by Carolyn Hughes Childhood trauma left me battling with depression and alcoholism for over 20 years. Yet I could have recovered from both much sooner had I appreciated the damaging role that negative thinking played in my illness.
A Life Out of Control
Abandoned by my mother as a young child and left to be raised by an abusive father, I grew up to have extremely low self-esteem and a very pessimistic attitude toward life. Although on the outside I was appearing to function, underneath I was falling apart. Using alcohol as a form of self-medication compounded my feelings of worthlessness, loneliness and despair until eventually I had a complete physical and psychological breakdown. No longer able to hide the depths of my despair or the extent of my addiction I was confronted with the reality that I needed to radically change my destructive behavior. At a time when my life appeared to be completely out of control, it was a terrifying prospect. But with expert guidance and support, I was encouraged to learn that it was possible to overcome both depression and addiction.
Uncovering the Power Within
I had never challenged my victim mentality, so it was a revelation to be introduced to the idea that the power to change my life lay with me. And it began with examining my mindset. Essentially, there were three attitudes that I needed to challenge: 1. Denial Denial enabled me to minimize my problem and its impact on myself and those around me. My refusal to recognize my alcoholism had kept me trapped in a self-destructive cycle. It had masked the pain and blocked out reality for a while but eventually the truth was apparent for everyone to see: I was living a lie and it was killing me. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge so admitting that I was an alcoholic was a huge shift in my thinking. As challenging as it was to confront reality, it was also a relief and an inspiration. Being honest exposed my vulnerability and my weaknesses but it also revealed my authentic self. When I stopped denying, I opened the door to recovery and walked through to begin living my life as the person I was meant to be. 2. Blame Like most children who are subjected to dysfunctional situations created by adults but left to make sense of their world by themselves, I blamed myself for what had happened to me. Then as I grew older I shifted the blame to my parents and used this to justify my dependency on alcohol. “If they hadn’t said or done that, then I wouldn’t be like this,” regularly filled my mind. I took no responsibility for my beliefs, which consequently left me at the mercy of my emotions. The fact that neither my mother nor father were physically in my life didn’t prevent the anger, resentment and hatred that I carried with me. And, as I reasoned that everything wrong in my life was their fault, I brought about the self-fulfilling prophesy of never being good enough and destined for failure. It was wonderful to discover that I could choose to break free from the negativity of blame. It didn’t matter how long I had held on to the pain of the past, I had the option to let it go and move on. Knowing that I had the choice to think positively was empowering. It gave me the strength to replace the blame with forgiveness and to replace the bitterness with peace of mind. 3. Self-pity Both denial and blame laid the foundation for my mindset of self-pity. Primarily this excused me from taking responsibility for my life. I allowed self-pity to perpetuate the myth that everyone else’s life was better than mine and that somehow my childhood experiences gave me permission to abuse alcohol and indulge in defeatism. My thinking was so misguided, but until I stopped feeling sorry for myself I couldn’t overcome any of my issues. As hard as it was to undergo, tough love challenged my pitiful beliefs and in doing so I started on my journey from victim to survivor. Today I no longer have to allow my past to define my present, and who I was yesterday is meaningless compared to who I am now. In my 16 years of recovery I have experienced many challenges, but no longer need the crutch of medication or alcohol to deal with them. By changing my thoughts I have been able to change my life. So if you are regularly thinking negatively or misusing substances to manage emotional pain then perhaps it’s time to get help to change your thoughts too.