By Lisa Woititz, author of Unwelcome Inheritance
With the right support, looking back at our difficult past experiences can help us to understand where our ongoing pain and struggles come from. And sharing the feelings we’ve pushed down for a long time can be a relief. But making those connections and releasing our emotions doesn’t always heal those hurts. In fact, sometimes too much focus on the past can prevent us from moving forward, which is exactly what we need to do to feel whole and create positive change. It’s good to know that our future can be happy and bright even if we cannot change what happened in the past. Here are some things that we can all do to move forward in our recovery:
LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE
Have you ever looked at your family tree? It holds the key to understanding who and what has shaped our lives. Was it just your mother or father who had a drinking problem? What were your grandparents like? What sort of home environment were your parents raised in? Understanding what behaviors and physical predispositions have been passed down to us can give us a whole new and expanded perspective on our lives. It can also give us insight as to what traits we have passed along to our children and what we may want to do differently than our parents and grandparents.
RECOGNIZE YOUR OWN IMPORTANCE
Our personal recovery doesn’t just help us. It can help those that we love in their healing process as well. Many people minimize the impact they have on the lives of others. Everyone is someone’s child, spouse, parent, friend, loved one – we are all important to someone! When we take better care of ourselves, we relieve our loved ones of worry and fear about our well-being. When we smile, those around us can’t help but smile too. Happiness is contagious! If you don’t feel that you are worth taking good care of yourself, do it for those you love. Your happiness matters!
CHANGE THE THINGS WE CAN
We may not be able to change the past, but we do have control over what happens next. If you miss someone with whom you have a broken relationship, consider reaching out to that person if only to say “hello.” If you have a dream, take a small step toward it. If you don’t like something the way it is, change it! And if you don’t know how to change it, ask for help. If you feel afraid to make a change, ask yourself, “Can this action harm me or someone else?” If the answer is “no” and it is just a case of the jitters that is in your way, remember that the opposite of fear is faith – have faith in yourself because you can do it!
SERVICE TO OTHERS
There’s no better way to forget our troubles than to help others who are less fortunate. Opportunities to serve others present themselves all day long, in small ways and tall. Call someone that you know is going through a hard time and let them know you are thinking of them. Volunteer your time to a cause that is important to you. Do something nice for your neighbor. If you have a talent, share it. Service is a state of mind that reminds us that despite our troubles, we have something valuable to offer others.
REMEMBER TO BE GRATEFUL
Those of us who were raised in a stressful and depressing environment may see the glass as empty instead of half full. Even when we don’t have a reason to feel unhappy, we may find ourselves in a negative state of mind. This might be a habit that you have the power to change. Attitude is everything! When you wake up in the morning, write down five things that you are grateful for. This daily practice will put you in a positive state of mind that can carry you through the day. You will see that it is virtually impossible to be in a negative mood when you are focused on all you have to be grateful for.
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.