CN: addiction, suicide
I’ve been sober from my primary addiction for 10 weeks and participating in addiction/psychodynamic counselling for 7 weeks, and this experience has been one of the most intense of my life. I’ve felt emotions that I have numbed pretty much all my life, I’ve experienced time in a way that I don’t ever remember experiencing due to actually being present in the moment, and for the first time ever I feel in control of myself and my life.
This experience has made me rethink everything that I’ve been told about self-care. When we talk about self-care, we speak of nurturing the self through physical acts of caring for our bodies. What we continue to neglect is the emotional self, which cannot be nurtured through physical acts if we are consumed in thoughts of shame, denial, negative self-talk and self-loathing, covered up with addictive behaviour.
Until I got sober, I was COMPLETELY unaware that underneath the layer of self-assuredness that I projected to the world was this inner world of self-hatred, from which I had been disconnected for so long that I wasn’t even conscious of the stream of negative self-talk that tainted every physical act of self-care with a little bit of poison.
In some ways, I am thankful for my addictions – if it weren’t for them, I would have ended my life a long time ago. However, I am even more thankful that I’m sober now.
I honestly never thought I would say that…
What I never used to be able to understand was why, no matter how much physical self-care I implemented, I still always felt like crap. Nothing ever seemed to be enough to make me feel good, and I felt that it must be a failing within myself that made me feel this way. This thinking led me to ignore my pain by increasing my addictive behaviour, and it turned into a self-perpetuating cycle. The issue was that I was unaware of my own emotions beyond the basics of deep depression, ecstatic happiness, unrelenting anger and obsessive love.
That’s not a great list. It’s not even a semi-healthy list. It’s extremes of highs and lows that you might expect from a baby. This is what my world had been reduced to over the last 18 months.
The first 6 weeks of getting sober were HELL. It wasn’t the physical addiction withdrawal so much, although that exacerbated everything, but the overpowering intensity of my emotions that I began experiencing for the first time since I was a child, that made me feel like I was actually going insane. Now I know why many people choose to get sober in rehab, away from society, friends, family and social media. I found myself feeling such intense emotions that I thought I was DROWNING in them.
The last 4 weeks have been much better. The physical and psychological cravings are still there – I actually find them harder to ignore now than I did during the first 6 weeks – but I have become slightly better at managing the intensity of my emotions, mostly thanks to counselling which helps me to understand where these emotions are coming from. With this increased ability to cope with my emotions, I have come to notice the internal dialogue that rolls constantly in my head like a never ending tape, stuck in Groundhog Day. I’ve realised how much I punish myself every single day.
At the centre of it all is my belief that I don’t deserve to feel good, ever. I constantly punish myself: I don’t allow myself to sleep (related to much deeper stuff, but I won’t go into that); I withhold pleasurable emotions from myself even when I have chosen to take part in enjoyable activities; I constantly compare myself negatively to others or negate praise when I receive it, especially when I have achieved something; and I hold myself accountable with words like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘have to’, ‘need to’.
At the moment I’m only scratching the surface, but all of this ‘soul searching’ (for lack of a better term) has led me to realise that the reason self-care never made me feel good was that I had this negative self-talk on repeat in the background, unaware of it consciously yet affecting my subconscious mind all the time. It makes me wonder how many other people are suffering in this way, especially within the trans community. We have such high suicide attempt rates that I believe that many others must also have this kind of dialogue repeating in their heads.
Right now, I don’t have an answer to the question of how we can improve self-care to actually help those for whom physical acts of self-care are not enough. I’m cautious of advising digging too deep into the psyche of the most vulnerable people, because if someone isn’t ready to deal with this level of self-awareness, it could send them over the edge into suicidal thoughts and/or acts. But perhaps there’s some emotional resilience training that we could start implementing alongside physical self-care.
If anyone has any thoughts on this, or knows of any good resources in building emotional resilience in vulnerable communities, please let me know! You can leave a message under this blog, tweet me @tirnanogender, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on my facebook page Tirnanogender.