Self-loathing is a common obstacle to recovery. It often comes before addiction. Drinking and drugs may have been a way to escape a constant assault of self-critical thoughts and painful memories. In the course of active addiction, many people end up feeling even worse about themselves. They may have done things they feel terrible about, while alienating the people who care about them.
Anyone who wants to get sober, or has just started recovery typically feels pretty rotten already, as depression is common around this time. When you feel awful, your thoughts tend to follow. People who want to get sober and stay sober often don’t feel like they deserve happiness. The desire to punish themselves undermines their desire to get better. If you are struggling with self-loathing, here are some ways to work through it.
Realize your thoughts aren’t reality. Self-loathing is almost always perpetuated by self-critical thoughts like, “I’m worthless,” “I’m such a jerk,” “I’m an idiot,” “I’m disgusting,” “I’m weak,” and so on. These thoughts often feel true, as if we’re facing up to a harsh reality. However, they are just thoughts. What’s more, they are relatively arbitrary judgments. For example, if you think, “I’m an idiot,” there may be some basis for that. After all, everyone occasionally does stupid things. But the notion that you are comprehensively an idiot for all situations for all time is unnecessarily broad and therefore inaccurate. Get into the habit of noticing self-critical thoughts and find counter arguments. If you can’t quite refute them, at least acknowledge the possibility they aren’t totally accurate.
Learn about other people. No one likes to broadcast his blunders. As a result, we don’t often see other people’s private disasters while we’re acutely aware of our own. The antidote to this is to learn more about other people. You might do this by going to meetings and listening when people share. You might read biographies of people you admire. You will quickly learn that even the greatest among us are not immune from stupid, selfish, indulgent, and petty behavior. Having more realistic standards makes it easier to forgive yourself for messing up.
Take a different perspective. We’re usually much harder on ourselves than we are on others. Try stepping outside yourself and think about what you might say to a friend or a child in your position. Think how sad you would feel to learn that she says all those nasty, critical things to herself and imagine what you would tell her instead. Try applying that same support and compassion to yourself.
Make amends. If possible, take action to correct whatever mistakes keep you up at night. You may want to do this as part of the 12-steps, but even if you aren’t working a program, you can still make amends. Making amends won’t erase the past but it may relieve some guilt and set a course for how you intend to behave in the future.
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