Friday, December 7, 2012

Depression--Childhood--Alcoholism and The Link To The Emotional Self

Depression seems like the boogie man.

At any time of the day one can turn on the television or radio and inevitably come across an advertisement spouting the symptoms of depression, all while being lead to believe that the medication being described is just the tonic one needs to rid their life forever of the dark being that lives in the closet of their mind.

I have suffered from depression and have lived to tell the tale of it.  And what I learned about depression helped me heal in ways that I could never have known.  Perhaps the greatest lesson of all was found in my ability to allow my Self the permission to feel depressed, rather than beat my Self up for feeling depressed.

I was diagnosed with depression thirteen years ago while going through a horrific emotional divorce.  Approximately five years before my divorce, a doctor of mine prescribed me an anti-depressant to help me relax.  Asthma at the time, was beginning to snuff life out of me.

I found that the medication prescribed made me feel drunk. While it did slow my central nervous system down, I discovered that instead of obsessing about how I could get the people in my life to change, as well as love and accept me for who I was, I was compulsively worrying about how unstable I felt on my feet.  I was afraid to drive, give the kids a bath, or even walk outside to greet my neighbor.

I was fortunate.  I found a therapist to work with during my divorce who helped me debunk the mysteries of depression and encouraged me to understand that depression was anger that was turned inward.  In his opinion, depression was an appropriate response for someone like myself who was severely codependent and was raised by two adult children of alcoholics, and who was suddenly coming face to face with every single fear she had ever hidden within her being as the result of a divorce.

His enlightened understanding of the unknowing and frightened creature I was, set me on a journey to unravel the mysteries of me, and that included my boogie man called depression.

On my journey I learned to surrender and accept that my brain--for whatever reason was depressed.  That alone helped set me free in innumerable ways.  Guilt for being depressed only adds to the emotional bondage I was experiencing.  Letting go helped ease the knots that were tugging at my spirits neck.

Turns out that acceptance was the key.  Not only did I need to learn how to allow myself to feel sad, I needed to learn how to accept that my marriage was falling apart, that it had in fact failed, that I did feel like a tremendous failure, and that yes--I was going to have to face the world alone and take my three small children on a journey into the unknown, whether I was happy or depressed about it.

The deeper I learned to accept my fears, the lighter my being seemed to become.  With each new level of acceptance came another door I needed to unlock from within.

Through the power of journaling, my spirit lead me on paths I had never dared stray onto before I learned to love myself enough to accept that I had a right to feel depressed.  As time went on and my marriage continued to nose dive, along with the help of my therapist, I discovered that the true root cause of my depression was the result of being raised by two adult children of alcoholics.

My parents didn't know how to connect on an emotional level to themselves, one another, or their children.  My parents were typical ACoA's in that they were overly critical, judgmental, unrealistic, and perfectionistic.  Feelings of sadness? Expressions of upset? Crying? These were emotions that were unacceptable in our home.

Long ago I learned to turn my feelings off.  Because I was raised in a home that made me feel like I was living with a permanent gag order in place, even laughing out loud was a chancy form of expression.  Much like a hospital operating room, my home felt cold, quiet, and sterile.  There seemed to be no room for life, for love, for hugs or kisses. Feelings were simply ignored.

As my exploration of Self forged on, I learned to understand how invaluable 'feeling' our feelings are.  In time, and once I allowed myself to throw a number of pity parties and felt as if my crying was through, I also learned that I had the power to change my emotional states anytime I wanted.  All I had to do was accept that, yes something in my life might actually suck in any particular moment, but I didn't have to 'attach' to that negative emotion.  I could choose to be grateful for my life, my ability to walk, my eyesight, my children, for the sky, the moon, the ocean, for birds and for air  instead.  I could learn to allow my Self to have faith that eventually whatever was happening in the moment, would pass, and that soon, one day my life would absolutely improve.

I found that as my allowing of Self, and especially the not so wonderful parts of my past expanded, my depression lifted.  In time my brain began firing neurons it hadn't in a very long time.  As my appreciation for my emotional being increased and my power of my emotions elevated, my brain began producing neurotransmitters in amounts it hadn't ever in my life.

My Self discoveries also taught me another important lesson about the people I loved.  I learned that it was just as important to accept other people's feelings of anger, sadness, loss and upset too, and that included my children.

Like many parents I hated to see my children unhappy.  And often when I noticed that one of my children were not as happy as I would have liked, I rushed in and did what I could to hush their blues away.  I never realized that in many ways I was reinforcing the very conditioning that had taught me to fear my own feelings the way I did as a child.

With much awareness I learned to not step in so often when one of my children became upset.  I decided to instead allow my children to feel their emotions and then spoke to them in a way that gave them permission to feel the negative emotion, and then eventually, when their emotions calmed down, I helped them move themselves up the emotional scale.  It was crucial that I teach my children to embrace their fears rather than program them to believe that negative emotions were wrong.  I wanted my children to learn that unhappiness was just as valuable as happiness, and that emotions were just indicators that they were either in a good place, with good people surrounding them, or not.

A humbling pill for me to swallow came the moment I realized that my children's happiness fueled my egoism.  When I was able to take away my children's unhappiness, the mommy in me felt needed and worthy.  I eventually learned to realize that life wasn't meant to be about needing to be validated by a parent, a spouse or a child.  True happiness can only come from learning to accept the Self, even if that Self happens not to be so happy  go lucky in every moment of every day.  And especially if that Self can't make everyone she loves so happy all the time either.