Adult Survivors of Child Abuse – An alternative to 12 step recovery programs

I wanted to share a website that I found today…after investigating whether or not I will be joining a local Adult Child of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families Group.  I’m not yet sure I’ll go, and I’ll tell you why later.

I’m sharing this for a number of reasons, to help others, for sure, but to also inform some of the people who care about me what I’m planning to work on next in my healing journey.

First off, I have to thank The Invisible Scar, for this website.  It generated a LOT of thoughts and perusing the site and the links provided lead me to this 1994 article in Parade Magazine:

You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart by Andrew Vachss, an attorney and an expert on child abuse who devoted his life to protecting children.

“If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self-help until you learn to self-reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what “goodness” really is. Adopting the abuser’s calculated labels—”You’re crazy. You’re ungrateful. It didn’t happen the way you say”—only continues the cycle.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.”

Through The Invisible Scar’s website, I also found something in the Tips for Adult Survivors that really resonated with my experience with trying to separate at various points from my narcissistic mother:

“However, do note that in many cases, especially when dealing with narcissistic parents, your saying you need space will be seen as throwing down a gauntlet. In some extreme cases, narcissistic parents will sense that their adult child is beginning to awaken and the abuse will increase (and even get outrageous).”

and they would get so ENRAGED when I disconnected/hung up/left.  I’m no stranger to fear, obligation and guilt.  I recently had a run-in with my sisters and mother that left me struggling with toxic self-criticism again.

I’ve been awake to their abuse since I was about 16, when I started fighting back.  I moved out a few times in order to establish some psychological and physical distance before I finally did for good when I was 24 (I wasn’t allowed to go away to college or it would have been much, much sooner).

It’s not so easy to STAY awake.  I keep forgetting the personality disordered behavior I deal with and the problems I have today are because I’m still dealing with unresolved issues inside.  In case anyone’s wondered, after making amends with my sister by going to her after elopement soiree, I’ve gone “no contact” again.   It just makes life a little less stressful.

I thought today’s post was helpful about an interview with Dr. Steven Sosney on fading negative voices:

TIS: How can the adult child of an emotionally abusive parent ever get rid of all the negative voices inside their head? All they hear is their parents’ abuse…

They may never ‘get rid’ of them, but they can learn to focus on creating value and meaning in their lives, which will give the old voices ‘white noise’ status, like an air conditioner in the background.

Focus is a skill that must be practiced. Whatever we focus on, amplifies and magnifies neural connections in the brain. Repeated focus forms habits. In time, more beneficial habits can develop by choosing to focus on what is most important to and about you as a person, partner, and parent.

There are times, in my meditation practices…that I actually heard a white-noise sound.  I know it sounds strange, I thought it was really crazy at the time, but at the same time I also kind of new it was certainly better than the endless stream of thoughts I was having, some of which WERE quite negative.

But now I can re-focus on different things.

And realize I still need a little bit of help.

So, with all that in mind, I decided to google “Adult Survivors Of Child Abuse” and found this excellent resource right off the bat.

Stage 1 – Remembering

  1. I am in a breakthrough crisis, having gained some sense of my abuse.
  2. I have determined that I was physically, sexually or emotionally abused as a child.
  3. I have made a commitment to recovery from my childhood abuse.
  4. I shall re-experience each set of memories as they surface in my mind.
  5. I accept that I was powerless over my abusers’ actions which holds them responsible.
  6. I can respect my shame and anger as a consequence of my abuse, but shall try not to turn it against myself
    or others.
  7. I can sense my inner child whose efforts to survive now can be appreciated.

Stage 2 – Mourning

  1. I have made an inventory of the problem areas in my adult life.
  2. I have identified the parts of myself connected to self-sabotage.
  3. I can control my anger and find healthy outlets for
    my aggression.
  4. I can identify faulty beliefs and distorted perceptions in myself and others.
  5. I am facing my shame and developing self-compassion.
  6. I accept that I have the right to be who I want to be and live the way I want to live.
  7. I am able to grieve my childhood and mourn the loss of those who failed me.

Stage 3 – Healing

  1. I am entitled to take the initiative to share in life’s riches.
  2. I am strengthening the healthy parts of myself, adding to my self-esteem.
  3. I can make necessary changes in my behavior and relationships at home and work.
  4. I have resolved the abuse with my offenders to the extent that is acceptable to me.
  5. I hold my own meaning about the abuse that releases me from the legacy of the past.
  6. I see myself as a thriver in all aspects of life – love, work, parenting, and play.
  7. I am resolved in the reunion of my new self and eternal soul.

I like that.  I’m already at a step 7 from the work I’ve done to date, though, I’ve touched on step 14 and 18 throughout my own recovery journey.  I like that it includes aggression and anger, because I struggle with that.  I like that I have the right to be who I want to be and live the way I want to live.

While I can’t find a ACSA program nearby, they do have online support AND…they offer their Manual and workbook From Surviving to Thriving for free and available online, in pdf, or in kindle format.  Gotta love that.

My dear online friend just recently sent me information from the Adult Child of Alcoholics group regarding the Laundry List and The Promises.  And while I readily admit I had a father and a step-father with alcoholism, and a husband with a binge drinking kind of alcohol problem, I instinctively felt something off with ACA/DF and codependence.  There are some definite problems I have with 12 step recovery programs.  I noticed it with the Celebrate Recovery Program that I went to at church.  Something about it started making me angry.

I now have the words to articulate my unease with 12 step programs in this article How to Find a True non-12 Step Program. (bolding mine)

Here is a list of the essential characteristics of 12-step programs which people find unhelpful, offensive, or even harmful. We’ll look at each one in detail and determine their opposites so that you may understand how to find a true non-12-step program.

  • Twelve-step programs teach people to be powerless over drugs and alcohol [you can safely substitute sex, or food, or codependence, etc]
  • Twelve-step programs apply intense pressure to become religious, or fit your spiritual beliefs to theirs.
  • The 12-step program consumes your time and your life.
  • Twelve-step members and practitioners are disrespectful, confrontational, and controlling.

I see and have felt, when I was there, huge RED FLAGS for a child who’d been abused.  check out the link to find out what may be more helpful in dealing with addictions if you struggle with that.

And while I was having difficulty conveying my reasons to my friend, I found the BIGGEST reason why I’m uneasy with 12 step programs within the ACSA book Survivor to Thriver manual itself.

“… ASCA is a recovery program based on psychological concepts of recovery. While many ideas represented in 12-Step programs may be valuable for survivors of child abuse, some are not. In particular, many survivors have difficulty with the idea of “surrendering to a higher power.” The challenge for many survivors is to find the power to change within oneself, not in an outside source. This is related to the fact that, for most survivors, the source of power and control was always located outside of themselves, in their parent or other abuser.

To find the power to change from within is to break old, persistent patterns. Some survivors also have problems with some 12-Step programs’ recurring themes of forgiveness, blame and misplaced responsibility.12-Step programs start with the belief that the individual has committed wrongs, is responsible for those wrongs and must make amends to others for those wrongs. These beliefs are not particularly applicable to survivors of child abuse. Adult survivors were abused as children. As children, they had no control or choice over the abuse, and it was not their fault that the abuse occurred. The abuse was the doing of another person (or persons), and many adult survivors do not feel that they should make amends for behavior that was not their responsibility and over which they had no control. It is for these reasons, among others, that THE MORRIS CENTER believes that ASCA’s psychological approach is more suitable for recovery from child abuse.

I have not healed from the emotional abuse because I haven’t found the safest place to address and recover from child abuse.  My attempts to date have been a good start, but I need more help.

ACA programs may or may not be the right place for me to heal from the depths of the psychological damage done to me.

However, for those people who do find the 12-step program beneficial for their addictions:

“…this does not mean that ASCA is opposed to 12-Step programs.  One of ASCA’s principles is a policy of “addition, not competition,” with respect to 12-Step programs, and we do not compete with 12-Step programs for your participation. We believe that 12-Step groups are extremely useful and appropriate for persons facing addictions and attempting to live clean and sober lives. ASCA is deeply grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step programs as the godparents of the recovery movement. Without them, there would be no ASCA but we view ourselves as a separate program for a separate problem.”

Well that about wraps up this post.  I wanted to share what I am learning. I hope you find something helpful here…or if you know of someone who might, feel free to share this particular post.  I think it is very useful.  I’m looking forward to not just surviving, but thriving.  =)


About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in adult child of alcoholics, adult survivors of abuse, Andrew Vachss, Child abuse, Dr. Steven Sosney, Emotional Abuse, Recovery from child abuse. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Adult Survivors of Child Abuse – An alternative to 12 step recovery programs

  1. ptero9 says:

    Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with us Casey. I feel a sense of compassion for you having traveled through the muck of my own family stuff compounded by my struggle with identity issues. My husband too, has had his share of family craziness being raised by Jehovah’s Witness that wouldn’t even allow him to join scouts or play school sports and thought his desire to go to college was a waste of time because the world was going to end! Presently, he is officially being shunned by them.
    I’m rooting for you!

    • Casey says:

      Thanks so much Debra.

      It means a lot to me. At some point I will want to talk to you more. I have your email address, so if it’s okay, I might try to email you.

      The identity issues are a problem for me too, but, i decided that rather than try to have an identity, I’d learn to be okay with one that is not rigid anyway. There is an Eastern Spirituality book called No Self, No Problem: Awakening to Our True Nature: Anam Thubten. It’s kind of liberating to know that I don’t HAVE to put on a mask of normalcy. I have a head start in not having an identity anymore to cling to. Now if I can just get used to the feeling of groundlessness under my feet….I’ll be okay.

      I’m sorry to hear about your husband being shunned. But…I think that’s a blessing in disguise. Good luck to you both in your journeys.

  2. thanks for posting, the Adult Survivors Of Child Abuse steps sound very important in healing

  3. I have a dual diagnosis of PTSD and alcohol misuse and have just spent nine weeks in a 12 Step rehab. Although some of it was useful I feel that they didn’t understand my ‘powerlessness’ over my anxiety. I never had a problem with alcohol during 15 years of moderate social drinking, the latter only became an issue when I was experiencing triggered 24/7 panic states that were totally unmanageable. Whenever I spoke the truth whilst in rehab for alcohol misuse I was accused of being self pitying, in denial, dishonest, making excuses or blaming. This didn’t do much for my already low self esteem. Eventually I subconsciously toed the line and my rubbishing myself was well received earning me praise for my ‘honesty’. In retrospect I feel I was on my way to being brainwashed.

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