Tag Archives: addiction

Where do you belong?

As human we are designed to belong. Although, we default to ensuring our basic needs (food, water, warmth) are met – if we’re going to feel secure, feel valued and grow we need to belong. If we do not belong we fell empty, unhappy and in pain.
For most of us, we’ll feel we belong to a family. This may be just a couple of people, it does not have to be the conventional 2.4 kids type family, its members may be step, half or adopted, it doesn’t really matter. If your family is where you belong, they will be people you know you can rely on.
Other people will not have a family unit and will need to seek belonging elsewhere. Some people will feel valued at work and will have a group of colleagues they can rely on, others will find a hobby that fits the bill – there’s no shame in spending hours with the model railway club, the local cycling club or being an active member of the neighbourhood watch scheme, as long as doing this gives you a sense of who you are.
Some people will belong to a faith group. Most religions use language such as “family of God”, “church family” or “society of friends” when describing the group of people who gather for fellowship. The family extends beyond the weekly meetings – there’s a feeling of belonging to a global network.
If you do not have a strong sense of belonging, unfortunately there will be a sense of something being missing but there may not but, not necessarily, an understanding of exactly what it is and the gap may be filled in other ways.
Substance misuse is a common gap filler. The alcohol or drugs will never let you down, they are always there for you and the feeling is predictable. Substances do a good job of temporarily filling the gap – unfortunately, human beings need human contact and substance misuse tends to push people away. The person may turn away from the addiction, become ‘clean’, but if they still do not belong anywhere, their addiction inevitably will return.
Young adults from troubled backgrounds may offend and find a sense of belonging in prison. We wonder why people re-offend – when released ex-offenders are given £46, low employment hopes and limited support. If they do not have family or friends, trying to find where they belong can be impossible, the pull of the ready-made group in prison is understandable.
Mental illness can be both be a symptom of, be perpetuated by and perpetuate a lack of belonging. A lack of belonging may lead to the mental illness, prevalence of anxiety and depression and particularly high but people may develop all sorts of symptoms to cope with what is lacking in their lives. When mentally unwell you feel ‘other’, ‘odd’, like no one understands – if you lack a sense of belonging, the psychiatric world can provide that for you. It can be helpful to be immersed in self help groups, support groups and therapy – these are all going to help with recovery. But there comes a time when you need to find belonging elsewhere – who else are you? Do you identify as ‘disordered’ or could you find identity within a family, group of friends or in the work place?
In a world where we can be in contact 24/7 we’re less connected than ever – this can impact our sense of belonging. Is there anything you’re using to fill the gap?
Are you constantly on the look out for the location of you next selfie? Could you leave your phone at home for 48 hours?
Do you put exercise ahead of meeting friends? Could you choose a more sociable exercise? Or, do you need to re-priorities?
Are you a family who eat in front of the TV? Try turning the TV off and talking to each other, maybe just once a week to start with! Really connecting with those around you is important, our well-being depends on it!
Where do you want to belong? Will they fulfil your needs? Will they value you? Will you feel secure and loved by these people?
Beware though, accepting yourself has to be a priority – belonging to other people cannot fill a void left by not loving yourself.

Taking responsibility is empowering

It’s very easy to blame other people for our feelings. We may say “he made me so angry” or “you’re so irritating”, we all do it in the heat of the moment. But by using this language we are shirking responsibility for our own emotions.

It’s also quite attacking if someone says something like this. I once asked some honest questions of a friend, meant in the kindest way, I asked if she felt she was making progress in her recovery or whether the treatment she was receiving was keeping her stuck. I always want the best for my friends and living in hospital isn’t the life I want for anyone, let alone someone I care about. I later heard that following my visit she self harmed and was blaming me for this. Of course, I felt awful but I was also confused – I did not give her the harmful implement, I did not stand over her and make her do it – how could I be responsible for her harming herself? In this moment I vowed never to blame anyone else for my behaviour. If I self harmed (something I haven’t done for many years) I knew it was me that chose to do it – yes, at times, it did not feel like a choice but no one else made me do it, therefore responsibility lay with me.

Taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions can be difficult, even scary but I think it’s a vital part of mental health recovery. It can also be a helpful thing for anyone indulging in harmful behaviour. How easy is it to say, “I’ve had such a stressful day, I need a drink” for example.

If we stop and think about the thoughts we’re having and the feelings that have developed, we can choose how we behave. How empowering is that?!
If I’ve had a stressful day, it’s natural for me to lose my appetite, for other people, they may be inclined to eat more, or drink alcohol, or behave in a snappy way towards other people. But ultimately, no matter what feels natural, we can choose to go along with this or we can choose to act in an opposing way.

Anorexia is a illness where the sufferer converts distressing thoughts and feelings into avoiding food. For me, the thoughts and feelings were unbearable but avoiding food was something tangible I could do. In recovery, the neural pathways that connected painful feelings with avoiding food were well trodden. I was told, to recover, I needed to eat but no one could make me eat. It was me who had to make the effort. If I managed to get through a challenging meal, that was down to me. Yes, I’d appreciate any support given, but I was responsible for my actions.

I’m definitely not saying that mental illness is a choice – no one would deliberately choose for their brain to malfunction! If we are at a point where we’re able to engage in therapy and/or if medication is helping with the chemical imbalances, we can start to take back our lives, bit by bit, we can choose how we react to our changing condition. Of course, mental illness recovery is a lot more complicated than a few simple choices but if we do not take responsibility, we’re never going to get anywhere!

Anyone can fall into habitual behaviour. For example always having a drink with a meal or staying in bed when feeling low or anxious. These neural pathways are familiar and feel ok, familiar, safe, “normal” even!

It can be incredibly diffciult to break familiar patterns of behaviour or to build new patterns, especially if there are elements of behavioural or chemical addiction involved. When breaking or making habits, we often talk about will power and we feel like we don’t have enough of this elusive product! However, we can choose to be disciplined by making this decision:

What do we want now? vs what do we want most?

Do I want to have a drink, to binge, to sit on the sofa, to say ‘yes’ to something that will tire me out, to say ‘no’ to something because I’m scared…


Do I want to take responsibility for being a healthy, happpier me?

I know it’s not easy! But it is possible for us to take responsibility for our decision and take control of our lives!

How do you love someone who doesn't love themselves?

It can be absolutely devastating to watch someone self destruct. This can be through drugs, alcohol, an eating disorder, self harm or more subtly through constant self deprecating thoughts and language. I’m not talking about someone who doesn’t like the odd characteristic in themselves but someone embroiled in these behaviours who has a deep seated hatred of themselves.
It can absolutely rip your heart out when you know someone is doing themselves harm and the way out seems painfully obvious. 
If someone is taking drugs or drinking too much, if only they would stop…
If someone is ravaged by restricting and binge eating, if only they would eat regularly…

I’ve watched close friends make the same mistakes time after time and they turn to me in desperation. I know if only they could respect themselves, they could break their destructive cycles and they’d start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But they don’t believe they deserve respect from anyone, let alone themselves.
Watching someone in pain, at times can feel like you’re grieving. Where is the person? How do they not see themselves as you see them? Why are they in so much pain? It’s important to be honest about this grief. You have not lost them but if this is how it feels, be honest, at this moment, they may still be there in body but if their mind is not all there, they can feel missing.

I have been both the person watching on and the person being watched.
Until recently, I had no idea what it meant to even feel ok about myself. I feared that if I liked myself, I would be arrogant so I ran in the opposite direction and I hated myself. From a young teen I travelled through various self destructive behaviours always with an internal self loathing running commentary. I pushed everyone away at the same time as I cried out for their help. I would say I was incredibly hard to love.
There are no simple answers but here are a few of my thoughts.
Accept that, although the answer looks obvious to you, you are unlikely to be able to, nor is it your job to fix the person. Even if the person in pain is your son or daughter for whom you feel responsible, they are their own person, you can only advise and guide, you cannot fix. When I accept this, I find I have more space to do what I can do.
Consider what you are doing, good enough. Whatever you do, you will be showing love. People show and receive love in different ways, this may not be the time to have a deep conversation about exactly what’s right for them but if you show love through words, actions or gifts, keep going. Sometimes just being there is all that is needed or possible, just keep being there.

Make sure you get the support you need. Acknowledge that you are going through a tough time too. You might feel grief or anger, fear or shear desperation, no emotion is wrong. Give yourself some TLC or ask for it from others, there’s no point in your life veering off too!
It is likely that time after time someone in self-destruct mode will push you away, this can feel like a personal attack but try not to see it that way. Give them time and space (this will show them love) but do go back and let them know you’re still there for them.
As hard as it is, almost impossible at times, remember that the person you love is in there somewhere. No matter how hard they try to push you away, no matter how much they hate themselves, no matter how destructively they are behaving, they are the same person underneath.

People do not behave destructively for no reason, they are not deliberately trying to cause you pain. Most people in this position have not been shown the love or emotional care they need, for this they will need professional help. If at all possible, they need someone to remember who they are beyond the destructive behaviour and love them for who they are. You do not have to condone or even accept what they’re doing, just love the person underneath.
Healing can and does occur.