Recently, I read a post from a person in sobriety that said, "Sobriety is so lonely, how do people deal with it?" To which I replied, "It's interesting to me. I felt so much more lonely when I was drinking with 20 'friends' than I ever do spending time alone, sober." Interestingly enough, this idea plays off my last blog, Unfriending Alcohol quite well. I wrote about how, in active addiction, we tend to view alcohol as a friend, something we lean on, something we count on, and something we can't live without. It stands to reason, if we feel that way, when we are without alcohol we would in fact feel quite lonely. I have said this many times before, but I will say it again anyway, if we try to quit drinking by not drinking, we are far from successful sobriety. Even if we manage to stay sober, we will remain in sobriety indefinitely because we still miss it as we would a dear friend who moved away. Truly successful sobriety comes when we recognize our friend didn't leave us, we left it, voluntarily and with good reason. When we do this, we no longer feel lonely without it.
My temporary relief from loneliness slowly pushed me into a deeper and darker corner of isolation.
I remember someone telling me a long time ago we cannot be happy if we cannot be alone. I never understood this sentiment. I always thought, why would anyone be happy alone? As human beings we are fundamentally designed to be together, to be a community, to be a part of something. I could not for the life of me understand why someone would be happy, alone. I found time alone to be loud, uncomfortable, disorienting, and even painful. The moment I found myself alone, I would immediately seek out anything I could to distract myself from the loneliness I felt in my own skin. I found alcohol took care of the loneliness very early on in my life. It was relatively easy to come by, socially acceptable, and it did the job. Within minutes, any loneliness I felt disappeared into a cloud of inebriation. I remember literally sighing after the first drink, knowing all my problems were over. What I didn't know, was none of my problems were actually over. They were only temporarily hidden from sight while they worked in cahoots to build bigger, more complex, and more difficult problems for me to deal with later. My temporary relief from loneliness slowly pushed me into a deeper and darker corner of isolation.
If we drink to avoid loneliness, and drinking exacerbates our loneliness, then in order for us to not feel lonely in sobriety, we must learn how to be comfortable alone. The idea of feeling comfortable alone was as foreign to me as trying to fly an airplane. I would not have even known where to start to learn how to do either. The interesting thing about my active addiction was how most of the time, I drank at home by myself, so I was still effectively alone, just not coherent. With this in mind, I cannot help but acknowledge it was not the isolation itself that made me uncomfortable, it was what happened to me in isolation that was unbearable. Thoughts. My thoughts would begin to run wild, and I did not like where my thoughts took me. All-day long, I found ways to keep myself busy enough to avoid letting my thoughts emerge in the forefront of my mind. I didn't know it, but this was the only thing keeping me productive on any level. Since I couldn't drink at work, I had to find ways to occupy my thoughts, so I worked hard to avoid the consequences of silence.
If we do not learn how to sit in silence, then our sobriety will in fact
be quite lonely.
The silence we were so used to not experiencing became enemy number 1. Obviously, when we quit drinking, we find ourselves with ample time and no way to silence our thoughts. The noise associated with silence (Silencing the Noise of Quiet) is what makes us feel so incredibly lonely in the beginning days of sobriety. If we do not learn how to sit in silence, then our sobriety will in fact be quite lonely. After decades of avoiding the dreaded silence of being alone, how do we then learn how to be okay in solitude? Again, this is different for everyone, but it all begins with Finding our Why's. Most of the time, we did not start drinking for no reason. We had already begun to develop core beliefs that made us feel alone. We started drinking when we found alcohol numbed those unwanted feelings. Here's the thing, those feelings were only perceptions we created about a false reality.
You have heard me say this before, and I will say it again. At any given time, we can change the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. It is necessary to change these negative false perceptions in order to let go of the fear of being alone. The noise we hear in silence is simply our thoughts running amuck trying to validate the core beliefs we have unwarrantedly justified in our minds. They are not valid, we make them valid. With that said, if we can make them valid, then we can invalidate them too. The way we do this is by not feeding our negative core beliefs with inaccurate or incomplete information. Do we do things, at times, that support our negative core beliefs? Certainly. Do we only do things that support our negative core beliefs? Absolutely not. The difference lies in where we place our focus.
When we change our internal rhetoric the new rhetoric will, in turn,
change our life.
If our thoughts are focused on our negative core beliefs when we are alone, it sounds like a blaring alarm going off in our heads. I am not good enough. I always screw up. I am not worthy, I don't deserve to succeed. Nobody trusts me. On and on and on our thoughts blare. Who on earth would want to spend any time in such a negative environment? Not me. Shifting our focus is as simple as shifting our verbiage. I know, it is easier said than done. But, is it? What I have learned on my journey, is it is okay to use positive self-talk, even when we do not yet believe it. It is okay to say I deserve success. I am worthy. I am good enough. I am trustworthy. The only reason we do not believe these words is because we have said the opposing words and phrases for much longer. When we change our internal rhetoric the new rhetoric will, in turn, change our perception.
Fortunately, this is like anything else. Practice really does make perfect. I can absolutely guarantee you when you first start using more positive self-talk, it will feel awkward as hell. You will feel like a fake, an imposter, a liar. It's okay. Let those feelings be whatever they need to be. They are not true, they are simply residual feelings left over from a prior time in your life. Keep up the positive self-talk because I can also guarantee you something else. You will begin to believe it. You will begin to feel it. You will begin to see the difference your perspective makes on the perceptions you hold of yourself and the world. Not only will the perceptions of yourself change, but other's perceptions of you will change as well. It all starts with one simple idea. Our perceptions of ourselves are not always accurate. It is okay to challenge ourselves. It is okay to grow.
You will look forward to new challenges because you know what follows.
Growth and growth is addicting too.
I don't generally do this, but here is a little homework for you. Write down a list of five negative core beliefs you hold and believe have kept you from doing what you want to do or from being who you want to be. Once you have those five core beliefs written down, write down five things about yourself that challenge each core belief. For example, let us say my negative core belief is I never finish anything. I can challenge this by finding things I have finished: college, job applications, a project, the fence in the backyard, the dishes, or anything else I can come up with. Whatever it is, if I finished anything, I have new evidence to effectively challenge my negative core belief. Give it a try. You might actually find it is quite rewarding. Have fun with it. If you are struggling to find a core belief, start with something small (I don't like talking on the phone) and work your way into more meaningful beliefs. Believe it or not, you will begin to look forward to new challenges. You will look forward to new challenges because you know what follows. Growth and growth is addicting too.