It’s not easy, sometimes, living with our harshest critics.
You know the ones I’m talking about: Those snarling, gibbering internal dialogues we have with ourselves, that scathing criticism we dish out over the way we look, the way we dress, the things we do, the mistakes we make. It’s a universal condition not limited to those of us in recovery, but since becoming part of a program, I’ve learned to turn the volume down on the guy staring back at me in the mirror. For the most part, anyway.
One of my tasks here at Cornerstone of Recovery is a weekly blog interview with musicians in recovery called The Ties That Bind Us (shameless self-promotion: check it out at www.thetiesthat
bindus.org), and the phone conversations I have with these men and women usually turn into mini-meetings very similar to the 12 Step ones I’ve attended out in Rockford for 18 years now.
We swap war stories and share a few laughs, but we also talk earnestly and passionately about recovery, and what it’s done for us. A couple of months ago, I had the honor of interviewing Sonny Mayo, a guitarist and former member of bands like Hed PE and Sevendust; we both got clean in early 2002, and as we talked, our conversation turned to how sometimes, clean time can be an albatross for those of us who have years or decades in the program.
For one thing, the further we get from the last time we got high, the more the pain fades. The solution, of course, is to continue to go to meetings; the newcomer is always a valuable reminder that the worlds we left behind haven’t improved in our absence, and that misery, dereliction, degradation and worse still abound. But for me, I get frustrated with the way I think and feel sometimes, and I tend to lash out at myself.
The gratitude I try to maintain can take a leave of absence on occasion, and this job that I love, that beautiful family I have, wear on me. I turn my blessings into burdens sometimes, and forget that there was once a time when I didn’t expect to live long enough to have a family, and had given up hope of finding meaningful employment that provides more than just a paycheck.
That sense of restlessness tastes bitter, and it usually doesn’t last for very long, and when I come out of it, I excoriate myself. And until recently, my internal dialog went something like this:
“You idiot! How DARE you? How dare you lose sight of what you once were? Do you really think you have ANYTHING to complain about? You ungrateful dumbass!”
During our conversation, I related all of this to Sonny, who interrupted me and pointed out something profound:
“Listen to yourself, man,” he told me. “Would you let anyone … ANYONE … talk to you like that? Would YOU talk
to anyone like that? Then why in the world do
you talk to yourself like that?”
I didn’t really have an answer, but I haven’t forgotten the question.
Why do we talk to ourselves with such derision? I get that so many of us, in recovery and otherwise, hold ourselves to unrelenting standards. We expect perfection, or as close to it as we can get, in everything that we do, and when we fall short, we’re filled with self-disappointment.
That can be especially true for those of us in recovery. Our clean time, or our work in the addiction treatment field, leads us to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We are, after all, human beings: frail, fallible, imperfect. What matters is that we have a way to recognize our flaws today, as well as a way to correct them.
We can adjust our attitudes, fix our mistakes and lift our moods out of despair and discontent thanks to our familiarity with recovery, and we can do so without choosing to castigate the very person we should love the most: ourselves.
I spent far too long being unkind and ugly to myself when I was in active addiction. I didn’t get clean to continue that sort of self-abuse, and my new friend’s salient point still stands: If we don’t accept that sort of treatment from others, and we don’t exhibit it toward others, why in the world do we think it’s OK to act that way toward ourselves?
Today, I’ll work on loving myself and forgiving myself. I won’t dwell on my imperfections, but neither will I punish myself for them. I hope you’ll do the same, friends. Have an amazing week.