What are you compensating for?

  • 9 Jun 2010
  • Reading time 7 mins
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If you have used mood-altering substances in the past to avoid painful thoughts, feelings and situations, it is important to face not only what you may be avoiding but also the ways you may be avoiding those thoughts, feelings or situations.

Step four in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. By doing so you may better understand what it is that makes the use of a mood-altering substance so attractive and what may lead you away from your commitment to staying free from your addiction.

Your answers to the following questions will help you identify thoughts and feelings you may be avoiding, as well as the ways you may be avoiding them. Use a pencil and paper to do a searching inventory of yourself. To determine what you may be avoiding and the ways you are doing it, it is necessary to be rigorously honest. So, being as honest as you can, write down any ways of thinking, feeling or behaving that could sabotage your commitment to giving up and staying clean. Now write what you are willing to do to begin the process of healing them, releasing them, or changing them.

Abstinence Symptom Inventory


Stress is a normal part of life, but unresolved, unmanaged, or unacknowledged stress can escalate into chronic anxiety. Ongoing unrelenting anxiety begs for relief from what you have used in the past to feel better.

  • Is emotional or physical pain causing anxiety?
  • Are you living with anxiety that is created by doubts about yourself?
  • Do you experience anxiety because you do not set limits for yourself and try to ‘do it all’?
  • Is your anxiety due to your belief that you must live up to the unrealistic expectations of others?
  • What else is causing you to have high anxiety?

Changing Anxiety

An effective way of relieving anxiety is by applying the Serenity Prayer to your life:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

These words can be very powerful if you make them a way of life. They remind you to look for solutions to stressful situations that you can change and stop using up your energy on things you can’t do anything about. Some people use these words as a kind of mantra to help them take action when they need to and to accept reality as it is when it can’t be changed. (If the word ‘God’ here bothers you in any way, remember that this is a god of your understanding. You can substitute another word such as ‘higher power’ or whatever is meaningful to you.)  Many of the tools outlined in How to Quit Without Feeling S**t – yoga, meditation, relaxation exercises, massage or physical exercises – will help to reduce your anxiety as well.

Self-Defeating Self-Talk

Self-talk is a normal, healthy process of conversing with ourselves in words or pictures. Whereas normal self-talk helps us to solve problems, self-defeating self-talk (negative self-talk) reduces the ability to solve problems. What does your self-talk tell you about what you are avoiding and how you are doing it?