Learning to be compassionate with ourselves in sobriety by Harry from 361 Sober Birmingham.
Something I have been thinking about this week is trying to be compassionate to ourselves in sobriety. When I was drinking, I often used alcohol to drown out my inner critic. The voice that told me I was too loud, annoying, stupid, worthless… The alcohol helped me escape that voice, but it was always there waiting for me when I woke up the next day. This time with the memories of the night before, further ammunition to berate myself and shame myself. Blurry memories of me stumbling in at 4am, vague recollections of the names I called friends, the drinks I consumed and the chaos and destruction I inevitably caused. I felt in early sobriety very critical of this self. I was a drunk, I was bad, and I needed to change. Whilst this gave me energy to propel myself into sobriety and recovery, I soon realised that hating myself into loving myself was never going to work.
Now I am further into my recovery I have started to be able to have self-compassion for my old self. I have started to see why I was drinking, why I was so negative towards myself and why I acted the way I did. I still have 3am moments of remembering the time I got up on stage drunk or fell down the stairs in a spectacularly dramatic fashion. I still have flashbacks when I am cooking dinner of how I would buy wine to put in the carbonara but would very often have downed the majority of the contents before it was time to pour it in the food. When these moments happen, I simply shake my head as to shake the memory away. I have often done this in public and had a few strange looks in supermarkets or walking down the street. I have sometimes even caught other people shaking their head and imagined they are doing the same thing too.
Under a cloud
Self-compassion can be hard and even harder at the times we most need it. I remember the morning after I took my last drink after a period of sobriety. The shame was so loud and over-powering. The impossibility of sobriety loomed over my head like a cloud. I licked my wounds and sulked whilst I let the hangover slowly drift away. Trying to remind myself the next time I drink this is how I will feel like a great gigantic monster has made home in my head and a whirlpool has occupied my stomach. I tried with all my effort to not let the shame push me backwards. The thoughts of “this is impossible”, “I am useless I might as well just give into my addiction.” I instead tried to understand the thoughts and actions behind the drink. I remembered the fear of not fitting in being the only one in a packed-out pub sipping water and orange juice whilst those around me got intoxicated. Back then my fear of being different overpowered my need to take care of myself. It was worse to be different even if it meant sacrificing my own wellbeing.
I think this feeling of difference is really powerful and can sometimes be overlooked. The feeling of being an outcast is sometimes compounded when becoming sober. Not only am I queer, single, different I am now sober. Another factor to be seen as different, to stand out. This is why I believe sober groups are so powerful. In my early sobriety for a couple hours a week I was not different. I was like every other person there trying to get sober. I could share the times I wanted to cry in a supermarket drink aisle and not feel judged. To have sympathetic looks and understanding comments. I think that feeling of belonging allowed me to survive in a world that is so focused on alcohol and so firmly in a relationship with drink. It still does. That precious time recharges my battery, recharges my sobriety, and recharges my feeling that I do belong. I do not think I achieved self-compassion on my own. It was from witnessing others being compassionate to themselves and towards me that allowed me to start being compassionate to myself. I started to come up with responses to that critical voice in my head. To change the thought to one that is kinder.
Pass it on
Now I am over a year sober I feel like it my duty to pass the compassion on. To welcome those who are stuck in cycles of shame, blame and guilt. To offer words of compassion and comfort. To plant the seed which I hope will grow into flourishing self-compassion. To be the reminder that hating yourself to be sober can only work for so long and that learning to love yourself and be kind to yourself can be the firm foundations of the journey of sobriety which hopefully will be lifelong.
Harry is a member of 361 Sober, an online sober support group which meets on Sundays 6 – 7.30pm. They are one year sober and now facilitate 361 Sober Birmingham at the LGBT Centre Wednesdays 6 – 8pm. For more information or to sign up to 361 Sober visit 361lifesupport.co.uk