By Lisa Sue Woititz, author of Unwelcome Inheritance: Break Your Family's Cycle of Addictive Behavior
Many of us who have alcoholism or other addictions in our families suffer from depression to some degree. We've gone to self-help groups and therapists for a number of years, hoping that if we can uncover hidden emotional issues that the feeling of hopelessness will disappear. Some of us judge ourselves for our inability to "get over it" and "pull ourselves together" but as much as we try, we just can't shake the blues. Well, maybe it's not all in our mind! Sometimes approaching an old problem from a new angle energizes us with a renewed feeling of hope. So let's consider this common problem from a different perspective and ask ourselves: Are we taking good care of our bodies? In combination with reaching out to our support system, here are eight things that ACOAs can do to outwit depression:
- Learn about your family history of addiction and mental health issues. Is it possible that you have inherited body chemistry that lends itself to depression? Our genetic makeup may contribute to the way we are feeling even if we do not have a substance abuse problem. If you do have addictions, consider addressing them so that you are not agitating your sensitive system with chemicals that leave you feeling worse than you did before you took them.
- Get tested for food allergies and discover what your body reacts to. Or, experiment on your own by eating one food by itself on an empty stomach and waiting an hour to see how you feel. Many ACOAs have dramatic allergic reactions to foods and chemicals. You may be shocked at how much better your mood is when you eliminate these culprits from your daily fare and replace them with healthy foods that your body needs.
- Eliminate sugar in all of its forms from your diet. That momentary lift may not be worth the way you feel when your glucose levels crash, especially if sugar is your drug of choice. Learn about all of the different aliases used to disguise sugar so that when you read food labels, you can identify it.
- Have your vitamin D level checked next time you have a physical. Studies show a direct link between depression and low vitamin D levels. If you need a vitamin D boost, your physician can help you decide how to achieve that through diet, vitamins in pill or liquid form and/or spending a modest amount of time in the sun.
- Hydrate! Many experts believe that there is a relationship between chronic dehydration and fatigue, which feels like depression. While this might not be the sole cause of the problem, it may be a contributing factor. As a test, drink several glasses of water a day for several days and see if you feel better.
- Move your body and release that anger. Do you agree that depression is partly anger turned inward? Release that angry energy with exercise and experience a lift in your mood as those endorphins start flowing.
- Consider taking medication if it is recommended by a professional that you trust.
- Give meditation a try. It quiets the mind and can give you a feeling of peace and well-being.
About the Author
Having grown up with a parent in the throes of addiction, or who got physically sober but perhaps not emotionally so, you know the ravages of addiction firsthand. Through counseling, self-help groups, or classic books such as Adult Children of Alcoholics, you may have an understanding of how the patterns and behaviors associated with addiction play out within families, but applying that knowledge to your own approach to relationships and parenting is another story.
In Unwelcome Inheritance, Lisa Sue Woititz combines her own insights with the unpublished contributions of her late mother, the early leader in the Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) movement, Dr. Janet Woititz, uncovering how multiple generations of people affected by addiction continue to enable their children’s substance abuse and how, without realizing it, they continue to model the addictive behaviors learned from their own parents. These ACOA pioneers then bring to light these hidden behavior patterns--including impulsivity, misplaced loyalty, people pleasing, insecure parenting styles, and multiple compulsive and addictive behaviors--so that you can take a clear look at how you got to this point. Additional points of inquiry, illustrated by stories from the trenches of the ACOA movement, help you explore what you can (and can’t) do to help your children, your children’s children, and yourself lead healthy, balanced lives.
Dr. Janet Woititz Ed.D., was the author of several books, including the seminal Adult Children of Alcoholics, and was an early leader in the movement that made "adult child" a household name. She passed away in 1994. Lisa Sue Woititz managed Dr. Woititz’s Institute for Counseling and Training for a number of years and has worked in the mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice fields.