A good buddy of mine just finished my memoir, Appetite for Addiction. His feedback was incredibly insightful, timely, and profound. The main comment of his that stuck in my head was: “hey dude, I hope you’re able to move on from all of the negative self-talk you’ve suffered through over the last several years.” He had a very valid point.
Another good friend of mine is in the midst of battling alcoholism and cannot put the bottle down. I can relate to where he is. The physical scenes he describes for me is very reminiscent of how I used to be. Constantly drunk, depressed, in a state of withdrawal, and in some regards, utter despair. And, I hear the relentless negative self-talk in his voice, just as I had experienced.
Why does it have to be that some people, including myself (when I’m not in a mindful state), treat themselves like assholes? In the past, I would constantly feed myself with never-ending negative self-talk. I’ll never have a chance with that girl; I’ll never be a good athlete; I’ll never be worthy of love. Those self-inflicted comments were a huge part of the reason that I drank all of the time. When I was properly imbibed all of my insecurities would vanish the minute a shot of whiskey went down the hatch. The negative self-talk would turn into impenetrable self-praise. I could date that girl; I could win that race; I could have the world. That was all good but when you take away the alcohol I went right back to beating the shit out of myself with verbal vomit that promoted the fact that I was, indeed, worthless, depressed, and lonely.
I was an expert at playing the comparison game, always wanting what other people had. I had good buddies with tons of money, nice cars, nice houses, great families, and seemingly no problems. I was jealous, envious of their lives, always fuming at the fact that I didn’t have what they had. The jealousy drove me mad. It was persistent enough that the only cure for me was to drink, heavily. The minute I had a buzz most of those comparisons went away for the most part. When I drank I felt invincible, which led me to fabricate a narrative in my head that I was better than, fitter than, and worthy of every bit of success that was coming my way (somehow I became omniscient when I drank, can anyone relate?). Then, when the party was finally over, and the booze was taken away, the comparisons and the negative self-talk became demons that I was not ready to fight.
Getting sober is so much more than just not drinking. Sure, not drinking is the first step, but the self-examination that lies ahead (in my experience) is just as profound as the courage it takes to put the bottle down. When I resigned from my corporate gig in 2015, more than a year into sobriety, I launched myself into a new lifestyle that required a certain amount of self-governance. At first, it was exciting, but as time wore on and the negative self-talk persisted, I began to question my choice and motives. I didn’t realize the comfort that having a fulltime job and consistent paycheck gave to me. Even though I was pursuing several long-term projects (running a business, writing a book, chasing athletic dreams) it took me a couple of years to get comfortable with the fact that the negative self-talk was the primary culprit to my hesitations. Luckily, I am thankful those hesitations have disappeared for the most part, because, quite frankly, I’m all-fucking-in on my endeavors 100%.
So where does this negative self-talk come from? As much of an asshole as I was prone to be to myself, it had to come from somewhere. My childhood? Depressive tendencies? How about this option: the shit we tell ourselves is largely an illusion, a fabrication of bullshit narratives stuck in our heads about who we should be (please avoid the “should” game if you can, it can be a waste of energy) and what we think of ourselves. C’mon, I used to tell myself I was worthless! Not one person in my life has EVER said that to me, so where is it coming from? It comes from the mind, and largely, the mind is pretty damn good at creating illusions, as well as baseless, non-factual assumptions of who we are. So, the next time you find yourself steeped in negative self-talk, think about where it ACTUALLY came from. You might just find, as I did, that the majority of it is based on a mere illusion. Can it be that simple? I think so, it may just take a while to get to a place where you can accept that fact. I hate to see people suffer when their suffering is created by non-factual information.
Sure, I’m human and I still go through self-doubt sometimes, but for the most part, it’s compartmentalized into a place where I can properly assess where the doubt is coming from. That particular approach took some time to develop. The good news, today, is that I can recognize in an instant when any negativity pops into my head. For me, when self-doubt rears it’s ugly head the trick is, at first, to quite simply breathe and gain a clear assessment of the situation at hand. And when I come to the conclusion that it’s based on an illusion? I can tell it to piss off and I move on with my day.
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your feedback on how you approach negative self-talk. Do you listen? Can you push it aside? Everyone’s got a unique personal journey and it would be interesting to hear other people’s takes on the subject.