We hear a lot about dysfunction and how experiences from our childhoods can influence our lives well into adulthood. I think this is true on both the positive and negative sides. People who grew up in healthy, loving families tend to continue that pattern into their own families as adults, because its what they know, and it comes naturally. People on the other side of that coin carry their childhood patterns into adulthood, as well, but often with very different results.
Adult children of alcoholics can wrestle with a lifetime habit of making sure they don't make anything worse. They may become people-pleasers in an effort to protect themselves, and often end up losing their own identities, because standing up for themselves is unimaginable. They can have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, often confuse love with pity, and they tend to be compelled to love people they feel they can rescue. They may desperately fear abandonment, and yet are drawn to relationships that promise nothing more, simply because it is familiar and therefore comfortable. Some will do almost anything to hold onto an unhealthy and chaotic relationship, and often become alcoholics themselves, or they end up marrying one. So strong is the need to feel abandoned, they sometimes choose partners who may not be alcoholics but have other compulsive behaviors.
Now you're probably wondering why people would purposely seek out the very thing they fear the most. It is a very perplexing question indeed.
Simply put, I think people tend to gravitate toward people and situations they already know how to handle. Granted, these are certainly not pleasant, but familiarity goes a long way. Some victims of domestic violence seem to be drawn to familiar and yet devastating scenarios as well. Nobody enjoys getting beat up, emotionally or physically, but the fear of the unfamiliar is much stronger, and therefore has a paralytic power. I doubt any of us consciously thinks about these choices as we make them.
Some of us walk through an entire lifetime of inexplicable behaviors and reactions that make no sense to us at all, and it may not become clear to us why we continue these unhealthy and bizarre patterns until we stumble upon the answers on a website or in a book. There are roads that lead away from the chaos and self-destruction; we simply need to find them and muster the courage to venture into the unknown in order to have a chance at living a free and happy life.
When people say its important to "break the cycle," they are talking about a very real phenomenon. The cycle of abuse is one we get caught up in without realizing it, and its one we perpetuate unless we become aware of its existence.
If you are an adult child of an alcoholic, there are resources available online to help you:
Visit Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization and find a meeting near you. This website is full of great information and resources to help you get started.
Stepchat is an online meeting place that does a good job of trying to replicate the face-to-face meeting environment, and is a good alternative if you can't find a local meeting, or if you're not yet comfortable with the idea of sitting in a room with a bunch of strangers and baring your soul.
No matter which option you choose, make sure you choose to do something. Finding people who share your story, or variations thereof, is a liberating, healthy and positive way to move toward the life you have always wanted to live. Step one is overcoming the guilt you feel for even considering the idea of doing something great just for you.