3 Simple Strategies for Self-Love in Sobriety
One woman in particular had a habit of drinking too much and making a fool of herself in front of her dates. Frustrated with witnessing this pattern of behaviour time and again, the host finally yelled:
“How can you expect anyone else to love and respect you, if you don’t love and respect yourself?!”
It was a sentiment I’d heard before, of course, but something about the way he said it, and the context in which it was said, meant it tumbled around my head for days.
I thought about my internal monologue and how critical I always was of myself and my body.
I noticed my unhealthy addictions to sugar, social media – and most especially – to alcohol.
Squirming, I observed my habit of people-pleasing for fear of being rejected, and the multitude of ways I let myself down and broke promises to myself.
Could it be that all these patterns were merely symptoms of a dysfunctional relationship with myself?
As I began my quest of sobriety and self-discovery, I discovered that when we say things like: “When I find that perfect job/partner/friend (or in my case, “when he starts acting better”), then I’ll be happy,” we give our power away. We put the keys to our happiness into someone else’s pocket.
The truth is, the most important and powerful relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. Everything else – all of our other relationships, fulfilment, creativity, health and happiness – first flow from there.
What if you spoke kindly to yourself, forgave your mistakes, followed your heart, encouraged your dreams, cheered yourself on, made your wellness a priority, and believed you could do it? How would that play out in the rest of your life? How would it permeate your relationships, boost your energy levels and self-belief, and ultimately help you reach for your dreams?
Really think about that with me for a minute. Because we weren’t designed to stay small. We were created to stretch, to try new things, and to reach our beautiful potential. To follow our hearts, always, even when it’s scary.
To learn what love truly means and to practice it with everyone in our lives, starting with ourselves.
I know that’s much easier said than done. Learning to love ourselves unconditionally is a long and winding journey. It encompasses self-trust (repairing your relationship with yourself), self-care (parenting yourself), self-worth and self-esteem (feeling good about yourself), and self-belief and self-confidence (trusting in your abilities).
Valentine’s Day is a great day to start this process and begin a lifelong romance with yourself. To start something that excites you – whether that’s visiting your favourite art galleries, starting a new passion project, or enrolling in that class you’ve always wanted to try. To get to know yourself; figure out what fills your heart with joy, and do more of it.
But where to even begin?
Here are 3 ways to show yourself more love, today and always:
1. Forgive yourself.
I was out to lunch with a friend one day when she leaned in, took my hand, and sincerely apologised for something she’d done back when we were drunken teenagers. It was a tiny thing and I vaguely remembered the incident when she mentioned it, but honestly hadn’t given it a moment’s thought in the twenty-five years since.
As I pulled her into a hug and reassured her that it was all water under the bridge, it hurt my heart to know she was still carrying around so much guilt and shame over something so silly that had happened so long ago.
And oh boy, am I familiar with those emotions. Back when I was drinking, I remember how much I used to beat myself up over my inability to moderate. The shame I’d feel the next morning; the anxiety over what others might think of me…
But, here’s the thing. Guilt, shame, and regret only serve to block our growth and keep us from learning who we truly are.
There’s a reason we start with forgiveness on Day 1 of Sexy Sobriety – because it’s crucial for cleaning the slate.
Limiting beliefs, previous heartbreaks, and toxic thoughts can keep us stuck in old patterns, when we so desperately want to move forward. They can cause us to subconsciously sabotage ourselves over and over again, and not really understand why.
Holding on to stuff from the past keeps us energetically stuck back there, instead of allowing for growth and change. It blocks us from creating space for something new to emerge.
Not to mention, it’s damn near impossible to practice self-love when we’re still holding a massive grudge against ourselves.
My point is that we often hold onto things that no longer serve us, and resist moving forward unencumbered. We can be experts at dredging up the past in our own heads and letting these haunted memories make us feel terrible about ourselves.
A natural part of early sobriety is experiencing memories and facing the past – often part of the reason we found drinking so seductive in the first place. How you handle these emotions and flashbacks is up to you.
You can kick and scream and refuse to let them be heard, shoving them down where they can fester and drive other addictive behaviours. You can continue to let them upset you, reliving them over and over again in your head. Or you can face them, forgive and release it all, and move forward in an emotionally healthy new way.
Believe me when I say I tried every single one of these strategies, and the only one that brought me any peace was the last one.
No matter what your journey has been like up to this point, and no matter how many perceived ‘failures’ you’ve experienced, forgive yourself. You did the best you could with what you had at the time. That stuff is done.
Your past doesn’t have to define your future. Give yourself permission to start again. Open your heart, learn from the lessons, and allow yourself to move on.
2. Explore your passions.
Once upon a time, I used to kid that I was simply “extremely passionate” about drinking.
The truth is, just as with any addiction (whether we’re talking alcohol, food, overwork, shopping, scrolling, or gambling), I was stuck in a never-ending hamster wheel – driven by impulse, time and again, to attain a goal that lacked the depth required to truly fulfil me.
I love this quote on the topic from Dr Gabor Maté’s book ‘In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts‘:
“Addiction is centrifugal. It sucks the energy from you, creating a vacuum of inertia. A passion energizes you and enriches your relationships. It empowers you and gives strength to others. Passion creates; addiction consumes…”
The most exciting and deeply powerful part is that as we release old addictions, we open up infinite time, space, and energy for our curiosity and passions in life – things that are actually good for us and everyone around us. Passions like healthy cooking, fitness, arts and creativity, higher education, travel and adventure, helping others, and volunteering to support causes we care deeply about.
Meaningful activities that make the world a better place, help us to feel more connected, boost our self-esteem, and give us a natural high we can actually feel good about.
The thing about being in a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol for a long time is that we can forget what on earth we used to enjoy doing, before wine came along.
What do you enjoy? What are you good at? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? What will your passion inspire you to create?
Where will your heart lead you?
As humans, we’re all unique in our likes and dislikes. The fun part is discovering what lights you up.
3. Practice radical self-care.
Discovering new things you’re good at, and exploring stuff you’re curious about, are just one way to boost your self-esteem, of course. Another method is through self-care, specifically ‘adulting’ (oh no!) when you don’t really want to.
Doing things like taking care of long-overdue medical appointments, resting when you need to instead of endlessly pushing yourself past your limits, and organising your finances. Actions that might feel scary in the moment but ultimately make you feel proud of yourself and build your self-esteem.
I’d always believed that ‘self-care’ was simply about massages and bubble baths. To discover that, in actual fact, it was more about embracing my inner child and parenting myself, totally blew my mind.
The entire concept of real self-care was so foreign to me that, in early sobriety, one of my ruling mantras became:
“Self-care is my number one priority right now.”
As I repeated this over and over, I started finishing work at a healthy time, avoiding overwhelm, and taking myself to bed early. I gave myself permission to feel my emotions (even when it was scary), to stop trying to be Wonder Woman and do it all, and to avoid people or places that triggered me, even if that meant backing out of events or declining invitations. I learnt how to take better care of my finances and establish healthy boundaries, and took responsibility for the people I surrounded myself with.
Although I wasn’t always great at any of these things (especially the first time around), each time I chose my longer-term health and happiness over what was immediately comfortable or easy, I got a little better at them.
The truth is, just like happiness, self-care is an inside job. No one can do this for us, and it’s not always fun, easy, or simple.
But as we learn better methods of self-care, we become happier, healthier people. When we’re in touch with ourselves and our own feelings, we’re more able to show love and compassion for others. When we’re filling our own bodies and emotional tanks with self-respect and loving care, we in turn have much more to give to our families, friends, and the world at large.
Most importantly, we develop a deep sense of respect and love for ourselves. A love that is unshakeable, and is not dependent on the opinions or approval of others.
A love that can move mountains, this Valentine’s Day and always.
Read more in Chameleon – a book about the danger of giving our power away to others, the magic of finding our way back to ourselves, and how each of us can begin to build a deep and unshakeable confidence. Enter your email below to read the first chapter.
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