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tips for when you feel misunderstood in your recovery
April 16, 2018

When You Feel No One Understands

tips for when you feel misunderstood in your recoveryFor all the progress against prejudice, most of the world still tends to pass quick judgment on whatever—or whoever—makes it uncomfortable. If you’re in addiction recovery, and especially if you also have the clinical depression that often goes with addiction disorders, you’ve probably heard “You could stop if you really wanted to,” “Why don’t you cheer up?” and “It can’t be that hard” all too often. You know that avoiding relapse temptations/counting your blessings/not being a perfectionist really is that hard—at least sometimes. When someone compounds the pain by belittling it, in creeps that little inner voice that says “no one understands”—which translates emotionally to, “I’m all alone, I have no identity worth mentioning, I’m hardly worth anything.” The next domino in that chain is telling yourself nothing will ever change, you’ll always fail at everything, you might as well go back to what Alcoholics Anonymous calls the “poor me, pour me a drink” approach to life.

Before you tip any further in that direction, consider the classic Prayer of St. Francis: “Grant that I may not so much seek … to be understood as to understand.”

DO YOU UNDERSTAND YOURSELF?

A surprising number of people don’t. They know what they want, but not why they want it. They know what pushes their buttons, but they never check the wiring behind those buttons. They go through life irritable because nothing makes them happy—largely because they have no real idea what to ask of life.

If you’ve been through a drug-detox program that utilizes the Twelve Steps, you’ve already made some major advances toward understanding yourself via Step Four: “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.” Review this inventory. Understand the physical/psychological aspects of addiction and any other mental illness you’re living with. Make it your goal to become someone who understands yourself too well—and believes in yourself too much—to be hurt by thoughtless behavior.

IF OTHERS JUDGE YOU, DON’T RETURN THE FAVOR

There’s a saying that “hurt people hurt people”—the first “hurt” being an adjective, the second a verb. If someone is truly malicious and spiteful, either they’re seriously insecure and afraid you’ll disrupt their comfort zone, or their own lives have been so miserable they understand no pleasure except spreading misery. Recognizing them as hurting humans, rather than demons, doesn’t mean you have to take whatever they throw at you: in fact, empathy will put you in a better defensive position, where you can be proactive rather than reactive. Plus, you’ll maintain hope for eventual reconciliation.

More often, “judgmental” people are simply thoughtless. Don’t mentally lump them with the “malicious” crowd, or you’ll wind up with deeper wounds than the situation warrants. Here are a few hints for educating others without making enemies:

  • Don’t accuse anyone of unsavory (and unproven) motives. Putting them on the defensive starts an unwinnable argument.
  • If an initial brief-and-polite response doesn’t work, look them straight in the eye and say firmly, “I don’t care for any,” or “I’d rather not discuss that.” With a real pest, try, “I’m afraid this isn’t the place to talk about it. I’d be happy to explain it to you privately later.” (Of course, if they take you up on that, you’re obligated to follow through.) Or just excuse yourself and go elsewhere.
  • When you need to explain your addiction problem in more detail, stick to the facts and avoid dwelling on the troubles and misunderstanding you’ve had to deal with.
  • And if someone says, “You don’t have a disease, you’re just looking for an excuse to be irresponsible,” tell them firmly, “I do believe in being responsible. That’s why I avoid situations that might tempt me to drink, because that would be irresponsible for me.”

With friends and relatives who want to understand but are struggling, don’t get angry and impatient. Invite them to attend therapy with you. Give them specific suggestions on how they can help you maintain sobriety—if they care about you, they’ll be agreeable even if the only reason they can grasp is that your relationship will benefit. And stay aware of their feelings: where you may be asking too much of them, where you can make your share of concessions, where you owe them amends for addiction-related behavior.

STAY CLOSE TO THOSE WHO DO UNDERSTAND

Finally, keep up therapy and support-group attendance. Even if no one else in your circle understands what you’re going through, regular contact with those experiencing much the same thing will keep you from sliding too far into the self-pity pit.

You don’t have to let lack of understanding drive you back to drugs. Know yourself, learn to like yourself, and have too much respect for yourself to punish yourself for anyone else’s shortcomings!

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