by Walt Hester
I came into recovery, like so many, with extremely low self-esteem. The joke in recovery is that I didn’t think much of myself, but I was all I thought of. While I entered my 12-step fellowship immediately, it took me years to realize that one good habit I brought with me would serve me and my recovery for years to come.
The founder of The Phoenix, Scott Strode, states that something happens when we partake in athletic endeavors early in recovery. As we begin achieving goals, our self-esteem improves. As this happens, our identity shifts. We are no longer defined by the substance or disease that nearly killed us. We are no longer addicts. We become people in recovery; Survivors.
This is not an automatic event, not a switch that is thrown. This attitude takes time. It also takes more than movement. Exercise is not a replacement for the 12 Steps or therapy. Exercise is an adjunct, another tool in our recover toolbox. This, as it turns out, is something with which most addicts, in recovery or not, can identify; if one is good, more is better.
Exercise can by meditative. When one is hanging off of a rock face, forearms pumped, grip wavering, all one thinks of is the next handhold. The same is true with swimming or cycling or running. Just get through the next movement. This keeps us in the here and now in ways that we had not been capable of in the past. We don’t worry about the mistakes of the past or the mysteries of the future.
Similarly, movement can be a form of prayer. Perhaps there is an issue, a problem or challenge that I will take onto the bike during a long ride or even a walk with my family. The movement seems to lubricate those parts of my mind that help me solve the issue. I could explain the science, but then you would click on to something, anything, else. Just trust me on this.
Movement, exercise, athletics, can also promote fellowship. Many addicts, myself included, isolated in the latter stages of the disease. Shame and resentment drove me away from family and friends. Like the 12-Step programs, finding groups of like-minded people to share this experience helps us to break out of that isolation. We build friendships instead of walls. We relearn how to be a part of a community, instead of a part from. This promotes that sense of belonging that we craved but seemed incapable of before. It also begins to promote accountability. Like exercise, if one feels obligated to show up, one is more likely to follow through.
Exercise improves the bodies and brains of people recovering from addiction. It is also so much more. Our minds clear and our spirits are lifted as we lift more, run faster and climb higher. We feel better about ourselves as we encourage others to reach their goals. It’s another recovery tool. We can never have too much of that.
Harmony is excited to be embarking on our 3rd Annual Pay It Forward Day this April 28th. Pay It Forward Day is an international celebration of, and tribute to, the power of giving, which Harmony honors by raising funds for treatment scholarships. Once again, by donating $1 for every month of sobriety, (or an amount that is significant to you),our alumni, families, donors and community members will celebrate their own recovery journey or the journey of others. Hear more from Chief Clinical Officer and Harmony alum, Dr. Annie Peters…
by Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS
“Self-Sabotage is when we say we want something and then we go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby
You may find yourself after the fact, stating you don’t know why you did it. Why you ended the relationship when nothing was wrong. Why you walked out of the job after only a month. Why you picked a fight and got kicked off the team. These are just a few examples of when someone may have engaged in self-sabotage. And the question is, why?
Under the Iceberg
Identified as the founder of Psychology, Sigmund Freud once described the mind as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg above water was our conscious or thoughts or feelings we are aware of, and accounts for roughly 20% of our mind. The other 80% under the surface represents unconscious, and represents things we are not yet aware of to better understand our behaviors.
Mark Tyrell, Self Help author of “Self-Sabotage Behaviour can come in many forms,” identifies four common reasons one may engage in self-sabotage.
#1 Anticipatory Grief
For some of us, the familiarity of failure is a painful, somewhat predictable experience. We may go through our world anticipating loss, or anticipating when something good, something we enjoy, is going to switch, fall, end, or fail. Perhaps you can relate to the following thoughts of anticipatory loss or end:
- I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop
- This is too good to be true
- What’s the catch?
- Nothing good lasts for me, when will this go south?
Because these thoughts have a lot of power, you may find yourself engaging in a belief that you don’t deserve good things. Or that you are doomed to suffer and that failing is inevitable. Similar to self-fulfilling prophecy, you may find yourself predicting the outcome, and in this case, it’s negative. With these thoughts in mind, you may find yourself also subscribing in the second reason one can engage in self-sabotage.
#2 Control Freak
If we truly believe something good is going to end badly, we may want to be in control of the outcome. Have you ever found yourself thinking:
- I’ll just end this relationship now, it’s less painful in this moment than when it ends months or years from now.
- Better to leave this job before I get fired.
- I already know they are going to say our friendship is over, so I’ll just stop talking to them and get it over with.
We may convince ourselves that feeling in control of the failure in this moment can hurt less than something that comes on suddenly, out of the blue, or later when our guard is down.
The experience of our guard being down and everything feeling predictable can lead to discomfort as well. Predictability can lead to boredom, which can also be a reason to self-sabotage. If we go from feelings of chaos and excitement to monotony and boredom, Mark Tyrell states, as one example, we may find ourselves picking a fight with someone for no reason at all. Perhaps just for the alive feeling we get from adrenaline and excitement. Do you find yourself engaging in any of the following:
- Picking a fight when you aren’t upset
- Looking for trouble in new environments
- Engaging in substance use
- Relapsing when no trigger is present
#4 Feeling Unworthy
Relapsing when not triggered can also be due to feelings of low self-worth. Maybe you feel you don’t deserve success or happiness and instead, engage by punishing yourself and setting yourself up to fail. This can represent the cornerstone of self-sabotage in wanting something and doing everything in your power to not achieve it, basically going the other direction from success. When explored further, many truly believe they “aren’t worth it” and engage in behaviors that prevent progress due to those negative beliefs.
#5 I’m Unprepared
One final example of self-sabotage to consider is the feeling of being unprepared. Perhaps you don’t feel ready to end a support program and so you relapse to remain involved with probation or the treatment community. An observation of those in the legal system is that they don’t feel they have resources on the outside, so they find themselves committing a petty crime to be reintroduced into the environment that feels most familiar. You don’t yet feel prepared to do this on your own and so you create a reason to not be on your own.
So where do you go from here? For many, just the awareness of why one engages in self-sabotaging behaviors can be a powerful process in exploring needs and change to more positive behaviors. Being aware that you are not alone in the reasons for self-sabotage and talking about the challenges can be a healing journey towards self-love, acceptance, and success.
For additional ideas of how to manage self-sabotage, you can check out Mark Tyrell’s “Self-Sabotage Behaviour can come in many forms,” at http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/stop-self-sabotage-behaviour/
“In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.” Nikos Kazantzakis
Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is the owner of Catalyst Counseling, PLLC and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.
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