2 Keys to Recovery: Wakefulness and Compassionate Action

The truth is hard to deal with sometimes – especially when it’s our own. When the truth is messy, painful, or sad, it makes sense that we try to avoid it. Truth avoidance is like pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock. That blaring alarm is so loud and jarring, we just want it to stop so that we can let sleep envelope us again, so we roll over and slam our hand down on the button.

Many of us push that button over and over again without even realizing it. Truth avoidance can work the same way.

We avoid some truths so often and for so long that they actually get lost. We don’t remember actually avoiding the truth, and we may lose sight of the truth completely because we’ve avoided it so well. It’s sort of like being, and staying asleep even as we push that button.

Then these uncomfortable waking moments happen.

When we’re talking about substance abuse and addiction (notoriously messy, painful truths), these waking moments can be anything from a terrible hangover or one more argument with our spouse to jail-time or hospitalization. They are events, small or large, that wake us from our created dream that everything is fine, or “normal”, or as good as it’s going to get. During or just after these wake-up calls, the truth of our problem rings like a loud, bedside alarm. While it’s tempting to hit the snooze button again, in order for healing and recovery to happen, we have to wake up (read – “get honest”).

There used to be a cartoon on television called Tom and Jerry. The main characters were a cat, Tom, and a mouse, Jerry. Tom was always trying to catch Jerry and would go to just about any lengths to do it. In one episode, Tom drinks tons of coffee and even uses toothpicks to hold up his eyelids in order to stay awake and trap Jerry!

While literally sticking toothpicks under our eyelids is too extreme and anything but compassionate (not to mention terribly dangerous), staying awake and honest about substance abuse and addiction after a wake-up call can take a lot of effort.

In order to get well, we have to wake up into our discomfort and stay awake. Substance abuse and addiction are no jokes, and they aren’t dreams. They are real, destructive issues that can be deadly, and getting help requires awakeness and clear-eyed honesty.

Unfortunately, unlike the alarm clock, an inanimate object, the jolt we get when we wake up to the truth usually comes from within our own minds. It’s often called shame.

Shame might be the most painful human emotion. On top of that, it comes with all kinds of nasty thoughts and behaviors. Waking up and getting clear-eyed about our addiction can lead to thoughts like these:

  • I’m a failure,
  • I don’t deserve to get better,
  • Look at all the terrible things I’ve done,
  • Nobody can help me,
  • I’m awful (horrible, terrible, bad),
  • I’ll never be ok,
  • I deserve to be miserable, and
  • Other self-defeating and harmful self-talk.

Shame can also include:

  • Isolation,
  • Avoidance,
  • Angry outbursts,
  • Self-harm,
  • Violence,
  • Substances use, and
  • Other self-defeating and harmful behaviors.

Shame can send us racing for anything that will put us back to sleep, but that’s NOT what we want. We need an antidote.

The first antidote to shame is compassionate action.

Compassionate action means recognizing our own suffering; the discomfort we have when facing a difficult truth, and rather than acting with criticism and judgment, acting with kindness and care. This can be anything but easy, because just as we’ve practiced hitting that snooze button on the truth, we’ve also practiced shaming ourselves. Compassionate action can be a radical step out of our usual comfort-zone.

Here’s how to practice compassionate action when waking up to the difficult truth of substance abuse or addiction:

  • While we might FEEL ashamed or sad, we ACT in ways that are counterintuitive to those feelings.
  • Instead of self-harm – self-nurture
    • Take a bath, eat something tasty, or take a walk.
  • Instead of isolating – reach out
    • Call a trusted friend or family member,
    • Visit a 12-step or other community support meeting, and/or
    • Start the process of finding professional help*
  • Instead of engaging in critical self-talk – try this little meditation:

Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for a few minutes and sit or lie down. Close your eyes if that’s possible for you, otherwise, leave them open and just soften your gaze. Imagine your own face either as you are now, or as a child. As you imagine your face, say (out loud or in your mind)

May I know compassion, may my pain and suffering be eased, may I know peace.

Then say,

May all beings know compassion, may all beings’ pain and suffering be eased, may they know peace.

Repeat as many times as you’d like, keeping your breathing slow and easy.

(adapted from Metta or Loving Kindness, a meditation in Buddhist tradition)

Waking up to the uncomfortable, often painful truth of substance abuse and addiction is hard. Hitting snooze can seem like the easiest and even the best option.  But it’s not.  In order to begin the healing process, we have to stay awake – even when it feels painful, and even if our shame is ignited, we must act with compassion toward ourselves.

We recognize our own suffering. We take care of ourselves with kindness.  We reach out.

*If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you can visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services treatment finder to locate a treatment center in your area. You are also welcome to contact us here at Luna Recovery Services by calling 1-888-448-LUNA or reaching out to chat live with a representative by hitting the LIVE CHAT button in the bottom right-hand corner of our Home Page.  Our trained staff is happy to help you find what you need.