AN INTERVIEW ABOUT THE EARLY HISTORY OF ACA
At the end of 1976 or the beginning of 1977, four
or five young people who had recently "graduated"
from Alateen joined Al-Anon (the adult version of
their program). In Alateen they had explored he
impact that alcoholic and co-alcoholic
parents---and living in an alcoholic
household---had on their lives. Entering Al-Anon,
they were suddenly faced with the concept of
learning to live serenely in a dysfunctional
setting. We can only guess at the inner turmoil
this presented to these young adults, not to
mention being afraid to displease the parent
figures around them in Al-Anon.
Alateen must have taught them well how to get
their own needs met. They formed their own
Al-Anon meeting which they named "Hope for Adult
Children of Alcoholics." This met at the Smithers
Building in Manhattan. This group used the
Al-Anon Greeting and Closing, but "winged" the
rest of the meeting.
At the same time there was an older member of
Al-Anon and AA who had turned his sharing focus
to the impact his "ancient history" in an
alcoholic home of origin had on his adult life.
Tony A. was about fifty years old then.
Cindy, a member of the Hope for Adult Children of
Alcoholics group, heard him and asked him to be a
guest speaker at her group.
Tony A. went and shared his experience, strength,
and hope on the characteristics he found he had
in his adult life due to growing up in an
alcoholic home. The former Alateens were in their
early twenties while Tony was half a century old,
yet the difference in their ages dissolved with
the shared background, experiences, and feelings.
There were tears and laughter and a sense of
belonging and understanding that transcended the
years. They identified with Tony and he stayed.
After six or seven months, instead of the
increasing membership they expected, the
fledgling meeting had dwindled to three or four
people. The meeting was about to fold.
Something rather powerful in Tony motivated him
to invite members of Alcoholics Anonymous to join
the little group. Some of them, after all, had
alcoholics parents of their own, didn't they?
Seventeen members of AA showed up that next week.
At the following meeting there were fifty people.
At the next there were over one hundred AAs. The
somewhat radical Al-Anon meeting was on its way
with a lot of help from some very good friends.
The group then established, some of the members
formed another meeting at St. Jean Baptiste
Church. Tony A. chaired that second meeting
called "Generations." He also went to the Hope
for Adult Children meeting during this period.
The Generations meeting was not affiliated with
any organization. For about six months it
operated with no format. Members of that group
vehemently encouraged Tony to do something to
formalize, to legitimize, to do
something---anything---to establish the group.
So Tony sat down at work the following morning
and, in two hours, jotted down thirteen
characteristics of the fellowship. He said of the
experience, "It was as if Someone Else was
writing the list through me."
Tony worked near Chris. She had offered to type
up the list, so he ran it over to her. She typed
up the thirteen characteristics. Then Tony
realized he'd forgotten to ad that little piece
about fear. "No, they'd never admit fear.
Excitement. Yeah, better. They'd accept
'excitement.' We became addicted to
Tony wrote The Characteristics. He also wrote The
Solution. Chris edited The Solution (things like
"God" became "he/she/it" in the transformation).
When Tony read The Characteristics at the next
meeting, one of the members, Barry, said, "Hey,
that's my laundry list!" That list of
characteristics has since been called "The
This was the official beginning of ACA (ACoA). No
one quite remembers the date of this most
auspicious occasion, but who'd have expected
these humble beginnings to become a worldwide
movement to stop child abuse from the inside?
"When we began," Tony said, "There was a
wonderful feeling of mutual love, empathy, and
They did try working with the AA Steps at the
Generations meeting, but most of the early
members felt these Steps did not apply to them.
About that time, a lady visiting from Houston
asked for a copy of The Laundry List. She took it
to Texas to begin a meeting there. A gentleman by
the name of Jack E. was moving to California. And
there was a lady from Switzerland...
After a Generations meeting one evening in late
1979 or early 1980, two ladies approached Tony.
They were from the General Services of Al-Anon
and invited the Generations group to join
Al-Anon. The only real stipulation was that the
meeting had to discontinue using The Laundry
List. The group unanimously agreed that it would
not give up its Laundry List. This was the
beginning of the movement away from Al-Anon.
In 1979 there was an article published in
Newsweek about Claudia Black, Stephanie Brown and
Sharon Wegscheider (now Wegscheider-Cruse). It
was the very first nationwide announcement that
the family dynamics in an alcoholic household
could and did cause life-long patterns of
That article was, in essence, the second piece of
ACA literature. With the tremendous acceptance of
the Family Systems concept in Mental Health
through the daytime talk show hosts, the
literature from outside the Program blossomed.
For a beginning program with a crusader overtone,
there was general enthusiasm from the fellowship
to accept the use of outside literature.
At this time, AA people were looking at Tony like
he was a little crazy.
Seems he was advocating a departure from the AA
Steps. In 1978 or 1979, with the help of Don D.,
he wrote some Steps he felt were more fitting for
victims of abuse. These Steps encouraged taking
the inventory of the parents and indulging
oneself in self-pity for being a victim (now
referred to as grief-work). Tony couldn't see the
logic in the idea of being "restored to sanity"
since restoration means to be given back
something we once had.
Coming from sick homes, we didn't have any sanity
to begin with.
Keeping in mind that Tony was a concurrent member
of AA--which may explain the one hundred friends
that saved and established the Hope for Adult
Children meeting---he nevertheless felt The
Twelve Traditions of AA were limiting for this
particular program. He didn't see its use then,
and doesn't see it today.
Similarly, he doesn't feel the concept of
anonymity is as important in ACA as it is in AA.
"Anonymity is needed so we don't talk about other
members and their stories. I feel that personal
anonymity can be broken on any level---press,
radio, etc. After all, anonymity can be a sick
family secret, rather than healthy."
Tony began to feel he was being put into the
position of an authority figure, something he
never wanted to be. "I was terrified of authority
figures, and of becoming one.
An authority figure, to me, can be a
perpetrator." He also feared the impact on his
own recovery from all the attention. He turned
over the meeting and stayed away from the
When he returned for a visit, there was a hush
over the room when he entered. It was a heady
ego-rush, but he was concerned about his own
recovery, as well as the program having
individuals "greater than" others.
It just didn't feel right for ACA. So, in 1981,
he became a drop-out and attended Al-Anon in the
As he left New York in 1981, some of the women in
the hope for Adult Children ACA group formally
asked Al-anon to adopt the format and literature
of ACA. This is why there are "Adult Children
Focus" meetings in Al-Anon today not affiliated
with the ACA World Services.
When Tony moved to Florida, he was asked to start
a Tuesday night ACA meeting at
Bethesda-by-the-Sea. He had started a few
meetings in the area before that, but this was
the meeting that survived. Then another meeting
sprang up in Delray, another in Sarasota, then
down in the Keys, then Orlando...
In 1985 Tony got a call from an ACA member, Marty
S., out in California.
Seemed that someone else was publicly taking
credit for The Laundry List.
Marty encouraged Tony to come out of anonymity to
establish the legitimate "founder" of the ACA
Program. Tony himself never claimed to be THE
founder of ACA. He will accept the title of
Co-Founder, giving credit to the four or five
members of the original Hope for Adult Children
meeting. He is, however, the person who penned
the original Characteristics that define our
A former stock-broker in New York, Tony A. was
counseling indigents at the same time he was
continuing to be a stockbroker in Florida. In
1988, he went to work for the Palm Beach
Institute and began to write a book entitled The
Laundry List, published out the program in 1991.
The following is a quote from Tony A
I never expected ACoA to become a worldwide
program when it began. We were working on trying
to keep a little meeting going back then. The
first time I got a glimpse that ACoA had national
or International possibilities was when Barry
said to copyright The Laundry List. He did
foresee this, but I had no idea. I felt The
Laundry List should be anonymous at that time and
never copyrighted it.
The concept of Adult Child came from the Alateens
who began the Hope for Adult Children of
Alcoholics meeting. The original members of our
fellowship, who were over eighteen years old,
were adults; but as children they grew up in
alcoholic homes. Adult Child also means that when
confronted, we regress to a stage in our
There are three parts of me: the Higher Power,
me, and Little Tony. I have to love Little
Tony---my child within---if I'm ever going to
unite with God.
Little Tony is my connection to God. I learned
this from a Hawaiian Kahuna teaching. Several
months afterwards, I heard about the Inner Child
work beginning in the therapeutic community.
I don't feel qualified to talk to organizations.
When we started the Generations meeting, it was
anti-organization. I do hope ACA continues having
an open literature policy. My wish for the
fellowship is to use the original Laundry List
and the new ACoA Steps written in 1990 in my book
for the victims that we are.
This program is about learning to love myself and
then others unconditionally. We are not
God-connected if we don't. Trust has to become a
process, and love is a process. When I can trust
and love me, I can trust and love others.
I think we have to become as little children.
Feelings are the Spiritual Path of an adventure
to know God. Our goal is God.
From an interview with Tony A.
October 5, 1992
Reprinted with permission from Adult Children of Alcoholics.