I hope this hurts exactly enough for you to never do it again
A few weeks ago my Apple Watch made the tragic decision to end its own life, leaping face-first from my bathroom countertop onto the cold hard tile below. I was saddened and then - briefly - angered by the loss. I liked my Apple Watch, and it was now lying shattered beyond use on the ground, and I felt a powerful urge to punish the person responsible for taking it away from me.
Inanimate objects and I have always had a difficult relationship, one that was especially painful during my drinking days. I was frequently subject to cruel and unprovoked assaults by doorframes and sidewalks and dark parked cars. My valuables feared me and hated me and hid from me, especially when I really needed them. The site of a friend or partner standing cross-armed at the open front door would guarantee that my keys would sprout wings and fly away to some hiding place where I’d never looked for them before.
Every time it happened I felt powerless and stupid, and I asserted myself in the only way that I knew how - I beat myself up in my own head, calling myself names, telling horrible stories about what I really was and how little I was really capable of. It felt good! I felt like justice had been served. I couldn’t guarantee that I would do the right thing next time, but I could certainly guarantee that I could really make myself suffer. Plus, I could beat myself as much as I wanted to - other people tend to assert boundaries and leave when you cause them enough pain, but I had nowhere to run and hide from the desperate abuse that I dished out against myself.
I actually did have one place to hide, namely at the bottom of a bottle. Being drunk helped me feel free and released from the awful story I told myself about what I was, a story that was reinforced each and every time I didn’t do something right. Being drunk tended to increase the rate at which things were lost or broken, which further justified my cruel self-talk, which further inspired me to drink even more.
Cruel self-talk paradoxically led me to do more things that weren’t aligned with my values. It was overwhelming and generated extreme pressure for relief, which led me to do impulsive things like drink and act for instant gratification. It also created a perverse sense that justice had been done - yes, I was behaving selfishly and destructively, but the good news was that I actively hated myself for it the entire time. What more could you want from me?
I thought that getting sober would mean surrendering to that part of me, of being completely and relentlessly overwhelmed by the sense that I was constantly fucking up and failing in my human duties. Getting sober has meant something else - rather than feel crushed by feelings of shame I feel freed from them entirely. I haven’t surrendered to shame as much as I have surrendered shame altogether.
Guilt is still there, when it needs to be. Guilt is just the awareness of acting outside my values, like the pain I feel when I burn my hand on a hot stove. I don’t like the pain I feel when I burn my hand on a hot stove, but I am glad that I feel it - it provides important and motivating feedback about how I should conduct myself when hot stoves are in reach.
So too with my behavior - the pop of guilt I felt when I watched my Apple Watch slide off the counter and crack on the floor is proof that the watch was actually valuable to me, providing information about what I can expect to feel if I allow my stuff to break. I felt it, metabolized it, and moved on with my life.
Part of my recovery has been asserting that I deserve to be happy, and that I deserve to have things in my life that make me happy. So I replaced my Apple Watch, not happy with the expense, but happy that sobriety had yielded enough stability for me to be able to afford it. Another part of my recovery has been asserting that I can tell a positive, uplifting story about myself - that I can adjust my behavior when I need to, that mistakes and errors are inevitable, but that no matter what happens in the world of what I do that there’s ultimately nothing wrong with what I am. My behavior will always need to change as I learn and grow and as the world changes too, and having a positive self-image gives me the foundation I need to take on that change powerfully.
I’m going to have a relationship with myself for the rest of my life, so I might as well make that relationship a good one.