Ask Dru: How do I deal with the combination of children, overwhelm and depression?
This week, we were live on Facebook, tackling a dilemma presented by a member of one of Club Soda’s Facebook groups. She asked how she could begin to address an alcohol problem when she is struggling with depression, and overwhelmed by the need to support children who are unwilling to help? Watch the video or read the edited transcript below.
I have five children (some of whom are adults) and I am separated. I now feel very alone. They’re not giving any help at home. I am low and depressed and I am using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Alcohol’s been a refuge, but it’s also become part of the problem. How can I begin to deal with all of this?
My own experience of change is that for years, it felt like there were lots of little decisions, all piled on top of each other. And if I tried to solve one problem, it made another problem worse. And then I’d try and like make a drastic change and then something else would happen. And it’s really easy to end up feeling very stuck when you’ve got lots of interconnected problems.
So I think the first thing to remember to do is to take a breath and focus on the things which you can control. There’s this really nice model of circles of control, influence and concern:
- In the centre, you’ve got a circle of control. These are the things that you can do, that’s a lot about looking after yourself, and the decisions that you can make day-to-day.
- And then you’ve got a circle of influence. These things that you can do something about, but there are lots of other people involved in making decisions.
- Beyond that, everyone’s got a circle of concern. And depending on what’s going on in the world – and there’s a lot going on in the world – often our attention can be on the stuff that we can do literally nothing about.
Prioritise the things you can control
So take a breath and focus on what’s immediately within your control. One of the things that you can’t control, frustrating as it is, is how your children respond. That’s a really hard thing as a parent – and I say this as a parent of an adult who is now in his twenties – you can influence your children, but trying to make them do anything is a hiding to nothing. So when it comes to your children’s behaviour you really are talking about persuasion.
Now, you have some adult children. So clearly you can have a very direct conversation with them about pulling their weight around the house. They’re not children. They should be contributing. Even if they’re not contributing financially, they should be helping up cleaning up after themselves. You know, all of that stuff that grownups do. There’s some responsibility that they can take.
With younger children, you’re looking for a task that a child will do probably because it’s a bit fun. It’s really important to realize that you may not be able to shift their behaviour very much.
But the thing that you can control is the stuff that’s going on around depression and the stuff that’s going on around alcohol.
Should you address alcohol or depression first?
In the world of mental health, you’ll sometimes hear people talk about what’s called “dual diagnosis“. This is where someone has a mental health problem that is exacerbated by substance use of some kind. Those two issues can become really complicatedly interconnected.
So you can experience depression and then find yourself drinking as a way of coping with it. But then, as most people find, your drinking makes your depression worse. So then you’re left with the question of what do I start with?
The best advice, particularly if you’re in talking therapy, is to start with the mental health issue. There is a lot you can do at a very practical level to deal with the drinking issues. Club Soda’s courses can help you make practical changes that you stick to the drinking patterns you want. But underneath all of that, when there’s other stuff going, focus on the mental health issues.
That’s important if you are choosing a therapist. Make sure that you don’t end up in conversations that are always swinging back towards drinking. You can very easily come up with surface-level solutions, and not address the underlying issues. If you are seeking professional support, make sure you are talking to someone who understands the complexity of addiction, but who also will keep a clear focus on helping you understand, talking about and cope with depression. That will get you a long way towards addressing the problems that are leading you to drink more than you want to.
In depression, focus on what you can do
So, focus on what you can control. And focus on the core issue, which is about your mental wellbeing.
In all of that be kind to yourself. Practise self-care and recognise that you are doing a difficult thing. Make sure you are as supported as you can be, by people around you and by people in the Club Soda community. If you’re having a shit day – and everyone has shit days – reach out. Make sure people know and get the support you need.
I say this as someone who has got skin in the game on the subject of depression. I’ve had long periods of depression in my adult life, including six months I spent on my sofa in my pyjamas, unable to function. So I get it. I know there are times when you are in such a depressive state, that even the thought of messaging somebody, sending a text message or answering the phone feels overwhelming.
So, always, focus on the things that you can do. Even if that means today, you get up, brush your teeth and have a shower, that is a positive step towards self-care. I don’t underestimate how big a challenge that can be if you are in a dark place.
But always, focus on the things you can control. And find the ways in which you can look after yourself.
Dru Jaeger runs Club Soda’s courses for people who want to change their drinking. If you’d like his perspective on your challenge, however complex, see our events section and Facebook page for details of the next live Ask Dru. And if you’ve got a question about any aspect of changing your drinking, you can send Dru an email.