Melinda Dixon is a practicing member of Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families. Melinda has worked in recovery programs for nine years, and recently completed her certification as an addictions’ counselor. Growing up in a home with an alcoholic mother, she has been able to recover from her traumas and the effects of her family’s alcoholism through her tight connection with the ACA. Her story is an example of how alcoholism and addiction affect everyone in the home. You can listen to the interview in its entirety here

Childhood

Melinda grew up in a small town in Ohio. Her mother was a bartender in town, with a “wild girl” reputation. When Melinda was very young, her mother remarried a musician in town. Melinda and her sister were exposed to the bar scene from very early on, “we were in bars as very little kids, we were in a lot of unsafe places, and we were around a lot of very unsafe men.”

Melinda’s mother dropped out of high school right before she had Melinda at the age of 17. She too came from an abusive family and didn’t know how to cope with the trials of motherhood.  “There’s lots of family stories of me being left in a playpen with throw-up on me and bruises, and my mom running down the street to my aunt’s house saying she can’t handle the baby anymore and leaving,” recalls Melinda. 

Later in life, Melinda was diagnosed with codependency, and complex PTSD. Melinda’s childhood memories are mostly traumatic. She remembers always living in fear, “I got hit with a belt, thrown into a closet, spinning around and the belt hit me right across the face at one point.”

The repeated and unpredictable abuse caused Melinda to become hyper-vigilant. Melinda recalls, “it caused me to develop coping skills, which absolutely helped me as a child, but they were sabotaging my adult relationships.” The outcome was repeated broken relationships that were a repeat of the troubled relationship she had with her mom.

After high school, Melinda went into the National Guard, dropped out of college and eventually got into sales. She built her own consulting firm and was doing really well, but her relationships were still completely out of control. Also, at the age of 18, Melinda came out as a lesbian; finally  for the first time in her life, she stood up for herself. She remembers feeling different yet confident, “I remember that feeling of, this makes me different, and this makes me okay, and it’s okay.”

Relationships

Melinda said her drug of choice was people, “I used people to try to fill the void.” Melissa was constantly trying to find someone to fulfill her, “I was always on the hunt for that perfect girl that was going to come and rescue me because I wasn’t going to be complete until I found that girl that was going to rescue me and make my life okay.”

Before Melinda was in recovery, every girlfriend she had was in active addiction, emotionally unavailable, and unwilling to commit. Her patterns were destructive, and that transferred to her relationships.  “They couldn’t in any way shape or form rescue me because they were stuck in their own addiction,” Melinda shares. The blueprint of her love was shaped by her childhood: she believed love and abuse went hand-in-hand. Melinda recalls her first rock bottom was a toxic and abusive relationship with a girl she didn’t even love, “she was like a drug, there’s nothing of value that she brings my life, and I can’t stop, I can’t stop having her in my house, I can’t stop seeing her.”

Rock bottom hit hard when Melinda’s girlfriend brought friends over while Melinda was travelling across the country. They robbed her, taking 925 items out of her home. A year later, Melinda went into an intense inpatient program for people that were stuck in codependency. Things were going really well, she stopped drinking, she was hanging out with her friends, but then things came to a screaming halt when she met a new woman who was married. The relationship was intense and quickly turned chaotic. Melinda recalls being in a constant state of agitation and anxiety, “for me it was trying to be what [she] wanted me to be so that [she] would stay with me.” Eventually, the relationship ended, and Melinda had to face her active addiction again. 

ACA

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)/Dysfunctional Families is a twelve-step, twelve-tradition program for men and women who grew up in dysfunctional homes. They share experiences of growing up in an environment of abuse, neglect and trauma.  Melinda has participated in ACA for 4 years and said, “it’s totally and completely life-changing.” 

In ACA, participants refer to one another as, “fellow travelers,” because everyone has walked the same path. At times, people in ACA find it difficult to express their truth without feeling like they are villainizing their family members. Melinda found it difficult to share her family secret, “I know that my parents did the best they could, but I was a neglected and abused child, and to say that, it’s not easy.” 

In ACA we say, “name it, don’t blame it,” says Melinda. Melinda realized she wasn’t being true to herself if she denied what happened to her as a child, “I can’t grow if I keep abandoning myself.” The ACA concentrates on inner child work and often asks people in the program to ponder, “if you come from trauma, abuse, or neglect, what skills did you develop that helped you as a child but are now sabotaging your adult relationships?” The ACA provides a safe environment to examine your lost innocence and pinpoint the deep “why” behind your behaviors.

Melinda no longer lives in fear, her anxiety has lifted, and she is having fun again. She now lives in recovery with her mantra tattooed on her arm, “invite love, crave joy, own courage, release fear, stay present, and accept growth.”

Quotes have been edited for clarity.