink.

4.       Lose connection with higher power – I stop my daily prayer/meditation routine. I don’t start and end my day with a spiritual practice, partially out of shame because I know that the relationship is not God’s will for me, and I don’t want to pray for God’s will or the strength and guidance because that will most likely lead to the relationship ending.

5.       Lose control over serenity – my mood and mental state is completely dictated by his actions or inactions. I am happy and fine and serene when I think everything is good on the Brian front. Or I am a complete basket case if he isn’t responding to me or doesn’t respond in the way I wanted him to.

7.       I become a shitty friend – I will cancel on a friend or bail on them if I could go spend time with Brian instead. I will chose him over them in a heartbeat. When I do spend time with them, I am often not present or in a very fragile negative space desperately needing them to take care of me or say the right things to make me feel better.

8.       Become unable to do adult-type responsibilities – my apartment gets very messy and cluttered, pay bills late, become unaware of how much money I am spending or just don’t care how much money I am spending, don’t get my mail

10.   I put the relationship over working my program – when things seem to be going well in the relationship, I skip meetings, don’t make as much of an effort to connect with my sponsor or do step work, don’t take service positions. When I should be at a mtg, I am out at a bar with Brian with people who are heavily drinking.

Unmanageability is a subjective experience and it is really about the unmanageability we experience within and is rooted in our failed attempt to control everything and everyone. Unmanagability is what happens when we abandon our true selves. Unmanageability is when we allow the actions or inactions of another to dictate our peace of mind. Unmanageability is when we look outward to feel okay about ourselves. Unmanageability is when we when we sacrifice self care for other - when we tend to the wants or needs of others and the expense of our own. Unmanageability is when we try to solve problems that are unfixable or ours not to fix. Now this can all result in external ramifications, outward examples of unmanageability, but we won’t be able to truly address that unless we resolve what’s going on with us internally.