It is no secret that a strong relationship exists between mental wellbeing and substance use. Probably at the top of this list is the experience of shame. When talking with students who are struggling with substance use difficulties, shame is often one of the most common and also most painful experiences discussed. Substance use and mis-use comes with a whole host of experiences that aid in the development of this shame. A few that come to mind include judgment from others, societal stigma and oppression, living in a country that has a long history of villainizing and criminalizing substance use and users, anger at self, and comparison to others. “They seem to be able to keep this under control- why can’t I??” “They go to more meetings than I do- they’re recovery plan must be better than mine.” “They have anxiety too, why can they handle it without smoking/drinking and I can’t?” Take a moment to reflect on any other thoughts of negative self-comparison that might come up for you. In this post, I take a stance that encourages us to compare less and love (ourselves) more. How? Through increasing our capacity for self-compassion.
Self-compassion involves extending warmth, care and understanding to ourselves (in place of judgement and criticism) in moments of suffering, including times of failure or negative self- comparison. What would it be like to show up for yourself the same way you would for your closest and dearest friend or confidant? If your best friend failed an exam or ended a relationship with their partner, what would you say to them? Would you judge them if they wanted to reach for a drink, emphasize the failure, blame them for the outcome or chastise their way of coping? OR… would you lean in, comfort them, offer love and kindness and empathize with their pain? I urge you to dedicate some time treating yourself with the same kindness with which you extend to others. Why not love yourself to the moon and back for a change?
Wherever you are on your recovery journey, I have a hunch you could benefit from quieting that inner critic and learning to speak more loudly and intentionally with self-compassion. Whether you are curious about your relationship with substances, considering making changes to your use, abstaining from substances and in recovery, or having had relapsed and are unsure about where you stand, I want you to know you are deserving of compassion and understanding. If you are tired of listening to that inner critic day in and day out and are also ready to take a stand, I offer these 3 small steps as a place to start:
Practice forgiveness and let yourself make mistakes: When you notice you are punishing yourself for a mistake or misstep you have made, remind yourself that recovery (and life for that matter) is not linear. Understand that you do not need to be a certain way to be worthy of love and understanding.
Replace judgement with release: Practice ‘releasing statements’ when you notice yourself ruminating on negative thoughts. For instance, your inner critic might influence you to think, “I’m the worst! I can’t believe I said that!” Instead, you might try a more neutral response, such as: “I did something I feel bad about. It’s okay for me to be upset.”
Give yourself the benefit of the doubt: When feeling anxious about an upcoming event or situation, instead of assuming you’ll perform poorly or judging yourself in advance, practice positive counterstatements. Rather than saying to yourself, “this semester is really hard, I’m never going to get through it” you might say, “I am going to try my best.”
If you are interested in additional resources on improving your self-compassion you can visit Coping Strategies: Compassion.
As we depart from the day that we dedicate time to celebrate our love for others, let’s also remember to love ourselves. You are capable, worthy and deserving.
Daryl Holloway, PsyD
Senior Staff Therapist, Psychologist Resident, Alcohol and Other Drug Specialist