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Appropriate Self Concern
I was watching a movie about Theodore Roosevelt which was about the time after he got polio. He was very depressed and feeling sorry for himself, and he wanted others to feel sorry for him too. One of the nurses, who tried to help him, said: “I can’t help you out of the hole if I get in with you.
This reminded me of my sponsor in early recovery. I was feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t have a romantic relationship. She said to me: “Susan: you have a new life, friends, recovery, and God. Romance is the last thing you should be thinking about right now. That will come later when you have paid your dues.”
I was shocked at the time, but it helped me realize that I was feeling a lot of self-pity. I had suffered for so long that all I had left was the image of myself as a victim.
I wanted to stop, but I did not know how. I also felt that some really bad things had happened to me, and I had a right to regret this. My therapist said it was not good to “stuff” my feelings and that I should share them with others.
Now, I was really confused. Was I feeling sorry for myself or acknowledging what happened?
After awhile, I finally realized that I had fallen into the trap of “all or nothing” thinking and that there was a middle ground—what a friend of mine called “appropriate self-concern.”
Just like Theodore Roosevelt, I made peace with what had happened in my life and went on to be successful.
If you are new to recovery consider the following . . .
Most people in recovery have suffered as children. Sometimes they feel sorry for themselves. If this happens, I want to point out that it can be addictive. Self-pity becomes a substitute for healthy self-esteem. It is the only way an addict can feel at all.
You may ask why would one get addicted to such a negative emotion. Gerald May, in "Addiction and Grace" explains that not all mood altering experiences make you feel good. There is a whole population of people who identify more with pain than pleasure. They only feel alive when they are suffering. An example would be cutters who self-mutilate to send a healing balm to their wound or because they are "shame-based" and feel this is what they deserve.
The answer to most problems dealing with extremes is the proverbial middle ground. You feel your sorrow. and grief for yourself, when you have come to understand how much you suffered in the past. At the same time, you do not dwell on this. You move on to appropriate self-concern which you feel when you are processing the past. You also feel optimistic about the future and look for a brighter tomorrow.
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