Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The only true love is self love

One of my readers recently commented on my Valentine’s Day post, asking me to expand on the meaning of self love, a topic that’s important for anyone recovering from addiction.

Individuals can spend a lifetime looking for someone to love. Others remain in toxic, unhealthy relationships as adults because they do not love themselves. In order to keep the relationship afloat, they distort who they are and they deny their own needs. But the reality is that, until we accept, honor and truly love ourselves, it is very difficult to establish a loving relationship with another person.

Often times the concept of self-love is confused with selfishness and narcissism. Many of us were raised with the idea that love requires denying our own needs for the good of others. We have this false belief that in order to prove that we love someone, we must do what they want or need. This creates an obstacle to self discovery and self honesty. It is fertile ground for guilt and shame to be the prime motivators in our lives.

In a sense we are taught from early childhood to be dishonest and to deny who we are. If we feel resentment toward our loved ones we have to deny that feeling because we believe it is not loving. The resentment creates feelings of guilt and shame, so we try to cover it up by lying to ourselves and acting as if everything is “ok”. This behavior becomes second nature – just another automatic response that we engage in without thinking.

Love is something we share; it is a gift we give to others. When we give love away we often do it at our own expense. In order to achieve a measure of self love, an individual must believe that their needs are just as important as anyone else’s. Not more important, but certainly not less. If we don’t believe we are worthy of our own love, what value does that love have to others? How do we allow others to love us?

There is a difference between sharing love and giving it away. It’s impossible to share love or anything else unless we have enough for ourselves, and for that we must nurture ourselves and keep our love “reserves” full.

It is no easy task to practice self love. It requires that we be kind and gentle with ourselves and that we put forth the effort to learn who we are and what we need. We can start by identifying things that make us feel good about ourselves, like finally getting to read that book that’s been sitting on our night table, or embarking on that exotic vacation we’ve been dreaming about for years. Paying careful attention to the way we talk to ourselves and eliminating the negative voices in our head is another way we can be caring. Most of us are quick to criticize, but we forget to compliment, so we need to practice positive affirmations and compliment ourselves often.

Learning to love ourselves requires courage, self knowledge and self honesty. Working a twelve step program and/or talking to a qualified, dedicated professional are good ways to find out who we are and what our needs are. For this we need a willingness to get better, and an open mind to ask for help, two traits that will lead us on the path to a Sober Mind.

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” --Buddha

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Can celebrities recover on camera? I don't think so.

I’m not a big fan of movies or television but recently many of my patients have encouraged me to watch Dr. Drew’s show, Celebrity Rehab. Recovery is a serious and personal process and I have strong objections to programs that sensationalize an individual’s life-and-death struggle. Perhaps I am just out of the loop and behind the times but I don’t understand what if any potential benefit there is in commercializing a life-threatening illness.

The episodes of Celebrity Rehab that I watched were very confusing and distressing. It is not clear what treatment if any these patients are receiving. The environment appeared almost festive and chaotic. The casual nature of the intake did not communicate the seriousness of the illness. And taping the arrival of an addict to a rehab facility for a TV show can foster their sense of grandiosity, which is counterproductive to recovery.

Hollywood’s main purpose is to create fantasy, and success as an actor or performer requires being able to convince the audience of an altered reality. But in order to recover from addiction, a patient needs to begin to face his or her reality honestly, to acquire some sense of humility and to start to let go of their denial. It must be doubly hard for an artist be real and honest when they’re constantly praised for “putting on an act”. And then on top of that they’re being asked to show their vulnerabilities for the whole world to see.

There are a number of personality traits that are usually shared by persons suffering from addiction. Self importance, dishonesty, the love of drama and chaos are just a few. It is my professional judgment that these character flaws cannot be overcome in front of a camera on national television.

Addicts, whether they’re famous or not, need to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any other sick person. The recuperation process should be kept private and confidential, and should not be exploited for profit. At some point celebrities suffering from addiction need to be encouraged to be ordinary human beings, to be themselves, instead of the carefully crafted, false image that the industry wants them to fulfill. That’s how they get better, and that's how they can slowly attain a Sober Mind.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

On this day when many of us are feeling sad because we don't have that special Valentine, I would like to share one of my favortie quotes:

Pearl S. Buck:
"I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up."

The greatest love of all is the love you give to yourself.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Heath Ledger: A Preventable Tragedy

It is always unsettling to hear of a young person’s untimely death, especially when these deaths could have been prevented. This week the medical examiner confirmed that Heath Ledger died of an accidental drug overdose, but in my opinion, there is no such thing. His death was an accident in the sense that there is no way to know what was in Heath Ledger’s mind, and he may not have intended to kill himself. However, he clearly was not taking his medications as prescribed or this would not have occurred. Instead of trying to blur the problem, the media should focus on the reality. The man was not evil nor was he a hero - he was a sick person who suffered from at the very least substance abuse or at the most substance dependence. He was clearly unable to control his intake and as a result took more than required and died. Public awareness could be his legacy. Instead of trying to spin the reasons for Heath Ledger’s tragic death, we could use this opportunity to enlighten and inform the public about how to deal with the difficult issues that we face in life. The media should focus on how to save lives instead of trying to conceal the reality of his obvious suffering and subsequent death. Why did he have so many different prescriptions? What were they prescribed for? How could his problems been handled differently? These are the questions to be asked.

For more of my thoughts on this, listen to my podcast! I was interviewed this week regarding Heath Ledger by Take 12 Radio. To download the MP3 click here.