The process of getting sober involves looking into the reasons we turned to our addiction in the first place. People may be addicted to different substances, behaviors, or activities, but the root of addiction is similar for all of us. At some point, we turned towards an addiction because it soothed a profound pain in us.
For me, I chose alcohol to soothe my pain, loneliness, and discomfort. I also used it to manage the general frustrations and irritations of being an adult. In a way, it took me almost half my life to finally grow up. To this day, I still catch myself acting and thinking in ways more appropriate for a young child or teenager.
In this sense, alcohol was my babysitter.
As kids, most of us would stomp our feet and yell out for “Mom” when we had a problem or felt bored or when we were hungry. As addicts, we never got over this because we never truly grew up. But, we knew we couldn’t ask our mothers to fix our adult lives, so we found something else to babysit us.
When we had immediate needs that caused discomfort, we didn’t learn how to self-soothe, or calm down and look at things objectively. In fact, much of the struggle in sobriety is learning how to do just that. We need to learn how to sit with pain or discomfort and, once and for all, figure out how to cope.
Sitting with our true selves can be a rude awakening, to say the least. And it’s devastating to admit that we never learned how to take care of ourselves the way a mature adult would.
In some ways, using addictions as babysitters was the only thing that helped us survive for a while. But sooner or later, life calls on us to become fully functioning adults. And we either heed this call, or we ignore it.
Really, there’s no right or wrong way to be alive. But when we don’t find a way to grow up and drop our babysitters, we end up giving ourselves and the people we love, a really hard time. Indeed, many of us go on like that our whole lives.
But when our addictions cause too much damage and we’ve had enough, we need to begin the process of letting go of our babysitters. This can cause a lot of grief, as well as immense frustration. After all, we really needed and relied on our babysitters. Also, it can be painful and humbling to bump up against our self-care limitations.
As a recovering alcoholic, I’m consistently met with my limitations, even four years into my sobriety. I’m often surprised by my frustration or immature reaction in response to triggers or emotional deficits. I’m still learning about where I fall short in my emotional and physical dysfunctions.
But, there’s one thing I’ve learned to do since getting sober, and it’s been the most crucial skill I’ve acquired. I’ve developed immense compassion for the parts of me that never grew up, the parts that still cry out for a babysitter.
I understand that I’m part of a human family, and we’re all struggling in some capacity to become fully mature adults. I’m not alone, and I have challenges just like anyone else. I find this understanding really helps me be kinder to myself which opens a space for growth.
We live in a very traumatized world, and most of us didn’t get what we needed growing up. Really, there’s no one to blame because doing so would point the finger back at ourselves and all the generations that came before us. Our parents and their parents were all wounded, and thus, we’ve all been raised by wounded people.
The only real solution is to take responsibility for ourselves, unravel our own knots, and figure out how to grow up. Ideally, we must learn how to take care of ourselves so that we don’t really need a babysitter anymore.
However, doing this without self-compassion ends up looking a lot like the conditions that wounded us in the first place. When we fail or feel extreme sadness, we beat ourselves up and set unrealistic expectations. Instead, we can be kind and relax a little and learn to sit with our pain and discomfort.
Learning to sit with our feelings dissolves the impulse to find a babysitter or assign blame and harsh criticism to ourselves. But for those of us with addictions, we used our substance of choice primarily to avoid these feelings.
In the beginning, it can feel almost impossible to sit with our feelings. But like any new learning curve, we get better with practice. Inevitably, we will try and fail to sit with our emotions, but the more we do it, the better we get.
Understanding our addictions as babysitters might help us get to the root of them a little better.
In reality, we needed our babysitters at one point, but eventually, we need to become mature adults if we really want to thrive.