Changing My Inner Dialogue
I was recently talking to a fellow addict and he asked me, “What was the major transformation that occurred in yourself when you got sober?” I had to pause and think for a minute before it came to me: my inner dialogue about myself.
Your inner dialogue is conceived during your formative years. Your sense of self comes from personal experiences you have encountered and believed about yourself throughout your lifetime.
The process and effects of these inner conversations are similar to affirmations. Constant thinking about the negative thoughts affects your subconscious mind until it eventually accepts these negative thoughts and words. As addicts, we become bound by these negative beliefs. It can have an adverse effect on the behavior, judgement, and general performance an individual has. Recovery can reverse these effects and you can start changing your inner dialogue.
I wasn’t aware of my own inner dialogue at an early age. I knew I was different from other boys my age, but I didn’t know exactly why. As we all know, kids can be cruel. I was the victim of a constant barrage of words like “sissy”, “queer” and “fag.” I grew up with that old belief of “sticks and stones”, but in reality words do hurt and if you hear those words long enough you start believing them. My inner dialogue was born.
It wasn’t until I took my first drink and drug that I found some kind of comfort in the liquid courage. I found my group of friends in my teenage years that shared similar interests. That interest was getting high and getting drunk. When I went to college, I assimilated into the gay group of friends where every night was a constant party at the local gay bars. Back in the early eighties, if you wanted to meet other gay men, the only place to go was the bars.
Of course, being young and barely above the legal age, you drink and drink to hide your insecurities and shame of a lifestyle that was not as accepted as it is in society. Shame and insecurities continued to add to my inner dialogue every day. This way of living continued throughout college and into my mid-thirties.
Coming out to my family was the last thing I ever wanted to do. But it eventually came to a head when I was 29. I don’t know why it took so long. At the time, I had a friend who was recently diagnosed with HIV. I had told my parents that I was upset because of this. Their response was to ask me if I thought I had it. I tried to explain my concerns about my friend but that fell on deaf ears. All I could hear was the shame, anger and disgust.
My inner dialogue was continuing to grow. In the true Southern fashion, my parents seemed to ignore my newfound secret and we never talked about it. The silence and shame was deafening. As time continued to pass, I only talked to my family about general everyday happenings and never talked about my personal life. They never questioned it and seemed to be fine about not knowing what was happening with me in my personal life.
The last time I let my parents in on my personal life was when I was in my last long term relationship. I was wanting to buy a Christmas present for my partner and a family member owned a shop where I could purchase it. When I told my parents what I was going to do, my parents were very outspoken and insisted that I not do that. The shame and my personal self-worth had finally hit its limit. From that point on the conversations I had with my family were general to say the least.
My inner dialogue was finally complete. I was filled with shame and guilt. I was worthless and defeated. For the next ten years, I isolated myself and drowned what was left of my being in alcohol and drugs. I was angry at my family, society, and the world in general. I could have probably been a very dangerous person at the time, but I had lost my self-worth, identity, and my will to live.
When I went to treatment, I couldn’t even hold my head up or look anyone in the eye. I was so fortunate to have great therapists and mentors that helped me see the value in myself. Once the fog of that alcohol and drug fueled brain began to lift, I started seeing myself in a different light. I began to get my voice back. As the months passed, I began to feel empowered. As the years passed, I began to start believing in myself rather that what other people thought of me. One of the simplest things that I learned was “What other people think of you is none of your business”. The whole transformation of being in recovery and being self-confident began to chip away at my inner dialogue. After being clean for three years, the shame and guilt is gone. Today I am a fighter!
Today my relationship with my family has changed. I voice my opinions. They might not like it, but I am heard. I know that my parents did the best they could with what they were given. I have learned to forgive. Being present in my life has only strengthened the relationship that I have with them today.
If you would like to share your story with Heroes in Recovery, you can email me at: Bo@heroesinrecovery.com. Please comment on my blog and share it! Be part of the solution by helping break the stigma associated with substance use and mental health disorders!