Sobriety & Self Acceptance

I am past middle-age, well past middle age. Five years ago, I made the commitment to get and stay sober for the third time in my life. Those are the relevant things to know about me. The first time I tried to quit I was in my 20s. I managed  to stay sober a year, the second time during my marriage  I managed 10 years and now I have 5 years. I have been re-reading a journal I kept while in the program and many of those issues still haunt me. The main one is am I good enough?

My longest relationship has been with this core belief.   Not believing that I was good enough has helped me relapse twice now. What does good enough look like? It is of course different for each person. Good enough for me looks like self-acceptance with compassion and eyes open. Self-compassion and I have a nodding acquaintance. It’s nodding because I have a very active inner critic. This inner critic has had many years of practice whereas self-compassion is a relative newcomer in my life. After all she’s only five.

But it is self-compassion that is keeping me sober this time around. Self-compassion wasn’t there for rounds one or two with sobriety. So, when the inner critic came calling I had no defense mechanisms. My relapses happened during times of failing intimate relationships. For, in those relationships, I didn’t believe that my needs mattered and gave them away willingly at first and then with resentment.  I was so invested in taking care of the other person that I let my needs take second place. Allowing that to happen made me angry and frustrated. Not knowing what to do I started to self-medicate.

My choice of partners was always about trying to find acceptance for myself. Helping others and caring about them and their needs helped me feel accepted. That worked for a while until it didn’t. What I really needed was self-acceptance. Not being able to find it I drank.

So, what does I’m okay look like today? It looks like my ability to recognize a judgment or cognitive distortion and not have it rule my feelings. I’m not always successful at it but without alcohol masking my feelings my eyes are more open to accepting who I truly am. Thomas Merton, a writer on spirituality and social justice said, “Sooner or later we must distinguish between what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is . . . We must find our real self.”  In short I must recognize and accept my weaknesses without judgment.

I need to bear this in mind as I begin the next phase in my life where I’m thinking about dating again. It’s been years since I dipped my toe in that water of risk. With this risk, however, comes the opportunity to practice self-compassion and resilience. I will need both as I navigate this way of human connectedness. I will need to be able to recognize the pull of caring for someone to the point of losing myself and be mindful that if it doesn’t ‘t work out that I am good enough all by myself.

                        May you be well,

                                    May you be happy,

                                                May you be safe

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