The Bully Proof Classroom



Written By: James H Burns - Dec• 07•15

acoa image

My dad and mom owned a bar so at a very early age it became very easy for me to be around people who drank all the time. From the time I was a kid I thought that the whole world drank and got drunk. My dad was a binge drinker and he would go of on a bender every six months or so. He would be gone from one to three days. I always asked my mom where dad slept when he was gone and she would say in the car. I wasn’t sure who drove who crazier, mom or dad. Dad would drink and drive mom nuts, but when dad was sober mom would say things to dad to get under his skin. So I wasn’t sure if mom drove dad to drink or dad’s drinking drove my mom to make those comments. I didn’t really drink as a teenager but started to drink when I go married the first time. I drank a lot during the summer, and when I bar tended at a restaurant in Belmar NJ. As I became unhappy in my marriage I drank more and more until my drinking got a little out of control and I became frightened of my own behavior and my thoughts. If you want to discover a whole lot about an illness or a condition all you have to do is get it or think that you have it and you will start to read all there is to read about it in books, magazines, online or any place you can find the info. I came across this acronym in a book, ACOA. What the hell does this mean? Well it means Adult Child of an Alcoholic. I read more and discovered that somebody hooked a bunch of symptoms to the conditions, 13 to be exact. What an unlucky number. Let me enumerate them here:


1. Guess at what normal is.
2. Have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
3. Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
4. Judge themselves without mercy.
5. Have difficulty having fun.
6. Take themselves very seriously.
7. Have difficulty with intimate relationships.
8. Overreact to changes over which they have no control.
9. Constantly seek approval and affirmation.
10. Feel that they are different from other people.
11. Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
12. Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
13. Have money dysfunction, such as hiding it or being disorganized with it.

After reading this list and the article associated with the list I concluded that I was an ACOA, dysfunctional, needed therapy, was warped, hated my parents, and had no business being married to a girl that I had known for ten years. Great, so now what? Well now I come up with a lot of excuses for my behavior, acted more like an idiot than ever before, get into therapy, and divorced my wife. I began to walk around and wonder if every move I made was related to me being an ACOA. I began to argue for my own weaknesses and became more and more irresponsible. This went on for about five years until I started to learn the benefits of my time in history and my up bringing. There are benefits to our up bringing. Too often we look at the downside of how we were raised. I was a baby-boomer as was everyone else in my age bracket and I would bet that many of us have looked back at their life and began to wonder how did I ever get this way. I figured that I could go on hating my life or I could look at what benefit this up bringing did for me and I could use my past to help improve the future. Now I started to take a better look at things when I was about 36 years old (in case you’re wondering I am 60 now) and when my youngest daughter Grace was about 8 years old and I was about 49 I started to realize that this ACOA thing is not an emotional death sentence but rather an opportunity that everybody has to really put things in perspective for themselves and for their own children.

One day about three years ago I was riding around in the car with my daughter Grace and I told her a story about my dad that we both found very amusing and we laughed to tears. I had always told Grace stories about my dad as a matter of fact she started to ask me to tell her a story so we could both laugh really hard. One day she came to me with a list of stories, there were 12 of them about my dad that she kept track of on paper. All of the stories that I told her were stories that came out of that dreaded ACOA environment that I lived in. You know the place that screwed me up. They were so funny now that it didn’t matter that my dad had the personality of an alcoholic, all Grace knows is that I don’t, and she and I can laugh together about all of the insanity that I went through as a kid. How great is that.

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