I saved this cute comic to include in an activity packet for the weekly counseling group I run at work. It’s supposed to be a self-esteem group, and as someone who spent 40+ years looking for worthiness in good grades, academic awards, athletic victories, praise from authority figures, attention from dudes, social media “likes,” blog comments and, ultimately, liquor bottles, I could think of no more relevant discussion topic for one of our hour-long sessions than “External vs. Internal Validation.”
But then I found myself Googling “how to do internal validation” and realized I had zero information to impart, let alone strategies and solutions to share, on that subject.
The part of the brain that sends organic approval signals might’ve been missing in me at birth, and I just recently started trying to investigate its absence. So while I could hold a three-day seminar on the dangers of seeking external validation (PM me if interested 😉), when it comes to “WTF do we do about it?” I’d just be standing at the front of the room, stiffly reading off a print-out from Psychology Today.
Well, I do know I that “quitting drinking/drugging” is a great first step. Yes, it’s literally Step One of the traditional 12, and it’s easy to see why. Whether or not you subscribe to a particular “program” to get/stay sober, you WILL wake up your brain (if only a little), open up your heart (if only a crack), and discover (or re-discover) a few things about yourself when you eliminate deleterious substances from your daily diet.
You never know what you’re going to get from the recovery process after that. Every day presents a new point of reckoning, and the journey is nonlinear. Feeling comfortable in your own skin without being intoxicated isn’t something that overtakes you like a tidal wave; in my experience, it’s more like a drip, drip, drip, slowly filling you with…I’m not even sure what to call it. Pride? Assuredness? Efficacy? Validity?
Yes, I think it’s possible that if we keep letting it drip, we eventually reach a point where we feel valid. As in, enough, just as we are, no matter what is happening out there in the world.
That hope has been 46 months in the making. As of today, I’ve been booze-free for 3 and 10/12 years, and I can honestly say I do feel good about myself, deep down inside, when I reflect on all the changes I’ve made since walking away from alcohol on July 7, 2019. Sure, some of those changes are clearly visible, and maybe even laudable, from the outside — grad school enrollment, employment as a therapist, unabashed PDAs with my husband of going on 16 years — but the feeling I’m talking about exists independent of any feedback or reinforcement from the outside world.
I honestly don’t think I’ve been able to say that about anything else, ever.
After what I’ve seen in recovery circles and the drug & alcohol treatment community, I think beating an addiction is one of the toughest things a human being can do. Breaking a physical/emotional/psychological dependence on something that keeps you stuck in a destructive vicious cycle when it’s so much easier to just stay stuck and slide on off to the grave…IDK, seems kind of super-human to me.
Not only am I NOT ashamed to identify as a recovering addict, it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life. And I know others like me share that sentiment. Peep this recent quote from Jamie Lee Curtis, who has spoken openly about her past addiction to painkillers:
That’s a very rich, very famous Oscar-winner talking, y’all, and I think that proves my point. The pinnacle of external validation pales in comparison to internal certainty — whatever that means to you, as an individual — and the priceless, irreplaceable peace and serenity that comes from living your truth according to your values.
I wouldn’t have gotten sober if I didn’t, on some level, value my own life. And I feel like recovery has proven to me that yes, my little life does have value, and true value is not measured in achievements and accolades or their attention or their approval. I can’t give that elusive internal certainty to the folks in my weekly counseling group or individual therapy sessions, or any of the clients I will (hopefully) see in the private practice I dream of building one day. But now that I know it exists, I feel like I can freely give what I do have — my full, authentic self — and it might be enough.
Hooray for 46 months and semester #5 both officially being in the books! 🥳 Forgive me if I felt like “humble bragging” about it on Instie…