What are you compensating for?

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?

  • Do you tell yourself that you can’t do anything right?
  • Do you tell yourself that you don’t need help when you do?
  • Do you call yourself dumb, incompetent, a failure or unlovable?
  • In what situations do you give yourself these messages?

Changing Self-Defeating Self-Talk

To begin to change negative self-talk, start listening for self-defeating messages you give yourself. Then begin to say ‘stop’ either out loud or in your mind every time you hear yourself saying self-defeating things to yourself. Analyse what you are saying to determine what might be behind these messages. Finally, substitute a more accurate message for the self-defeating one.

Self-Defeating Behaviour

We tend to act as we think – we tend to be what we tell ourselves we are. Self-defeating thinking turns into self-defeating behaviour. We tend to avoid situations that we think will expose what we think of ourselves. If we tell ourselves that we are dumb, we avoid situations in which someone else might find out. And by doing so, we deprive ourselves of new opportunities or stimulating activities.

  • Are you betraying yourself by not being who you are or not standing up for what you believe in?
  • Are you stuck in a rut and avoiding a new challenge to give meaning to life?
  • Do you quit when you make a mistake in order to avoid failure?
  • Because of low opinions of yourself, do you avoid social situations that could be fun or stimulating for you?
  • Do you brood instead of doing something about an unacceptable situation?

Changing Self-Defeating Behaviour

When you identify what you are doing that is self-defeating, make a plan for doing something different. Tell someone else what your plans are and ask them to support you as you make these difficult changes.

Feeling Powerless and Hopeless

When you feel your situation is hopeless and that you are powerless to change it, you will probably avoid any attempt to do so and therefore become a victim.

  • Are you bored or unfulfilled in your work?
  • Do you feel trapped by your marriage or other relationships?
  • Do...
Want to keep reading? Members have full access...

Join Today!


First month free

Then £7.99 per month & free cancellation at any time

FREE health check

Find out your health score & see how healthy you are

Personal Health Plan

Detailed report, analysis & tailored action plan

Free Vitamin D3

With your first purchase at HOLFORDirect (suitable for vegans)

Save money

20% off all Patrick Holford supplements & events plus free delivery over £30

Exclusive Health support

Ask Patrick your questions, access to Low GL recipes & research updates