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  • Writer's pictureGina Greenlee, Author

Game Changers: ACOA 12-Step

Updated: Jun 12

Image credit: Fitchburg Serenity Center

Early in my psychotherapy journey, my therapist encouraged me to attend an Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) 12-step group. She said I didn’t need to attend the group regularly, perhaps once or twice.

Family Symbols

“Even though your parents weren’t alcoholics your family dynamics are similar to those for people whose parents drink, “she said. “You have this fantasy, Gina, that you’re the only one in the world with a troubled childhood. I want you to go to one of these 12-step meetings so you can see that you are not. A lot of what you’ll hear will sound familiar to you.”

Googled Symbol

I Googled, found a group near where I was living at the time in the state of Connecticut. No one at this meeting looked like me. I was the only Black person in the group. And one of the youngest at that time.

Quotation Mark Drawing

Yet, as I listened, the stories flabbergasted me. No, my parents didn’t drink. At all. But the adult behaviors I was struggling with – hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, (a biologically programmed sequence of movements to keep us safe in the face of sudden danger,) defensiveness, anxiety attacks – were fallout from toxic family-of-origin dynamics. These days, the term often used in popular culture is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People Drawing

I wasn’t the only one. That was comforting. Not that I relished others experiencing childhood trauma (some worse than my history), but I wasn’t alone.


Also, many of the ACOA stories came from people who had siblings. I am an only child and always imagined that if I had a sibling it would have been easier for me. That sibling could have shared the burden of the household nuclear waste. That was fantasy, too.

Hour Glass Drawing

Two decades have passed and from my efforts in psychotherapy and beyond, I live with a highly functional tool kit for living with childhood trauma. It doesn’t go away. Only recently do I understand why through the work of Dr. Gabor Mate.

How that Changed the Game

Person surfing Drawing

Woman Holding Flower Sketch


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