Letter from my future self
I want you to think about how you manage your behaviour, social life, and personal decisions so that you achieve the positive outcomes (contentment) you desire.
Everyone has positive and negative feelings about themselves and others, and I would like you to spend time on more accurately identifying your emotions as they arise, and being able to separate out the ones that are useful to you, that get things done and resolved, and those that simply perpetuate situations which are not helpful to you. I want you to be more in tune with how you think and feel and know when you are being self-destructive, and be able to do something to offset that. Acting in an irrational manner and being counter-productive to what you really want can be nipped in the bud if you spend more time managing your feelings at particularly stressful times.
I would like you to develop a wider vocabulary to describe how you are feeling, rather than ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and be more specific in your word choices, so you get a deeper insight into exactly what is going on when the anxiety strikes, what is causing it and then what you need to do about it. Rather than think, ‘I am feeling terrible’, be able to say specifically what that ‘terrible’ means, and work through how it can be alleviated.
I like the fact that you are curious about what is going on around you and I want you to develop that curiosity and continue to write about it and explore how it feels to be in others’ shoes. I like the fact that you are open to change and able to think on your feet, and that you understand that to avoid change is to avoid potentially life changing opportunities. Having a plan to deal with change is also a good idea, but don’t let it become anxiety about change, because change can be healthy and welcome. So when you feel anxiety about change developing, again do some work to specifically identify your true feelings and what is going on behind what is essentially fear.
I am so happy you are starting to understand more about your strengths and weaknesses, now you are free of the numbing potion. You are starting to learn what people and situations push your buttons, either to help you succeed and motivate you, or which drag you down, or which send you into hyperspace. As you learn more about yourself I want you to use your knowledge to help you succeed and stop behaviours happening that used to hold you back because they were ultimately self-destructive.
You have not always been a good judge of character and in the past this has led you into poor decisions, based on what you wanted people to be rather than what they were, or were doing. You are learning to ‘read’ people more accurately and to be decisive about who you spend your time with, and there is less mystery around people for you. I want you to keep developing this reading of people, this nose, and make it work for you not against you. Be open minded, but have your boundaries in place. You are getting better at setting boundaries; you just need to work on being more in control of your emotions when you state these boundaries.
Many times you have got yourself offended by things people have done and said and then a spiral of behaviours develop in yourself and others, which are not helpful to you. I want you to spend less time being offended by others, because it is a waste of your energy, and to further develop your self-confidence and open mindedness, so you can move on quickly from situations without them escalating emotionally. You are getting much better at keeping negative emotions out of discussions than you used to be, and I want you to continue your work on this. I also want you to consciously use humour to draw a line, and to know when to use humour to diffuse. You are becoming more difficult to offend and I want this process to continue.
Becoming better at emotion control is a central aim for you. Learning more about delaying self-gratification and not acting impulsively to gratify are key aims for you to work on. Developing strategies for making yourself wait, think and identify your true emotions is going to pay dividends in terms of your health and wellbeing. Being able to delay gratification will improve your levels of anxiety, guilt, shame, and even the depression which creeps up on you from time to time. This can also involve learning to say no more often, whether to yourself, or to others. Using ‘I don’t think’, ‘I’m not certain’, ‘I will have to think about it’, are all get out clauses which you should work on eliminating when a straightforward no is in order.
You make mistakes, just like everyone else. Show me a person who hasn’t made mistakes…I want you to focus on forgiving yourself for your mistakes, even though you must learn from them. Mistakes are very handy as learning tools, but stop dwelling on them and ruminating about what ifs. They are done, so move on, and change how you do things next time. Mistakes are chances to self-improve and be a better person. You fall down, you get up and keep on walking forward.
I enjoy the fact that you like to work on behalf of others, I like that about you and want it to continue. It gives me deep satisfaction you are able to help, without thinking of anything in return. I like the fact that you remember stuff about people and it gives them and you pleasure to know you have listened and understood. I like the fact that building relationships and being responsive is important to you and you are good at it. Keep up the good work. However I also think that you need to give yourself time to be alone even when you feel obligated to be with others.
Sometimes you have a tendency to hold grudges. You sometimes think of your decision to hold grudges as strength but actually it is a stress response and will do you no good. Thinking about grudges generates stress responses of fight or flight, and the survival mode that was so much a feature of your past life – those rolling stone days are over. Holding on makes you poorly and has to stop. Let go of the grudge and forgive and move on. Work on this consciously when you feel the stress rising. Identify the specific emotions, understand why they are happening, and deal with them.
It is hard to be kind and generous when dealing with frustrating and difficult people, no denying that! It is even more important in these circumstances to be in control of your feelings. Rational thought and behaviour is the most effective way to neutralise a toxic person. I want you to practise not letting your own emotions fuel chaos. Think carefully about others’ points of view, even if you don’t agree, and try to find common ground rather than going off the deep end or joining in an emotion fuelled discussion. Remember rational. Take people with a grain of salt, as they say, and just because they continue their behaviour, it doesn’t mean you have to follow or participate.
One of the things you are struggling with is the need to feel perfect. To know that everything is as it should be. Life is never going to be like that. Not having the state of perfection will always make you feel like you are fighting off failure, and in the end that can make you want to give up. You do what you do in the best way you can and as long as you are trying, you have nothing to reproach yourself for. I want you to stop lamenting what you have not achieved and focus more actively on what you have. Repeat this process often. Think of what you are going to achieve and how exciting that will be. Move forward with your new knowledge.
You have already found that gratitude is a hugely inspiring and liberating emotion. Practising gratitude actively is a new skill you have learned since getting sober. It makes you feel better to remember all the good stuff and be happy for that. Keep doing this!
I want you to consider switching off. This doesn’t mean running away, but it does mean spending less time tuned in. When you are available all the time and constantly checking to see if you are needed, your stress levels never get a chance to dip. I want you to make a conscious effort to spend less time online and allow the flow to happen without you. It will anyway. You are dispensable, trust me on that. Write your stories, explore your ideas, draw your pictures, work in your garden, and give the internet, email, and your phone, less of your time. You have known you have an addiction to social media for some time, and I want you to address this, for your own wellbeing. The caffeine habit runs alongside the internet habit, and that needs to be addressed too. Life will feel easier as a result.
Sleep has been an issue for you for some time and without doubt this is linked to all of the above. When you operate with constant sleep deprivation, you have less chance of being clear headed and being able to control your emotions. So I want you to really focus on what makes quality sleep and work out some goals for achieving better sleep. I also want you to make time for resting, where your diary is clear and you simply rest. You are getting quite good at meditating and I want you to develop this skill because you feel so much better for it afterwards.
One of your greatest enemies is the negative self-talk which has the power to stop you in your tracks and bring you down. It is so important to remember this type of behaviour is based on emotion, not fact. The scenarios you panic about almost never happen! I want you to focus on your panic thoughts when they happen and talk yourself free, even if you have to stop certain commitments and activities at the time to do this. Don’t just dismiss the thoughts in the hope that they go away…bring them up for examination and sort them out, rather than allowing rumination to develop.
Being reliant on what other people say to you and about you is never going to bring you the contentment you are seeking. Where this is the case you will always be at the mercy of others’ feelings and opinions. That is a very stressful and hurtful place to be, much of the time. It brings an adrenalin high to be told something wonderful by someone else, of course, but that feeling can be as addictive as alcohol, and to depend on the comments of others is going to leave you stuck. It is time to stop striving for the top spot in the approval stakes. It is time to find your inner strength and rely on what you think of yourself, not depend on the words of others. Kind words are a bonus, but not your reason for getting up in the morning.
I will write to you again in another six months Binki, but in the meantime, look after yourself, and I mean that in all the ways mentioned above.