It is amazing the stories we will tell ourselves to justify behaviour we know isn’t healthy for us, isn’t it?
When I was drinking, I loved to find people whose drinking was worse than mine, so I could look to them and think ‘I don’t have a drinking problem, they do’, as if there was a finite number of people in the world who could have issues with alcohol. One of my friends was such a person. I used his drinking to justify mine (“if he is drinking then so can I”) while simultaneously telling myself that my drinking wasn’t as bad as his!
Have you ever seen such a blatant example of problem drinker’s logic?
When I started the yoga teacher training journey that was to be my unexpected salvation, I was given a ‘motto’ that was to have a powerful impact on me.
My teacher told us that Swami Gitananda, the Guru whose teachings I was training in, had given three rules of Yoga.
Don’t judge, don’t compare, don’t beat yourself up
These rules were given in the context of day to day life, but as I progressed through the course, and slowly became able to cope with life without alcohol, I started to see a deeper meaning for myself in my path to freedom from booze
Brene Brown tells us that when we judge others, we are actually doing so from our own insecurities, that our judgement is more about us than it is them. I can see examples of this in my own behaviour. When I was felt anxious about my drinking, I would criticise my friend’s drinking habits and drunken behaviour. When anxious about my parenting, I would look at the mother yelling at her child in the supermarket and think ‘oh how terrible’, forgetting that I had done exactly the same thing, but in the kitchen of my home.
When I became aware of my inner judgements of others, I tried to stop. I would apologise to them in my head, and remind myself that someone else’s life is not my business, and that I don’t know anything about the situation I am judging. I would then turn the thought around to a positive one (the mother of the child is providing for her child and juggling a busy life, she is doing a brilliant job – admittedly still a judgement, but an attempt at compassionate, rather than critical, judgement)
As I practised this more, I noticed that the inner monologue that was constantly criticising everything I did, thought, said, didn’t do, think or say was becoming quieter. Yes folks, as I became less judgemental of others, I became less judgemental of myself by default!
Try noticing your judgements of others, and reflect on what that is telling you about how you feel about yourself. Our growth can only come through awareness, so while this might force you to confront some painful truths, it can break you through some huge walls in your personal growth.
Comparison. Oh, what a damaging spiral of negativity that can take us to!
When we compare ourselves to others, we do so either to boost ourselves (I am better than her) or to put ourselves down (he is better than me). I spent years feeling less than my best friend…”she is prettier than me, she is thinner than me, she is more fun than me, she is more xyz than me”. When I started to look at my life through my Yoga practice, this actually caused me some problems. For a little while, I started to feel uncomfortable in her company because I realised that I had always subconsciously assumed this role of the lesser of the two of us, even though I know that she would be horrified by this.
When we compare ourselves to others, we fail to take into account some pretty significant factors.
Firstly, we don’t know the whole truth of what goes on in anyone’s life or mind. Even our best friends have aspects to themselves that we never see. When I stopped drinking, the friends who used to get drunk with me on a very regular basis were shocked when I finally told them the truth about my drinking habits.
So while someone may appear to have it together in their life, they may not feel that they do, and vice versa – someone who leads an apparently chaotic life may be blissfully happy and content in their chaos.
Secondly, we are all profoundly different. My life is not the same as yours. Even siblings raised by the same parents in the same home at the same time grow up to be very different, so how can we compare ourselves to anyone?
This is particularly important to remember on the recovery journey. One person is able to walk away from alcohol without difficulty, another really struggle and has repeated relapses before finally finding their safe place. Is the first person better than the second? Not in the slightest, they just have different lives. We all have different backgrounds to our addictions, and we all have different paths. Just because a particular way works for you, doesn’t mean it will work for someone else, or that they will fail if they don’t follow your path.
Comparison to others is damaging and unhelpful. When you notice you are doing it, try to remember that you are on your own path in life. We might all be heading in the same direction, but none of us walk the same path.
Don’t beat yourself up
Hands up if you have beaten yourself up for something today? *raises hand apologetically*
We all do it don’t we. We do it a LOT when we are fighting the demon drink. I drank because I beat myself up so much, then I beat myself up because I drank. So many things to beat myself up for, I was covered in metaphorical bruises!
It is such a self destructive thing to do.
When I attended a Mental Health First Aid course last year, I was initially surprised to discover that drinking to excess is classed as self harm. In all the years I had done it, I had never thought of it like that, but that is exactly what it was to me. That cycle and the metaphorical bruises as clear an indication of a person in pain as any razor cut.
There is a practice in Yoga called Pratipaksha Bhavanam that transformed my relationship with myself and profoundly impacted the way I spoke to myself.
Pratipaksha Bhavanam involves replacing the negative with the positive. It applies to all aspects of our being, including our behaviour, but I consciously used it most in my thoughts.
I would often think things like ‘I’m such a ******** idiot’, ‘I HATE being me’, ‘What is the point of me?’ etc. Pratipaksha Bhavanam helped me to nip these thoughts in the bud and turn them around. This helped me look for solutions to behaviour I found hard to manage (‘Can’t ever find your keys? Instead of cursing yourself, start putting them in the same place all the time then you’ll know where they are’) and praise myself for effort rather than beating myself up for failure.
This is a really powerful practice that takes time to absorb into the consciousness, but when you do, it can be life changing.
Yoga has many gifts to offer us as we navigate our path to joyful sober living. This ‘motto’ is a great one to repeat to yourself every day to help you deal with the mental chatter that can keep you stuck when you want to move forward.
Don’t judge, don’t compare, and don’t beat yourself up.
Try to notice times when you are doing this, and, without judgement, see how you can alter the thoughts you are thinking. You will be amazed at the transformation that this will bring.