Series One: Blog Fifty-Six
“A Man cannot be comfortable without his own approval” — Mark Twain
I am convinced that coming to terms with who you are requires self love. Not a profound statement but a profound reality. Addicts must come to terms with ugly behavior, limitations, living one day at a time and acceptance of dealing with cravings. This is impossible without self love. Truthfully, as the years of sobriety have unfolded in my life, I do believe that until you can love yourself when acting out you probably will never stop. Loving yourself is not about giving yourself a pass, pampering yourself or pretending that acting out is no big deal. Rather, self love involves the velvet of being gentle with self care in the face of disappointment and the temptation to hate yourself for what you are doing or have done while holding your feet to the fire of doing the next right thing to stop the aberrational behavior and center yourself once again in sobriety. I have experienced that when you do not exercise this kind of velvet steel, the wicked vortex in relapse becomes solidified into powerless repetition.
The greatest act of love that you can give yourself as an addict when you go against your values and act out, is rather than get stuck in self criticism and wallow in guilt and shame, but to bring yourself back to center and commit to the next right behavior. When an addict commits to this intervention, habitual relapse will soon disappear.
The battle is after the act out and in the midst of descending hangover. Your body hurts. Your mind is screaming at you calling you every name in the book. The feeling of emptiness is overwhelming. The despair is intense. The reality of failure dominates. You tell yourself that everything you have ever fought for in recovery has gone down the drain. The consequences and losses seem unspeakable. At that point, the most loving thing you must do is to bring yourself back to the center of your heart and do the next right thing. For those who know this experience, it is even difficult to imagine and relive, let alone walk through it again. Yet, I want to suggest that this is the most loving thing you could possibly do in the face of relapse. To decide that you are not going to rag and criticize yourself, to refuse to wallow in mistaken belief that rifles through your brain in rapid machine gun fire, requires a deep commitment to self love.
It will feel lonely to do this. You will feel phony to ignore the criticism and to focus on the person you believe your destiny calls you to be. Yet, there is no greater act of self love than to pick yourself up by the nap of the neck and independent of feeling the discouragement, the defeat and self disgust, throw your shoulders back with your head up high and commit to the person you know you are down deep. The tremendous energy required to refuse to surrender to mistaken beliefs while facing the consequences which may take the form of rage and scorn from people you care so much about but have broken their heart is a critical part of an act of self love. Believing in yourself when no one else does is an act in self love. People who fail but have learned to bring themselves back to center are those who have discovered the secret of long-term sobriety. In the presence of strong feelings- guilt, shame, overwhelming judgment, those who know long term sobriety do bring themselves back to center.
Center is the focus of your heart. It’s your heart that you consult in figuring out what the next right thing to do is after relapse. When you learn to listen to your heart and commit to its wisdom, you will do the next right thing. The heart is the center where these decisions are made.
You don’t have to put myself into a penalty box for self punishment. Guilt can be a tool to help identify the hurtful behavior that you have engaged. However, once guilt has served its purpose, let go of it, even force it away from your focus.
Loving yourself requires disciplined thought. If you wallow in self disgust as if you were a pig wallowing in the slop it will never bring you back to center. What you think about and dwell upon will expand. It’s the very property of thought. If you think about your wrong choice, selfish behavior, and dwell upon its impact on the one you love, then that will be what expands in your life. Self love is a courageous response to human failure. It is more than a feeling, and a thought. It is a daring tenacious response of refusal to believe in and continued acting on old mistaken beliefs- not just one time but forever. Anytime, you go against your values the response of self love will be that which brings you out of the ashes of defeat and into the empowered reality of your future destiny. Addicts who learn this secret, quietly live out their days of sobriety with deep serenity.
There are many technologies that are helpful. Gestalt work, psychodrama, EMDR, somatic experiencing, hypnotism are only a few supportive experiential interventions. Yet ultimately it will come down to you embracing your own commitment to love yourself by bringing yourself back to center when you go against your values. You will need to practice and condition yourself in this response to experience long term sobriety.
It is easy to get lost in comparing your weakness to another’s strength. Yet, for you to love yourself into long term sobriety will require you to tap into your own genius and not to become paralyzed with trying to measure up to someone else’s recovery. Albert Einstein said it well “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. In the presence of relapse, your genius will bring you to self love,—the only power that will provide long term sobriety.
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