I've always been pretty bad at loving myself.
Growing up, I have always resorted to working more to hide my feeling of inadequacy.
In high school, I would always work on homework more, trying to do better in school to eventually be good enough. I did the same with sports and working out. I was always trying to be good enough, but never got there. I never got close, really.
Once I left for university, out on my own, I was free to hide my pain of feeling inadequate anywhere I wanted. No one was watching me anymore.
After a year of transitioning out of hiding it in school and sports, I moved onto other things. Drugs, binge eating, partying, scrolling, porn, and still, the gym.
The gym is a special one for me, since it has stayed with me as a problem over the years. I took the time to learn more about how denying my body love affected other parts of my life. You can read this piece here.
Writing this piece opened up my eyes to all the other things I hid pain in, but instead of writing five more pieces, I realized they all had the same problem in common.
When we know we need to take action on something, and we don't, pain builds up as the Self and our lives diverge with the passing of time.
I think the greatest way we can love ourselves is spending time on sharing value with the world.
I've wanted to start writing for years (about five). I told myself stories about why I needed to stay down the path I was in. Now, upon reflection, I realize that there was nothing actually preventing me from starting earlier. I just didn't.
Over the past few years, I've learned to hide the pain I've felt from not expressing myself in certain compulsive behaviours.
The important part of the behaviours I engaged in to hide pain was that they take time and attention. The more time and attention they occupied, the less time and attention I would use for pain.
What behaviours, Sam?
It's easy to confuse escaping reality with having fun. Many normal things for university kids, like eating candy and getting drunk can be done for either reason, but they usually look the same from the outside.
We are the only ones that can know for sure if we're using these behaviours to hide from feeling difficult emotions or taking action on fixing hard problems in our life. It's up to us to practice awareness.
It's so easy to carry around pain for years, doing "normal" things to hide it, because to others, it might not look like we're hiding pain. It's up to us to be aware of when we're avoiding action, and to create movement on solving our problems.
How did you stop the pain?
Once I discovered that I was hiding pain in each behaviour, I would cut it out of my life completely. As I have later found out, many of these behaviours hold some of life's greatest beauty, and by cutting them out entirely, I was missing out.
By eliminating these behaviours entirely, I was denying myself love. I mistook the ideal state of being without these things with appreciating them in moderation.
Reintroduction has turned out to be not that easy. Since I've developed such a habit of over-indulging in these behaviours, I realize it's going to take time to train the new habit of enjoying these beautiful parts of life responsibly.
When making any significant life change, this type of frustration from impatience usually comes up. I think it's because it's a lot easier to figure out where want our lives to be than it is to change how our lives actually are. Here is a great article on this point exactly.
While I've had some years to transition away from many of my compulsive beahviours, I am by no means free of all of them, and I'm not sure if I will ever be. Through this transition, I have learned three lessons that may help you on your own journey.
Three Force Multipliers for Overcoming Compulsive/Addictive Behaviours
While these are just a starting point, I believe that if I had the awareness to focus on just one of them earlier, the time to overcoming my behaviours would have been halved.
1. Allowing myself to spend time on something I didn't want to escape from.
For me, this was writing. Once I started, my desire to engage in unloving, pain-hiding behvaiours subsided significantly. By uncovering my greatest pain (not fully expressing myself) and taking action on solving this problem (expressing myself by starting to write), the amount of pain my life to hide subsided significantly.
Instead of wanting to disconnect to the world, eating my way into oblivion (just one example of my compulsive behaviours), I became deeply drawn to food that will fuel me instead. Now, I have an opportunity to share beautiful ideas with the world, and I only want to put things in my body that will help me perform better.
2. Understanding Ego vs. Self/Meditation/Spirituality/Mindfulness
All of these things have helped me create enough space in my life to identify behaviours that were becoming compulsive. Becoming more connected to what's behind reality by reading more about these topics, developing a meditation practice, and practicing mindfulness throughout the day has made compulsive behaviours quite obvious.
While awareness does not actually control these behaviours, it allows me to at least start on the path. Rushing through life, not being able to identify these behaviours as problems didn't even give me a chance.
3. Sobriety/Cutting behaviours out entirely
For many of the behaviours I used to hide pain (drugs, binge eating, partying, scrolling, porn), it was possible to live without spending time on them.
By cutting them out from my life entirely, removing them as an option to hide pain, it was much easier to develop the habit of taking action on solving problems, since it became my only choice.
While I have later found that life is better with a healthy amount of these behaviours than none at all, fully cutting them out of my life has uncovered exactly what parts of these behaviours bring value to me. I've used these areas of value as a guide as I reintroduce these behaviours into my life.
Two Huge Take-Aways
There are tons of points of value I wanted to pack inside this short article, but if you take nothing away, I want to point out what two ideas (absorbing just one can be super valuable too) are most important.
1. Pure Love is unconditional.
Once I realized that there was nothing I needed to do to be deserving of love from myself, things really started opening up for me. I noticed that I was spending most of my time in a state of general unworthiness, always waiting for the next milestone to show love to myself. I would tell myself that once I got 'there', then I would be good enough, worthy of love.
Understanding that this is totally backwards has allowed me experience an indescribably larger sense of presence, enjoyment of day-to-day life, and actually caused me to change where I've been aiming. When I stopped heading towards goals I wanted in order to be worthy of love, I started going towards things that I truly cared about, allowing myself to spend time on things that actually fuel me (without me needed to force it).
Now, I try to spend as much time as I can showing myself love, enjoying the journey of life with a deep sense of presence.
2. Interrupt the pain-hiding procedure with action.
Once I was able to develop the habit of taking action on changes I wanted to make in my life instead of hiding from them, my need for any compulsive behaviour diminished, because I created less pain that needed to be hid.
I would compare making this change to stopping procrastination. In the midst of procrastination, I would feel an urge to do some easy, fun, unimportant task, and I would listen to this urge, interrupting my important work and "procrastinating." Now, after teaching myself to let these urges go when I feel them, I spend significantly less time getting distracted with "play" during work time.
The main point of comparison is that when we're in the habit of responding to a trigger, not responding, or controlling our response in any way seems inconceivable. The first step is forming and maintaining the belief that change is possible, and from there, slowly working to change the responsive behaviour.
The awareness I have gained recently about denying myself love through pain-hiding behaviours is only half the battle. Letting them go fully requires time and action.
I'm still very young, and to be truthful, I haven't really been through much yet. I expect unpredictably large challenges to come up for me in the future, kind of like how no one could have predicted the internet to come in the 1950's. I just don't know what to expect.
And I'm sure these challenges will push me to revert back to some of these seemingly normal behaviours for hiding pain. I expect this.
I expect this because it takes a long time to change habits. And, with a habit as deeply ingrained as hiding pain, and with its many different expressions, I am not sure eliminating this habit is even possible. Maybe it's not even a good idea. Perhaps it's good to use certain behaviours to hide pain as long as they're healthy.
What I do know is that I've made tons of progress overcoming hiding pain by partying too much, doing drugs, watching porn, and scrolling in recent years.
And if I've improved before, I can improve again.
So, I'll keep on working.