Updated: Jan 8
10 Healthy Coping Skills That Can Turn Your Life Around -
First, become "enlightened". Not in a religious or spiritual way, but in the sense that you have a much better understanding of who you are. Second, accept your introversion and begin to hail your traits as strengths that enable you to be your best self. Third, it will then become easier to avoid often catastrophic tendencies you may have had to endure in the past to cope with the pressures of being an introvert in an extrovert's world.
In addition to being a shy introvert, I also have addictive behaviors which I frequently tapped into as I tried to cope with the social pressures and work challenges that built up such unrelenting stress inside me for decades. Acknowledging these behaviors was, perhaps, even more difficult than embracing my introversion after 50 years.
I've UNlearned some of the narrow definitions of addiction. Growing up, I expected addiction was limited to alcoholism or drug abuse, neither of which I was exposed to firsthand. While they are certainly both terrible afflictions in their own right, I've learned that addiction takes many forms, all of which can be traumatic and destructive.
When I was 11, I introduced myself to the family bar when left alone at home, perhaps for the first time. A couple of hours later I woke to my parents freaking out, trying to decipher what was in my vomit beside the bed while frantically calling the doctor to try to understand whether to rush my husky frame to the ER.
I chalked that experience up to curiosity at the time, as did my parents. But a dozen years later, two DWI's, many more bedside vomits, and several blackouts under my belt, I began to realize this was not just curiosity. All my life I suffered from low self-esteem, brought on by my short yet pudgy stature, my shyness in public, and my determination to buck my mother's incessant drive for me to socialize, instead of finding refuge in my own hobbies at home. So drinking allowed me an escape from all the torment inside my head.
I've heard others say they regretted their drinking escapades immediately, or at least by the time the morning hangover kicked in. They realized they were a mean, pompous, or annoying drunks. Yet I rarely fit that bill. I was generally a fun drunk. Often I was the instigator and cheerleader for the bunch. I lead sing-a-longs at the piano bar and once backup at a country bar. I even assumed the burden of driving the gang home afterward, though that clearly did not work out in my favor. Yet, I still reveled in the escape drinking provided me from my normally repressive world.
Later, in my 40's I soothed mounting work demands, stress, and job insecurity with extreme drinking around the globe with more serious repercussions to my relations and family life. Yet, even those risks which shook me to my core could barely compete with the temporary escape which drinking afforded me.
I was saved ironically by a horrible manager who eliminated my job and thus forced a change of scenery. All the while, my loving and devoted wife stood by my side when I finally mustered the courage to start to put my life back together.
Only recently did I realize this nearly 40 year battle with alcohol was not my only war with addiction. Only as I studied the patterns of my life did I realized my addiction took many other dangerous forms, including binge eating and gambling, as well as even exercise and planning. These last two may seem petty, but the constant drive to meet loftier goals never let me rest or find personal contentment. They were just as dangerous and part of the same pattern of addiction.
Not only have I exhibited addictive behaviors, but extreme behaviors. What was good enough last year was not good enough this year. So I needed to drink more in extreme conditions like swimming to an island with wine bottle in hand or wandering alone in London's East End past midnight, gorging more food in the privacy of my commute to and from work, planning every detail in my Franklin, biking more through steeper hills or strange areas...more, more, more! These eventually left me arrested in Singapore (or so I recall through a flash during a walking blackout), morbidly obese, and with a broken shoulder trying to avert a pack of dogs on a remote bike ride.
In retrospect, I consider myself quite lucky. Somehow, deep inside, my own barometer kept me from going off the deep end - trying more illicit drugs, testing greater extremes, getting involved with dangerous crowds, or eating without the occasional corrections, all of which could have paved a very different path for my life.
I don't attribute my addictions or extreme pursuits to my introversion. But I do attribute them to my lack of sensible and healthy coping skills. As was common in the '70s and '80s, my parents rarely discussed their own challenges and didn't really help me make sense of my own issues. My mom battled with agoraphobia and depression in an age when discussing such issues or seeking therapy was quite taboo.
So I never knew how to figure out the source of my problems or how to deal with them. Only after my life hit rock bottom did I acknowledge my problem and seek the support which finally helped me understand, decide to moderate extreme stresses, and cope with remaining challenges in more healthy ways.
If you are suffering from some of these same issues of addiction or extreme behavior, I implore you to seek help to gain a more healthy approach to your life.
It has made all the difference in mine...
Try incorporating these 10 healthier coping skills to find balance in your life:
Learn about yourself- understanding Introversion helps make it real and acceptable
See a therapist- it's a gift to yourself to talk through issues and pave a positive path
Confide in someone- talk openly with your spouse or close friend to get your thoughts out of your head. This relieves some pressure and helps form more balanced, tested perspectives
Be proud- discover and embrace your introverted strengths
Journal routinely- daily or weekly journaling helps get thoughts on paper to ground you and aids in figuring out healthier ways to deal with extreme stresses
Moderate exercise- working out without the pressure of going faster farther creates a stress-relieving space alone to think, plan, and actually relax while exercising
Mindful eating- without counting calories or points or banning certain foods, strive to make conscious decisions about what and when you want to eat. It also is critical to dislodge the common social body images and just feel comfortable in the body you create.
Creative infusion- find a constructive activity like art, music, writing to escape and create
Take control- plan your day and especially your social interactions rather than be subject to someone else's plans and expectations
Filter the world- listen and learn, but filter other's recommendations or social norms to fit your own personality and mores
Coming Soon...on March 31st!
In Search of Courage: An Introvert's Struggle with Addictive Behaviors
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National Make a Friend Day – February 11, 2020
February 11 is National Make a Friend Day. According to nationaltoday.com, "to paraphrase Yeats: 'There are no strangers in the world, just friends you have never met.' We must never stop making friends. That’s why National Make a Friend Day is so important. A new friendship can open you to new experiences. Friends can help us through challenging times. They provide us with the comfort of a safe emotional space where we can be ourselves. Good friends are our biggest treasure. Make a special effort on February 11 to meet (or at least talk to) someone new. Your life could change forever."
As a tried and true Introvert, and unabased shy introvert at that, the celebration of this day and the description above makes me VOMIT!
If Yeats' quote is true, I am fine that there are LOTS of friends I have never met. I don't begrudge you all forming dependable bonds with everyone you meet. But for me, and I suspect many introverts, I'm quite fine with a very limited number of true friends. I do have many work colleagues and acquaintances with whom I'm friendly as they are to me, but we would both agree we are not "friends" in the truest sense. We don't share our most intimate stories or call each other (eeeekk, the phone!) to check-in or console each other. And I'm fine with that.
Frankly, I rarely muster the energy to bore through the customary chitchat and obligatory friendship "dating" to even create the chance for a deeper conversation that might eventually blossom into a friendship. Who has the time? But it's more than that for introverts. Exposing ourselves, being vulnerable enough to let someone into our cocoon is as difficult as making the social effort to talk to others. Thus, our circle of friends is typically quite small, and we are fine with that!
We should relieve ourselves of the pressures society places of "putting ourselves out there" and seeking TV show "Friends"-like groups. It's okay to have a small group of trusted friends. It's more than okay for many of us, it's perfect!
So I wish all those extroverts and a few ambiverts the best of luck converting every stranger into their friend. Enjoy your day! I'll enjoy my family, my book, and my writing...alone!
"It’s Okay Not To Have Many 'Friends'
Yes, I said it. it is VERY okay not to have many friends. We are introverts.
So what do we do?"
Bunmi provides a bit more balanced approach to the friendship column than my jaded comments in the Our Day feature above. And I really appreciate her list of 4 things we can still do to check the friendship box for introverts.