Communicating with Yourself in Recovery

Self-esteem 101...by Jonathan Marsh

You have an inner voice that sends messages to you constantly. You're ugly. You're stupid. You're funny. You're creative. This voice critiques just about everything we do and helps us to associate an emotion (or a combination of emotions) with every significant thought we have. Those with low self-esteem are bombarded with critical thoughts that produce negative emotions. Those with high self-esteem likewise are bombarded with constructive thoughts that produce positive emotions. Can you guess what type of thoughts the majority of people who feel that they cannot control their own lives have? What's worse, is that once the "addict" label has been attached to a person, they not only get hit with negativity from themselves, but from the rest of society as well. Even those attempting to help them. Today's lesson is geared towards the recognition of that voice. That's all. Eventually, we will tie that voice into your decision-making process, but for today, we only need to recognize that it is there.

See if any of these sound familiar...

"Nobody can understand why I do the things that I do."
"I will never be able to get past this. It will affect me for the est of my life."
"I have a disease, therefore I have no choice in the way I behave."
"I've ever been able to control myself so there is no reason I should be able to now."
"I don't want to act this way, I just can't stop."
"There's something wrong with me."
"Nothing can help me. I've tried everything--promising to God, promising to my wife...nothing works."

There's many more and all have a single common theme: they are false beliefs that are a result of miscommunication from you to yourself. Don't misunderstand, for those who have experienced similar thoughts, that you believe them is not being questioned. To you, it is a near certainty that these statements are true (and some may very well be). Your job now is to increase your awareness so that you can know which is true and which is a misperception born out of a lack of knowledge and previous failure.

For me, in early recovery, each of these statements would rattle through my head whenever I would think about the possibility of recovery or of stopping. In those days I believed that just stopping the behavior would be a success--that I could then consider myself recovered. These were all falsehoods that I had to eventually discover through trial and error. And this is what I discovered (we'll take the statements from above):

What I believed: "Nobody can understand why I do what I do"
Truth: My behaviors were quite common and produced strikingly similar emotions in others. Here I was thinking that I was this unique individual that had the capability of experiencing passion and love in ways that few others could even imagine. I was wrong. There are a whole lot of people who believe that they're the "only one" who can reach such emotional depths.

What I believed: "I will never be able to get past this. It will effect me for the rest of my life."
Truth: It has effected me for the rest of my life, but in a way that was completely different than I had anticipated. I believed that I would forever be a slave to my compulsions--and would thus miss out on the love and companionship that comes from a committed relationship. Instead, my overcoming these patterns have allowed me to cherish my values on an extraordinary level. I experience life with a passion and a child-like awe that I rarely see in others. I liken it to a near death experience. My life was over. Plain and simple. In my mind, I was defective and doomed to live a compulsive life forever. A miserable life. Then, when I realized that I was wrong, it was like being born again.

What I believed: "I can't help myself. I want to stop, but I'm just not able to."
Truth: Not only could I help myself, but it was rather easy once I made the commitment to doing so. The hardest part was in admitting to myself that I really was in control. That I had to take responsibility for my own life. And as for "wanting to stop, but not being able to..." Well, let's just say that in hindsight, it wasn't that I wanted to stop the behavior. What I wanted to stop was the negative consequences that were associated with the behavior. Once I realized this, stopping the behavior was simple.

What I believed: "I'm weak."
Truth: I wasn't weak, I was ignorant. There is a world of difference. With weakness, you are faced with two choices and consistently choose the easiest. With my compulsive behavior, it never really felt like I had a choice. It felt rather that I was going to act--that I had to act--eventually. With knowledge came the reality that I did have a choice. And that both choices (to act; not to act) came with positive emotions. It was up to me to consider which positive emotions would best help me become the person that I wanted to be.

What I believed: "There is something wrong with me."
Truth: There was something wrong with me. But it wasn't some unbridled disease running rampant throughout my brain...what was wrong with me is that I hadn't learned to truly understand my values and I wasn't mature enough to develop them on my own. I was "behavior-based", rather than "value-based". And such a life tends to drive people away from their values, not towards them.

What I believed: "There is nothing that can help me. I've tried everything--promising to God, promising to my wife...nothing helps."
Truth: "Trying to control the behaviors without understanding the underlying destructive patterns actually increased the pressure I felt. It wasn't until I stopped measuring my life by my behaviors, until I let go of the shame I was carrying and forgave myself--that I began to feel the pressure and chaos begin to slip away.

The point to this is: we all have this little voice inside our heads (for some of us, this little voice requires medication to control...‹smile›). When this voice broadcasts negative messages like "recovery is impossible", it only increases your stress level and thus increases your likelihood to act out in a compulsive way. It is important that you recognize this little voice and confront its misconceptions--especially if you recognize that you are struggling with a low self-esteem in certain areas of your life. Train the voice to broadcast positive, confident thoughts. Because as silly as it sounds, such positive affirmations can have a tremendous effect on your life. And at the very least, will allow you to see things more clearly and rationally. When you learn to communicate positively with yourself, you are also learning to provide yourself with immediate comfort. Additionally, you will gain more and more confidence as you begin to understand the reality of your past and as you experience the success of managing your future.

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