Stop Whining: It's not good for your recovery

During childhood, I imagine all of us were told by one or both of our parents, at some point, to quit whining. Most of us probably heard that more than once. We may even have heard it as adults. If we haven't heard it, there have probably been times when people have thought it.

The truth is that all of us whine, complain, and blame others from time to time. It is part of the human condition that we don't enjoy cleaning up problems caused by others, and we don't like to admit that we've created problems ourselves.

Whining is what we do when we don't know how to solve our problems. It is a response to our inability to see a solution to a problem that faces us, and an attempt to feel better in the moment.

Although it might feel good to vent in the short-term, it is not good or helpful in the long-term.

Whining might be a pressure valve that allows us to let off steam, but it also creates a negative environment around us. Often the recipients of our complaints don't have any power over the situation, anyhow. It doesn't change the circumstances that led us to complain in the first place.

In the long-term, whining places us in the role of a victim. Through whining, we give our power away.

Whining and complaining are not the same thing. Complaining involves voicing legitimate dissatisfaction, while whining suggests that the complaint is either trivial or that it is being voiced to someone who can't do anything about it.

They can be distinguished by the nature of the dissatisfaction and by our motivations for voicing it. We are complaining when we voice legitimate dissatisfactions with the goal of resolving the problem, while whining is intended to draw attention to our dissatisfaction without resolution, either because the complaint is trivial, to begin with, or we are voicing it to someone who cannot help to resolve the problem.

For those in recovery, it can be harmful to make a habit of whining. An aspect of the addictive personality is that we feel as if we are under a large degree of stress, particularly while we are actively using or in early recovery, although this may stay with us for a long time.

In reality, our difficulties may be similar to what other people experience, but we may perceive these challenges as overwhelming. It can take some time to develop the necessary coping skills to deal with the ups and downs of life.

In many cases, this may have been a factor in why we turned to drugs or alcohol to begin with. Alcohol and drugs offer a temporary reprieve from responsibilities, and it's not uncommon to use self-pity to justify our behavior.

When we become sober, but continue to indulge in self-pity, this is likely to have a negative effect on our continued recovery.

Self-pity can be used as an excuse to return to using drugs or alcohol, as responsibility for the relapse is blamed on other people, places, or things.

As we are indulging in self-pity, we feel powerless, and our continued recovery requires us to feel powerful. Otherwise, we won't have the motivation to do the things that have to be done in order to be happy and successful in our recovery.

Negative thinking reduces our self esteem, leading us to feel as if we aren't worthy of a better life. Feelings of low self esteem may have found us while we were actively using, but it's likely to follow us into recovery.

To be sure, we'll all experience periods of self-pity. That is normal, but we need to be alert to the potential of being trapped into negative thinking.

In order to avoid falling into the trap of self-pity, we need to recognize its uselessness, and the danger that it poses to our sobriety.

We can avoid adversity, or at least blunt its effects, if we concentrate on the things that we have power over, rather than dwelling on things that we have no control over.

We should not believe that we have to feel happy all the time. This is unrealistic thinking. No one feels happy all the time, and if you expect to, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Taking responsibility for our own situation is a significant goal in recovery. Another is to improve our sense of self esteem. This doesn't come about at once; rather, we do this by achieving small goals over a long period of time. Small successes build up our confidence to tackle larger goals.

One of the larger goals is the attainment of emotional sobriety, which is a reference to being in a position to manage difficult feelings. While physical sobriety refers to not using alcohol or drugs, emotional sobriety is more complicated.

It is possible to be free from alcohol and drugs, but still not be emotionally sober. One of the most difficult parts of recovery is being able to deal with emotions without falling back on our addictions. Otherwise, the inability or unwillingness to deal with painful emotions can drive us back to using.

Stress and unhappiness are a part of the human life. Everyone experiences these emotions. We are emotionally sober when we have developed the skills to cope with uncomfortable feelings. We have to find ways of managing the tough times, as well as being able to deal with happiness and contentment.

Emotionally sober people don't usually have extreme mood swings. Rather, they find a balance between the highs and lows. Once we can learn to self-regulate, we no longer need dangerous substances, and we can remain physically sober without the constant struggle.

It doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen without our involvement in our own recovery.

Some of the tools that can be used to achieve emotional sobriety include:
  • Cognitive behavior therapy, and other forms of therapy.
  • Staying in contact with a strong support system.
  • Journaling.
  • Exercise.
  • Healthy diets.
  • Sufficient sleep.
  • Meditation.
  • Helping others.
  • Doing satisfying work.
  • Challenging negative thoughts and seeking ways to remain positive.

Any healthy activity that leads to positive feelings without doing harm can help to maintain emotional sobriety. As individuals, we need to figure out what works for us, and to look for new ways to improve our mood, as necessary.

Other resources might include a therapist or mental health professional, a family doctor, support groups, and self-help books or videos.

The staff at Pir2Peer Addiction Recovery Center can help you identify and access these resources.