Words Can Be Painful
You probably know that old saying that is often used to discourage bullies who use words as their primary weapon:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
It is a powerful idea, suggesting that we can just rise above whatever nasty things people say to or about us. But it is also wrong.
Words can—and often do—hurt. And in some cases, words can undermine your recovery from a substance use disorder. That is why it is extremely important that you avoid toxic people in your life who may use words in negative ways. It is also extremely important to learn how to keep yourself from allowing your inner monologue to damage you and thus threaten your sobriety.
Let’s look at the ways words can, in fact, hurt you.
Turn Away from Toxic People
Toxic people can sometimes seem like a friend—maybe even a friend you have had for a long time. In fact, the momentum of a long relationship can make it harder to identify when a person is having a negative impact on your life. But there are some telltale signs that someone in your life is a threat to your sobriety.
For example, you may notice that spending time with the person in question generally drains you and causes you to feel sad or mad rather than energized and uplifted. Perhaps this person frequently criticizes you about small things or compares you unfavorably to themselves or to other shared acquaintances. Maybe they constantly remind you of mistakes you have made—they might even have a habit of bringing up your substance use disorder—and never seem to celebrate your successes.
Once you recognize that a person in your life is doing you more harm than good, you have to take a difficult step. Because a toxic person can be such a threat to your recovery that you will be best served by ending the relationship. A brief but honest conversation is called for, and then it is important that you follow through. No meetups, no texts, no social media interaction, no calls. You can count on your real friends—those who are supportive of your efforts to maintain your sobriety—to help you set and maintain boundaries.
All of that is hard enough. But what if the person whose words are hurting you is, well, you?
Inject Positivity Into the Inner Monologue
Most of us have a little voice in our head who is, for lack of a better way to put it, narrating our lives back to us. And that might be just fine if our inner narrator was committed to an objective view of things.
But much of the time, the little voice describing our lives to us has opinions—sometimes quite strong opinions. And those strong opinions are often quite negative.
For example, you have probably heard your inner commentator suggest that you are not going to accomplish your goals, that you are not smart enough to figure out something tricky, or that you do not have the qualities people are looking for in their friends. Your inner voice may even have suggested that you will not be able to avoid relapsing.
It is disappointing and demoralizing when you find you can’t even root for yourself to succeed. But the good news is that you can take some steps to change the story your inner narrator is telling you. You might try mindfulness meditation or daily affirmations or a gratitude journal—each of which can help you focus on the good in the present moment rather than worry about the future or wallowing in regrets of the past.
Give Yourself Some Grace
You can also commit to giving yourself some grace. Sure, you are going to make mistakes and have setbacks. But your inner commentator does not need to harp on them. Instead, pause and remind yourself that mistakes and setbacks are part of life (and recovery), but that they don’t have to define you or set your course forever.
The key here is to remember that your inner voice is you—and to use what it has to say to build yourself up rather than tearing yourself down.
Words of Wisdom: Get the Help You Need
If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, The Aviary Recovery Center can help. We offer evidence-based, personalized detoxification and rehabilitation services that can help you regain and maintain your sobriety. We can also address any co-occurring mental health disorders (which may be at least partially responsible for your inner voice’s tendency to be negative) and provide you with resources and support that will enable you to start your recovery journey with confidence.