Sober Inspiration: How to Feel Sorry For Yourself

So I read my first Augusten Burroughs book in my very early weeks and months of recovery.  On that occasion it was Dry: A Memoir and what a fantastic book it is too.  This is How is equally as good if not better and I’m going to quote these excerpts from the chapter How to Feel Sorry For Yourself.  It gave me shivers reading this …..

“Self-pity knows it’s hated.  It’s one emotion that lives up to its name: it’s something reserved for the self.  Self-pity is a feeling you allow when you’re alone.  If you allow it when you’re around other people, they fuss at you and never give you the sympathy you want.  So self-pity becomes your private, secret feeling.

I believe self-pity is an emotion from our earliest days, probably among the first emotions we experienced.  You can see self-pity every day if you live near a playground like I do.  Little kids trip or get shoved and they fallover over all the time.  Little kids also know that injuries are an opportunity for extra affection from the adults.

Self-pity isn’t the most accurate description for this feeling because it describes only half of it: sad for me, I’m hurt.  What’s missing is the other half: and you need to do something about it.  In other words, self-pity feels childish to adults.

Which is why self-pity is a very dangerous feeling for any adult to harbour.

It’s one thing to recognize that you’re hurt.  It’s quite healthy, in fact, to see and appreciate your own emotional injuries.  BUT we have to be that adult for ourselves.

Where this healthy self-empathy turns into a malignant self-pity is at the arrival of resentment.  “Fuck everybody.  Nobody gives a shit about me.  Fuck them all.”

That is self-pity and it is dangerous because it signals a lack of accountability for one’s mental state and worse, the outcomes of one’s life.  Self-pity can last for years.  Sometimes, it can last a lifetime.

In pre-school, when somebody hurts us, the teacher sees to it that the person who hurts us apologizes.

It is engrained in us from a very early age that inflicted pain or wrongdoing or unfairness should and will be corrected.

Note the passive phrasing: “be corrected.”  We will not, as children, take control and make sure the amends are delivered in a timely fashion.  That is the job of the teacher.

In adults, self-pity turns darker and more dangerous as no playground rescue arrives.

The feeling solidifies into victimhood.

Somebody with victim mentality believes life has screwed them over.  Somebody with a victim mentality blames everybody else or “them” but takes no responsiblity themselves.

This is the quicksand of life.  Once you have become a victim, you may well remain a victim for the rest of your life.  Taking no responsibility, no action, and, as a result, seeing no change for the better.

The truth is that nobody is owed an apology for anything.  Apologies are lovely when they happen.  But they change nothing.  Thye do not reverse actions or correct damage.  They are merely nice to hear.

The truth is that life is brutally, obscenely unfair.  Fairness is not among the laws of the universe.

Avoid self-pity by taking responsibility for everything that happens to you, even if somebody else is at fault.  By taking responsibility, I don’t mean play doormat.  I mean, repair yourself.  Move forward.  Move on.  Then, only then, see if you can wrangle some empathy.

The truth behind the truth is this: even if you are a victim, you must never be a victim.

Even if you deserve to be one.

Because while you wait for somebody to come along and set things right, life has moved forward without you.”

I think the reason this was such a zinger for me was because when I stopped drinking I wallowed in my own private pity-party for a long time, railing against the world because I thought I could no longer drink and this was horribly unfair.  “Why me?” I cried.  Yes I could argue that things had happened to me in my childhood that were unfair but it was me as an adult who had chosen to drown my distress in alcohol and me who had to take responsibility for what choices I made now.  Tough but true.

What do you think of what he writes?  Does this resonate or hit a nerve for you too?

2 thoughts on “Sober Inspiration: How to Feel Sorry For Yourself

  1. YES! It’s so true, and he did a great job stating it!
    I used to be telling grievance stories, resentments I carried for years. Poor me stories.
    Now that I am sober and have done some hard internal work, I have skills to fight against being victim.
    Action is right.

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