Addiction and depression are incredibly selfish states to be trapped in. When I was spending every night slamming 8-10 bottles of hard cider and chain smoking a pack of cigarettes out the window of my apartment, my entire world revolved around my pain.
It wasn’t exactly by choice. At least, it didn’t feel that way. I didn’t want to be a self-absorbed, broken mess, but I was. My inner world was pure chaos and I felt powerless against it. Every thought was an amplified version of:
“you’re not good enough and you’ll never be anything.”
I drank to escape that loop.
It’s no wonder then that every time I tried to quit, I’d make it less than 24 hours and catch myself sifting through the bins outside my building, desperately looking for the bottles and pack of cigarettes I’d ceremoniously discarded the night before.
Sobriety felt utterly impossible in this state.
Why Therapy Isn’t Always Enough
Therapy and addiction support are key components to any recovery, no matter which program or path you choose, but it wasn’t enough to sustain me long-term. Eventually, I got to a place where I could go a few months without drinking or smoking, but then something would happen and I would find the excuse I needed to drink.
That all changed in January 2017 when, two weeks into my most recent sobriety stint, I discovered I was pregnant.
From the moment I heard her little heartbeat, drinking was no longer an option for me. Not while she was in my body. And when she was born, I thought about what the experience of seeing mommy trashed would be like for her, and I knew I couldn’t do it.
I’d finally gotten the push I needed to adopt the critical mindset shift that makes sobriety possible.
Turning Outward To Fight Addiction
I am certainly not suggesting that women suffering from alcohol addiction go get pregnant as a means to jumpstart sobriety. Men, until science does something truly weird that’s not even an option for you.
I AM suggesting that a key component to making sobriety work long-term is to find something you care about so intensely that it serves as an additional deterrent to your drinking. Whether that is a child, finding your fitness tribe, or doing volunteer work, the ability to care about something completely outside of yourself is critical to escaping the self-absorbed, inner tyranny of addiction.
In the past, I’d always tried to force self-love down my throat. I read all the books, did the mantras, made the affirmations. It was all bullshit and my brain knew it. In fact, it was just another way for me to obsessively focus inward which, quite frankly, was a scary place to spend a lot of time.
By finding something you can be passionate about that is completely outside of yourself, you’re able to learn how to have empathy and love something or someone without any self-serving purpose. That last component is key and why the thing you focus all your passion on should never be a significant other or romantic relationship. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.
The Benefits Of Doing For Others
There have been many scientific studies conducted on the benefits of volunteering. It’s been linked to improved self-love, lower stress, helping with depression, and longer life expectancy. It’s also an incredible way to feel connected to your community and other people again.
Volunteering or finding a cause to get involved with has the added benefit of taking up your free time for healthy, productive activities – something most people in recovery desperately need. It’s a healthy outlet to get your mind off your mountain of problems. Plus, it just feels good to help others and be a part of something.
Personally, it had been years since I’d genuinely felt good without any chemical aid. Taking care of my daughter and loving her was unlike anything I’d experienced since I’d started drinking. It saved me.
From Compassion For Others to Self-Love
A funny thing happened after spending a year of caring about and for another human being:
I started to give myself some of that compassion.
It felt good to work hard to provide for another person, which in turn made me think (for the first time), that I had value. From there, I was able to start down the path of genuinely loving and having compassion for myself. Not in the self-help chapter, fake-it-till-I-make-it kind of way. It was finally real.
And that compassion extended to other people. I was able to smile at strangers and genuinely mean it. For the first time, I could listen to a friend talk about their problem without trying to find an entry point to turn the conversation to me and one of my problems. Why? Because I actually cared and wanted to be helpful.
Developing the ability to care for others without expecting anything in return was the catalyst I needed to start developing self-love on a deeper, genuine level. That is the main thing that has kept me away from alcohol since December 19, 2016. I don’t want that life for myself. I’m not spending hours on end beating myself up and thinking I need to punish myself with a relapse. The stakes are too high.
Despite all of this tremendous growth, I’m not under the illusion that I am completely fixed. It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle or am immune to relapse. I am not.
I’m still battling mental health issues and struggle with an anxiety disorder (although it is improving). I still have bad days, stressed out days, and moments where I think my husband’s bottle of whiskey looks pretty good. But I’m able to pull back and get perspective more easily than before. The urge doesn’t consume me like it used to. The cost of drinking is too much now.
And for that, I am truly, eternally grateful.