Mrs. W. described herself as being a “social drinker”. So much so that her friends and family joined together in an intervention, to send her to a treatment center. Although she protested furiously, she eventually succumbed to their collective decision. When she left the treatment center, the staff agreed that she successfully completed the program. However, they failed to foresee that the person who returned home would be a far more bitter, hostile, unhappy woman than the one they initially treated.
John was a “type A” person. As a consequence, his business prospered and grew, until the day he decided to sell at a figure far exceeding anything he ever imagined he’d have. He no longer needed to work. He had finally reached the point where he could decide whether to work, take a vacation, go fishing or travel. He should have been happy. But he wasn’t. He became discontent with his marriage, his family and his life. He saw it as empty, lacking in warmth and communication, and devoid of excitement and stimulation.
Allison was a health addict. She ate well, controlled her diet, ran three to six miles, four days a week and, on alternate days, worked out with weights. She allowed nothing to interfere with her regimen. That was difficult to criticize in light of her outward appearance, which clearly illustrated the benefits of her efforts. The remaining time, she was a happy homemaker, good mother, great cook and fun to be with. At least until the day she severely strained her hamstring, fell to the ground and broke her ankle. From the moment she left the doctor’s office, her behavior changed. She was irritable, sullen, disgruntled and negative. She found fault with everyone and everything. All of which she attributed to her physical injury.
Each of these individuals were deprived of their self medication, which can come in many forms - pills, drugs, alcohol, gambling and excessive preoccupation with anything from children to athletics or work. Even if they’re socially acceptable, they are still ways you can hide from problems and stress. They can serve to blind you to facets of your own being, such as hidden emotions, conflicts, insecurities and fears you’re unable to face, reluctant to own and unwilling to share with anyone whose opinion is important to you. The reason is obvious. You must feel there is something in you so unacceptable you can’t own it, much less let anyone else see it, so it’s better to be angry, drunk, depressed or even physically sick than face it.
The irony is, the self medicating behavior you first used as a coping technique to help you avoid seeing yourself or sharing yourself is later frequently perceived by others as far more noxious than if you had allowed them to see you for who you are.
To some degree, everyone has coping techniques. They allow you, at least in your own mind, to function in what you consider a healthy manner. But, the real question is, what’s healthy? In most instances, human beings tend to define healthy behavior as what is politically correct, socially acceptable, or condoned by authority figures, such as parents, teachers or religious leaders. Rarely, however, do we attribute it to the wherewithal to be who you want to be, do what satisfies you, maintain a rational self image and act in accordance with your own inner desires. Most of you live life from the outside in. The criteria you use to determine what you should do and how you should be is rarely based on what you prefer. After all, from the time you were a little kid, people said to you, “Be good, be sweet, be nice”, or, “You ate all of that? You didn’t save some for me? You’re selfish, bad and lacking in compassion.” Society says, “Don’t do as you would do, but as what others would have you do.” It may give verbal acknowledgment to being your own person and thinking for yourself, but, pragmatically, most of society’s efforts are directed toward controlling you. You’re told, “think outside the box”, but then they deduct credit for not following the rules. As a result, most individuals learn quite well how to fit in, blend, discount their own desires and feelings, and not to express unpopular opinions, to avoid making waves. Eventually, you become adept at writing between the lines, connecting each dot and coloring things appropriately. Leaves are green, trunks are brown, the sky is blue. You know that, because you get A’s when you choose the right colors and get ridiculed when you deviate. Isn’t that what childhood is all about, teaching people how to say the right things and behave in the right ways? And who can argue with that? Except that, perhaps, we push conformity to the degree that we obscure and discourage individuality, creativity, spontaneity and originality.
In effect, you spend your life hiding who and what you are, not allowing yourself to be viewed by others and sometimes not even by yourself. You fit in, but you experience anxiety, stress, anger, irritability and depression. To deal with these painful emotions, you seek out medication. Most of you, long before you consult a physician or therapist, wind up self medicating. But there is another, healthier way. Open your eyes to who you are, accept your limitations, appreciate and become excited about your uniqueness, and risk ridicule and disapproval of others in order to feel pleased with what you do, what you say and what you feel. It will ensure that you never require medication and that others will say about you, “what you see is what you get.”