Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I relapsed on alcohol shortly after my one year milestone. Since seeking sobriety I have been struggling with health, relationship and employment issues (doubtless therein the problems lie ... I've been struggling...)
My sponsor told me, and I believe they are absolutely right, that I am suffering from self pity. If you've written on it, it was not in your alphabetical sidebar (Categories).
I am needing to know the difference between self-pity and sorrow ... and how to get back on track in recovery... I have had five relapses in the last two months. And yes, I am the same person who wrote to you about doing Step 8. I hung on to my anger and pride instead of doing the work... and relapsed.
How do I get out and stay out of self pity?
Well, first off, it's good to hear from you again, and I'm sorry you're having a tough time of it. I know it sounds silly or flip or cliche, but if you could look in my eyes as I type it hopefully you would see how sincerely I mean this:
I does not matter if you relapse five times if you get sober six.
I know people with a very long time sober and with rock solid sobriety who had as rough a time coming back from relapse as you're having now. Relapsing again is not inevitable.
Personally, I have tremendous hope for you, and that is not empty cheerleading, it is based on the solid tone of taking responsibility for your feelings and your relapses, and asking for help and for your sobriety, which is there for anyone to read in your email.
Now then, the difference between self-pity and sorrow is that the former is about what you're thinking and the latter is about how you're feeling
Sorrow, sadness, melancholy... this is from my heart. This is an emotional response, depending on circumstances or events a normal and healthy one. Sobriety is not about putting all my emotions on a pie chart and labeling some as "good" and some as "bad" (or "supposed to feel" and "not supposed to feel" or whatever lingo you're working). You feel how you feel.
What I think about ... now that's where alcoholism likes to play. Self-pity, for me, is the act of thinking about my sadness. And actually, it's the act of thinking about how I wish things were different, or things are unfair for me, or I've had a hard go of it, or I screwed it up and now for me it's going to be ... and then I'm ... but not for me ... I ... me ... I ... me ... I ...
Self-pity, when it comes to alcoholics, is our self obsession wearing a sad clown face.
To put it in the simplest terms (which I need if this stuff is going to stick):
Sadness + Self Obsession = Self-pity.
And as I'm sure you know, thinking about ourselves is not something we should really lean into if we want to stay sober. Of course we think about ourselves via things like self examination or simple self care, but those things are nothing like the kind of mental self-involvement alcoholics can slide into. Sometimes I think the whole Program is just an enormous exercise in ballast to serve as a counter-weight to our titanic self-obsession.
And I think self-pity can be an especially dangerous place to be, for too long.
As you know from your experiences with not making amends and staying in anger, resentment is, as the Big Book puts it, the "number one offender" when it comes to the reasons we drink again. If, as I've heard it said, expectations are the mother to our resentments ... then I think self-pity is the midwife.
Poor me poor me pour me a drink.
How do you get out of and stay out of self pity? The answer for any alcoholic, and especially for you right now, is perhaps most eloquently expressed in "Bill's Story," Chapter 1 of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book). At this point in his story he has gotten sober, and done most of what eventually became the 12 Steps in a kind of raw, informal way (and that's all covered on pgs. 12 and 13). Here Bill's talking about what it was like shortly after he got sober. Bill wrote:
"My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained skeptical for a year and a half, during which I found little work. I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by waves of self pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works in rough going." -- BB pg. 15
You do not have less to offer because you've relapsed ... you have more. You can help someone else save their life -- you, your experience, can be literally life saving. And you don't even have to believe that fully for it to work. You don't have to find people with "less" time or in "worse" shape -- you don't have to be anything other than or more than who you are right now: An alcoholic who is struggling to get and stay sober and remain on an even emotional keel.
The more you work with other alcoholics the more sure your sobriety will be. Anyone who tells you that you do not have enough time or enough experience or enough anything to be of service to another alcoholic is wrong. If you tell yourself you aren't up to it or have nothing to offer you are wrong.
It is not for you to judge what you have to offer -- or anyone else, for that matter. It is your job to offer it, in the service of trying to help someone else avoid the relapse experiences that you've had, or to help someone who's already relapsed feel better about their own fledgling sobriety.
You want to get out of self-pity? You want to stay sober?
Get busy, damn it.