Substance Abuse – needing acceptance from others & yourself

When I was in my early 20’s – at my first real job out of college – I remember a rather humiliating experience at the company’s annual Christmas party. It’s an event which has forever solidified my reluctance to drink alcohol in excess.

As so many of these stories go, I was trying to impress a girl. Looking back on it now, my attraction to her was based more on how she made me “look” in society than any real feelings. Never a good way to start off a relationship.

I can still remember clearly me trying to convince myself that if I just kept drinking like everyone else, she’d see me as one of the “bad boys” she was attracted to. Pathetic, I know, but no matter the generation youth is always longing for acceptance in a very complicated and judgmental society.

After doing shots at the bar, we finally headed to the party room for dinner. My head was spinning as I sat down and just as they brought the appetizers, I knew what was coming. I tried to make it to the bathroom, but it was too late. I threw up all over the nearest wall (yes wall!). I embarrassed myself on so many levels – going against my true character all to be accepted by someone who didn’t deserve my effort.

One time was all it took for me to learn a valuable lesson, not only about substance abuse, but how the only person in life you need to please and be happy with is yourself.

Chris Prentiss, the author of The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure, writes, “At the bottom of every person’s dependency, there is always pain. Discovering the pain and healing it is an essential step in ending dependency.”

Youth is definitely a time to “find yourself” – to discover meaning and purpose in your life. But far too often, substance abuse might be labeled as “fun” and even “entertaining”, but in reality it’s based more on an inner desire for acceptance. The pain and despair of being alone.

Philosopher and poet Lao Tzu once said, “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”

It’s unfortunate that many of us, myself included, never learn such a lesson until an adverse effect shatters our reality. It’s sad that so many of us are walking around unhappy with the people we are that we need to turn to addictive substances in order to feel better.

Everyone wants to belong to something – fit in and be popular amongst the crowd. But the price for relinquishing the person you truly are can sometimes be far too high for fleeting acceptance.