It should be good news that we find helping others easier than asking for help… but unfortunately it isn’t. At least not in the case of someone with trauma or addiction who’s got a fragile self-esteem and distorted sense of self-worth. Quitting drugs or alcohol is a first major step to recovery, which can be a long and arduous journey. Because recovery is a complicated process, it is essential that we equip ourselves properly for it. It’s possible to run on the fuel of motivation, ambition, and sheer self will, but without self-compassion we might never settle comfortably into our sober life.
At the same time, I know very well how hard it might be to feel kindness toward ourselves after years of destructive behavior.
Addiction is an isolating condition, but it is never so isolating as to not affect those who love us as well. In active addiction we’re surrounded by people with broken hearts, broken trust, and lots of anxiety: all the by-products of our unhealthy ways. We have children who no longer want to spend time with us, significant others who want to leave us, parents who can’t bear to speak to us. Of course, we feel guilt and shame and we can’t imagine ever living in the space where we would be forgiven and accepted back. This is why we tend to get involved in situations that serve others well but that aren’t necessary good for us. In AA this might mean taking service commitments to the next level, taking on new members as sponsees, giving rides, food, shelter, advice and our time to everyone who asks. It’s a sure recipe to run yourself dry and find yourself in the place of resentment and mental exhaustion.
I’m a big advocate of self-care, and I’m also a big advocate of self-compassion. You deserve kindness just like anyone else. What you’ve done during your active addiction is in the past now, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Recovery is the time to recognize what happened to us and why, and it is the time to do something about it all so that the negative emotions no longer control our lives. Doing something about it means treating yourself with respect and gentleness.
If you have a hard time finding a space for yourself where self-compassion is possible, I suggest imagining yourself as a child. This is an exercise that might allow you to see yourself from a different, less critical angle. That child is still a part of you and you need to honor it and take care of it.
Contrary to popular belief, it is okay to feel sorry for yourself. Particularly in the age of COVID-19. Let it happen. Acknowledge it. It is not “self-pity” that you feel: it is grief and sense of loss and sorrow that you were never able to express because of your situation and your environment. You have to find room for that child inside you and that adult that feels all the emotions so deeply as you get closer to them in your sobriety. Finding the space for them and having the ability to protect yourself and to be kind to yourself is a true mark of maturity. It is only from that place that you will be able to truly help others—remember to always put the proverbial oxygen mask on first before you put it on somebody else.
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