We can be so hard on ourselves. Our poor egos would have us believe that we can achieve perfection. If we didn’t think we could be perfect, or close to perfect, we’d never get so powerfully upset with ourselves when we make mistakes.
I got a DUI. Never, in a million years, would I have guessed that I’d do that. It is something so completely at odds with the rest of my life, that I’m still angry and frustrated at myself over it.
Angry and frustrated are a step closer to self-compassion. Because at first, and for months after the DUI, I hated myself. I held myself in complete contempt. I was disgusted with everything about me. Nothing good about me mattered because I got a DUI. Decent people don’t get DUIs. Therefore I was not a decent person and did not deserve compassion, or understanding, or love, or even the time of day.
If my family or my friends had all stopped talking to me, I would have felt they were justified. I would have ostracized MYSELF, willingly, from “decent” people. I hated myself so much that it was all I could do to make it through hour by hour, because I knew my kids needed a mom.
But I didn’t feel like it was ME they needed. I thought for a while that they’d be better off without me. Without my corrupting influence and horrid past.
That all sounds so harsh. So cruel and over-the-top. I treated myself horribly. I truly believed I deserved to be reviled.
I’ve grown since then. I’ve learned to offer myself compassion. It pains me to think of ever treating anybody the way I treated myself. Never, ever, would it occur to me to treat one of my children or a friend the way I treated myself. I’d offer them a chance to know better and do better. I’d offer them hope. I’d offer them solace and a safe place to explore a healthy path forward.
SO one day I decided to offer myself that. I had to, or I’d have been a useless mother and a drain of a wife. Being gentle with myself has allowed me to grow in a big way. I know more about myself, about alcohol, about my relationship to alcohol and my own personal trials and hopes than I ever thought possible. I know (mostly) why I drank. I know how to DO BETTER.
It took time. It is still a work in progress in many ways. Being hard on ourselves is a pretty standard trait. We’re taught by society that people who make the big mistakes-like DUI- are not worthy of compassion. And I get that.
But, just as we know shouting is an ineffective parental tool except in case of emergency, I learned that constant self-flagellation is unproductive and even harmful. It blocks a way forward. Showing myself compassion doesn’t mean I am being egocentric. It means I recognize that I’m a human being, and I need to acknowledge the pain I’m in and work to fix it.
I am still humbled. I am still angry. I do still have a sense of “wearing a scarlet A,” as my counselor put it. I feel almost defeated in some moments–but not all the time any more.
I’m not just being self-indulgent. I’m being helpful to myself, and a careful tending of my life’s choices and of my own heart and sense of self is important to my own growth. I can’t help anyone else, I can’t make anything right or do anything any better if I don’t begin to forgive myself.
Forgive. That’s going to be the hardest part. I can acknowledge the suffering I’ve put myself through. (And yes, I know my family has suffered too. My compassion for them has been at 110% all along.) After I stop hitting myself over the head I can make sure this never happens again. It’s hard to move forward when you’re being clubbed in the cranium.
Strategies for Self-Compassion (from a worksheet handed out in IOP, based on the writings of Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.)
- Consider how you’d treat someone else. The simplest thing you can do, according to Neff, is to imagine what you’d do if someone you cared about came to you after failing or getting rejected. What would you say to that person? How would you treat them?
2) Watch your language. You may be so used to criticizing yourself that you don’t even realize that you’re doing it. So it helps to pay particular attention to the words you use to speak to yousrelf. If you wouldn’t say the same statements to someone you care about, then you’re being self-critical, Neff said.
3) Comfort yourself with a physical gesture. Kind physical gestures have an immediate effect on our bodies, activating the soothing parasympathetic system, Neff said. Specifically, physical gestures, “get you out of your head and drop you into your body,” which is imp9ortant since, “the head loves to run away with storylines.” For instance, she suggested putting your hands over your heart or simply holding your arm. Any gesture will do. (I put my left hand on my navel and my right on my forehead, very gently, and breathe.)
4) Memorize a set of compassionate phrases.
Whenever you find yourself saying, “I’m horrible,” it helps to have a few phrases at the ready. Pick statements that really resonate with you. Combining that with a physical gesture–like hands over your heart–is especially powerful, Neff said. She uses the following phrases:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment?
May I give myself the compassion I need?
5) Practice guided meditation. Meditation helps to retrain the brain. This way, self-compassionate gestures and self-soothing become more natural. (There are several self-compassionate meditations on her website.)
On to other things:
The cravings have passed for now. That’s a huge relief. I was so ready for them at days 90-100; they surprised me coming right after 100. Maybe because I was so vigilant about self-care and being aware of symptoms of PAWS around then-because of that relapse in March happening at around day 94.
I’m hanging in there. There’s a lot going on in our family right now and some of it has me very stressed out. I’m not thinking of drinking or anything, it’s just really wearing on me. Every time I think things are back to normal (or a new normal), something pops up that’s related to my drinking. (The fines, the ignition interlock, the community service, the ankle monitor, the probationary period, whatever.) I know I’ve only been sober again for 109 days, which isn’t a terribly long time. But it feels like every day lately is one big apology.
I made rice crispy bars and a strawberry-rhubarb crumble-topped pie. The bars turned out fine, the pie…well, I had to freeze it finally to get it to gel together. I should have added cornstarch, but the recipe only called for flour to thicken.
My cucumbers and nasturtiums are blossoming, which is thrilling for me and breathtaking for Little One. We planted them from seeds, so it’s taken longer than store-bought starts. It’s been worth the wait, though.
I’m looking further into Smart Recovery and am thinking of becoming a facilitator. We could use a group like that here. I’m just a little worried about filling my plate too full. I just ordered everyone’s school year curriculum, so I’ve got to make time for a slow start to the school year.
I’ve been keeping track of the migraines and I think they’re related to sugar intake. So that’s another push to try to go no-sugar soon. It’s harder than it sounds! No white rice, no white flour at all, no sweeteners. No artificial sweeteners. Whew.
This has been semi-disjointed. Sorry about that. I’m up late again and so many thoughts are swirling in my head.
Have a great Thursday, everyone, and keep kicking addiction’s ass!