For addiction to thrive, it is absolutely essential that thoughts of self-hate dominate the realms of the psyche. Self-hate evokes deeply painful emotions that often a person feels unable to bear, and for many people, the only remedy is mental escape. To flee this kind of pain means to flee the reality of the body, and substances such as alcohol and mind-altering drugs help us do just this.
Substances are not addictive. Personalities are, and most people on this planet have addictive personalities. Addiction is an escape mechanism of the mind and the mind will cling to anything that will offer a way out of the pain it suffers. Addiction is a thought process which compels us to keep returning to a ‘friendly’ substance that offers us a ‘soft space’ in which to exist for a period of time, free of pain. In my own experience with addicted clients, instead of only dealing with the chemical dependency itself, I found that true healing began only when we tackled the real causes of addiction, that being the devastating issue of self-hatred.
This post is dedicated to one of my cyber-friends whom I will call Chloe, who has to be one of the bravest people I know. She is addicted to alcohol, and regularly posts video blogs about her journey to wellness. It’s not an easy journey for her, and she blogs a lot about her ‘failures’. Her posts are uncomfortably candid, and so raw sometimes, they make you flinch. She speaks the truth about her struggle with life, the bottle and her love of her son. She presents things exactly as they are, without fuss or frills, and she exposes the truth of who she is with heart-breaking anguish in her eyes. I love Chloe because she inspires me to dig deep and speak the absolute truth at all times, no matter how bad the truth feels. I admire the strength it took to get where she is today, a single mother of an 18-year-old son. Chloe is battling her addiction with continuous attempts to stop drinking. She has also recently begun an exercise regime to improve her health, and this post urges her to begin the process of dealing with the true cause of her disease, the issue of her own self-hatred.
Dealing with self-hatred is an awesome task, for most of us hardly know it’s even there. We live with it for so long, the pain feels as if it is part of us, and it’s only when we find ourselves enslaved to a substance, that we begin to examine the dark feelings and consider what we need to do.
To begin looking at self-hatred, it is critical that we first examine self-love. Love is our birthright. We are love. Once in a while we may be in a quiet space and in those moments experience this sacred aspect of ourselves. We may be listening to music, meditating, or simply out in nature when we are suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of peace and all-encompassing love. This does not come from outside of ourselves. This is a glimpse of who we truly are. What stops us from feeling this love on a day-to-day basis are our thoughts about ourselves, and often, those thoughts have been given to us by others, or, we have assumed them by way of the situations we have found ourselves in. Take Chloe for example.
Chloe’s mother committed suicide when she (Chloe) was very young. Although she describes it quite matter-of-factly, the impact on Chloe had to have been beyond words. What we can only just begin to imagine are feelings of rejection, feelings of abandonment, feelings of vast emptiness where love should be. The death of a parent at a young age is one thing. Death by suicide is quite another. To a child’s mind, a child to whom a mother is everything, this manner of death has devastating implications. To Chloe’s young mind, her mother didn’t love her enough to live for her. To her little mind, therefore, she is unlovable, she is inadequate, she has to be severely lacking, otherwise her mother would have stayed. She is totally insignificant and her father ‘proves’ it. He was a drunk, and he was physically abusive. His behaviours and treatment of her as she was growing up did nothing to validate her as a human being. He remarried women who only wanted a work visa, and who treated Chloe like a maid. She received no love whatsoever from her father, no affection, none of the tenderness that makes children thrive. She developed bulimia (the act of binge-eating, followed by self-inflicted vomiting) as she grew up, a typical sign of someone who needs approval, validation and love. Chloe didn’t have proper periods because she didn’t know how to nurture herself. She never ate, and when she did, she deliberately made herself vomit up her food. She attracted men who had no regard for who she was or what she needed. All her relationships mirrored back her sense of worthlessness and reinforced her feelings of insignificance. These feelings are still so acute today that she cannot even walk into a high-end shop with well-manicured shop assistants because of her feelings of inadequacy. Over time, as her feelings about herself became unbearable to live with, she began to escape from them with alcohol.
So where does Chloe begin on her journey back to love? For both Chloe, and for all of us alike, the journey back to love begins with identifying the thoughts which produce self-hatred, and then setting about disproving them. I don’t believe in chanting positive affirmations, because if one’s body doesn’t believe them, they won’t be effective.
What I do believe in is identifying a thought and then calling its bluff. And you can only do this by finding evidence that the thought is a lie. Chloe lives with her 18-year-old son David. About two years ago, she fell into a deep depression in which her feelings of worthlessness totally overwhelmed her. At the lowest point of her life, she attempted suicide. It was David who found her. Today, she lives with the guilt of this act of desperation, yet the event is one of the keys to her healing. Chloe’s mother’s suicide left her feeling rejected and unloved. But was she really unloved? Was her mother really deliberately sending a message to her that she was insignificant and therefore worthless? After her own experience of depression, Chloe can answer this for herself. Her mother’s suicide was definitely not personal. Her mother, just like Chloe, was utterly desperate. She was in the kind of pain only people who have suffered deep depression can understand, and Chloe has been there. Did Chloe not love David when she attempted suicide? She’d be horrified to think he thought such a thing.
Chloe’s own experience should be the evidence that she needed that her mother’s suicide was not directed against her, and that sometimes in life pain can be so overwhelming, that people feel the only course of action is to take their own lives. By examining this, she can view the evidence that she is every bit as worthwhile as the next person. She has a right to be in the world, and a right to be loved and cherished.
Chloe’s father was a weak man, who had no self-esteem, no self-love. And if he couldn’t love himself, where on earth could he find love for anyone else? A man who beat his wife and abused her verbally is a man who could not love himself. Chloe could look at this and realize that he was not capable of loving, and that his inability to love had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with who he was as a person.
Chloe has a son who is a good, strong individual. He doesn’t drink much with his friends, he is a martial arts expert, he steers clear of the local boys who tend to hang around in gangs, and he is well-balanced and sensible. Chloe can turn to his character, his mental well-being, as evidence of her worth. She brought a beautiful boy into the world, and in spite of her disease, brought him up to be healthy in mind and spirit. She did everything right by him, including ending a relationship with a man who didn’t treat David the way she would have liked him to. Chloe has worked at one job after another to take care of him and has given him the things that he needs. All of that effort takes love and dedication. She has been a mother and father to a young boy in very difficult circumstances. She’s kind to her son; she lets him be who he needs to be. Not everyone can boast this quality of mothering. Yes, he has been unhappy about her drinking, and yes, he found her close to death after a suicide attempt. But he knows she loves him. He knows the sacrifices she has made, and is still willing to make, for him. He knows his mother struggles for sobriety for him. He knows all this because she is open, honest and she lets him know that her love for him is what drives this journey.
At the core of addiction are these kind of thoughts: ‘I am nothing,’ ‘I do not belong,’ ‘I am insignificant,’ ‘I am unlovable,’ ‘I am worthless,’ ‘I do not deserve love’. To disprove them one by one, we have to scour our lives and our relationships and find the evidence to the contrary. No matter what you’ve done with your life, if you have seen the error of your ways, you can return to self-love. You can find the goodness in you in all the actions that you’ve performed in your life. For those of us who have simply not been nurtured by good parents, and have experienced hardship, everything can change with a simple exploration of the truth. Prove your thoughts wrong. Do it with vigour. And when you begin to believe, your life will become full of colour again. There will be no need to escape, for your own company will be something you value with your heart.
Addiction is a big subject, and today, all we can do is look at the beginning steps in the most critical issue of self-love. It is a tough journey, but where any type of addiction is concerned, it is a journey well worth taking.