Sobriety & Self-compassion
As a Life & Sobriety Coach, my clients will generally come to me seeking help with shifting behaviours or habits that are no longer serving them. Most of my female clients are mothers (not always, but mostly), nurturing, kind, and compassionate towards their loved ones and so eager to up-level and dramatically improve their life for the sake of their loved-ones. When I ask them how they currently practice self-compassion, their response is normally “I don’t”.
Their days are instead filled with emotionally supporting others; their children, partners, work colleagues, friends and family. Rarely are they taking time to look inward and ask themselves “What do I need in this moment?”.
It is a very common occurrence for women who are stuck in negative behaviour cycles such as emotional eating or alcohol use disorders to be lacking in self-compassion. When I was in the midst of my own drinking problem, I never woke up after a black-out drinking night and flooded myself with compassion and love. Instead I would berate myself, beat myself up intensely, shame, belittle and crush myself even deeper into my alcohol-induced depression and anxiety. If only I knew back then that I was actually making my cycle of negative behaviours worse. If only I realised that the best thing for me to do after a relapse was to flood myself with self-compassion, not self-loathing I could have saved myself some anguish and also sped up my process of behaviour-change.
It wasn’t until I got sober that I truly discovered the importance and power of self-compassion. Self-compassion has been one of the tools that I have called upon the most during my sobriety and healing journey; one that I wished I had learned to use properly a long time ago.
What is self-compassion?
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, defines self-compassion as: Mindful awareness of oneself, which involves treating oneself kindly and understanding oneself during difficult and challenging times by realizing that such experiences are common amongst all humans.
She states that self-compassion is a multi-faceted construct with mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity as factors that promote self-compassion. Mindfulness is the present-focused awareness of one’s own reactions to life events. Self-kindness involves having understanding and providing self-care to oneself when experiencing difficulty. And common humanity suggests that all humans, including oneself, experience hardships, difficulties, and negative emotions.
Essentially, self-compassion is being kind and understanding to yourself when confronted with personal failings. So rather than judging and criticising ourselves for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means that we shower ourselves with the same feeling of compassion and love that we would shower one of our best friends, our children or any person we cared for and loved.
What is the link between self-compassion & overcoming our drinking problems?
There are over 3000 studies that prove that self-compassion makes us strong, resilient, more confident, motivated and can even improve our physical health. If we can make self-compassion stick, create a habit out of being self-compassionate not only in times where we really need it, but also proactively on a consistent daily basis, we build up our self-confidence and increase our motivation levels towards becoming the person we want to be, or stopping the behaviors or habits that are no longer serving us.
We begin to want to succeed because we care about ourselves. We are motivating ourselves through a sense of love, by holding ourselves in a tender, supportive way, committing to our personal healing, growth and successes. Finally enabling us to stick to our sobriety goals, long-term.
On the flip side, the antithesis of self-compassion is self-loathing, shaming and over-criticising ourselves. We know that these types of behaviours fuel the spiral of anxiety, depression and of course alcohol use, which pushes us deeper and deeper down into the alcohol trap.
Neff states “When we exercise self-compassion when we fail, we are more likely to pick ourselves up and keep trying, it gives us more grit.”
How can we become or be more self-compassionate?
Becoming more self-compassionate begins with asking yourself two simple questions: “What do I feel” and “What do I need?”.
If you begin to consistently ask yourself these two questions regularly, and then provide yourself with whatever it is that you are needing in that moment, you are proving to yourself that you have got your own back. Your needs are important.
It’s also vital to commit to prioritising yourself and your needs (of course not at the expense of providing care to your children, or elderly parents etc.). It’s by repeating these acts of self-compassion that enable you to form a tight, trusting, loving, safe and secure bond with yourself. Your values, dreams and future are all so important to you, and self-sabotage will no longer be an option.
Another powerful exercise is to physically shower yourself with the same feeling of compassion that you feel for another person. It may be your child, or your mother. Feel that compassion that you hold in your heart for them, and flip it around and immerse yourself in that same feeling.
An exercise that I love to include in my nightly reflection is to think of the three things I have done during that day that have made me proud. By reflecting on these things, I am honouring the positive things I have done and ways in which I have helped the world, which in itself is an act of self-compassion.
Whether you’re sober curious or have already made the leap to an alcohol free lifestyle, adding in the practices suggested in this blog will go a long way towards helping you live with more self-compassion which in turn will support your sobriety goals. To recap, start with these simple yet powerful practices:
Asking yourself those two simple questions “what do I feel?” and “what do I need?”;
Intentionally commit to prioritising yourself and your needs;
Practice showering yourself with the same feeling of compassion you feel for someone you love unconditionally; and
Build in time at the end of each day to reflect on the things you’ve done that day that made you feel proud.