Stopping The Downward Spiral
Life, however, is rarely so straight forward. The journey to this self-loving nirvana is fraught with dangers and challenges, peaks and valleys.
Until we do reach this magical destination we can gain a lot of forward traction by watching downwards instead of up.
Rather than looking only to treat ourselves better, how about treating ourselves less worse?
It’s pretty normal for things to upset us. That’s part of life, and of growing.
Of course, there are lots of ways to help reduce this (and in fact, remove these stressors permanently) but I’ve banged that drum enough in the past. Right now, I’d like to talk about what happens after we get upset.
Often? We start to spiral. Downwards. Fast.
We get grumpy so we make bad decisions, which makes our situation worse, which makes us grumpier, which…
You can see how it goes.
I can remember when I was much younger, if something seriously upset me it wouldn’t be too surprising for me to be angry and in a bad mood for weeks (unless I got drunk and forgot about it or had a good rage out). Not particularly healthy – or fun for anyone around me. Yikes!
Thankfully these days all that junk is well gone, however this basic pattern is part of human nature:
Something upsets us, and then we do things that make the situation worse for ourselves. After that, we spiral downwards into a gigantic cesspit of doom. Doom doom doomy doom.
The good news is, when we’re starting to get into this kind of space, we can make gigantic improvements with only a tiny modicum of self control. Not a huge amount of self-control, just enough to stop us seriously self-harming.
So, what are some of these crappy self-harming things we might do?
- Eat a ton of sugar or junk food (eg, *cough* an entire packet of donuts)
- Drink too much (*facepalm*)
- Take it out on those around us (thus flaring up other issues, which never helps)
- Stay up too late at night
- Engage in risky or dangerous behaviour (casual sex, cliff diving, starting fights)
The trouble with all of these behaviours is that they have side-effects that last much longer than the period of time we might otherwise have been upset for.
Eg, if I eat a whole bunch of junk food, generally I’ll break out and otherwise feel crappy for the next few days. A serious bender can leave me feeling maudlin and low for as many as three days. Staying up too late is guaranteed to screw up my next day. And so on.
Of course, the real problem is this – it’s all very well pointing OUT these behaviours, but when we’re feeling crappy, we feel compelled to do them. Merely knowing they’re bad isn’t going to help us. We know they’re bad, but we don’t care. If we had the self control to not do them when we were upset, we wouldn’t be doing them. Hello? We’re upset!
So. How do we get around this?
First of all, acknowledge that it’s ok if we do these dumb things. Really. They’re just choices. Beating yourself up for making a bad choice is often as bad, if not worse than the actual behaviour itself. How long can guilt last for? Do you think our body is going to optimally process whatever poison we’ve put into it if we’re also pouring massive amounts of hate its way as well?
Another drum I’ve beaten to death in the past.
Here’s something new though.
If, even while we’re upset, we can acknowledge that we’re going to do something dumb, we can easily take tiny steps to minimise the damage.
Sure, go ahead and eat all those donuts, but follow them up with washing your face before you go to bed and drinking a bunch of water. Then tomorrow when you’re feeling a bit better, do some crunches and have a salad to “balance it out” (yes, those are air quotes).
If you wanna get hammered, go ahead and do it. But do it somewhere safe – eg, at home, not at a bar where it’s going to cost you way more and you might get in a fight (or worse). Drink something you know won’t give you a terrible hangover (for me, avoid white spirits and stick to Guinness or whisky). Before you start, line up pints of water and make sure you down ’em so you’re WELL hydrated before you sleep.
If you know you’re going to take your bad mood out on those around you, get the hell away from them. Just say “Shitty mood. Need space. Not you. Will come back.” Whatever minimum communication you can grunt out to ensure that the other person doesn’t think it’s their fault, then go burn off that energy some other way – even if it’s screaming and swearing your whole way down the street – getting angry around people who don’t know you (and thus don’t care as much) is way less damaging than being around those who know and love you.
If you have the compulsion to go randomly fuck someone – make damn sure you (or they, or both) wear a condom. The last thing you want is to wake up post-anger with a kid or a disease. For bonus points, have casual sex with someone you already know and care about. It’ll be less harmful to you emotionally and energetically (but that’s a whole other blog post).
When we’re in a seriously shitty headspace, finding the discipline to not hurt ourselves is often outside our reach. This is totally normal and nothing to be ashamed about.
However, finding enough discipline to minimise the damage from this behaviour? That’s much easier. And you know what? It’s still loving ourselves.
Most importantly, it’ll shrink the post-blow-out damage. Instead of feeling crappy for days, we’ll cut it back to feeling crappy for hours instead. This is a huge win. It gets us back in a higher energetic space sooner. It stops our lives from spiralling uncontrollably downwards.
Sure, it’s not as perfect as immediately dropping whatever’s upset us (which is quite feasible, with practice) but it is a huge step in the right direction.
The sooner we’re back in a happy place, the sooner we can deal with whatever’s upset us. Minimising self harm and thus preventing a larger downward spiral is a great improvement. It’s a practical way to love ourselves that doesn’t require superhuman self-discipline.
It’s still loving ourselves, even in the midst of disaster. It’s still taking small but certain forward steps, and that’s what this journey is really all about.