Self-Medication or Self-Nourishment: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

I was remembering summer days as a child and teenager before I ‘grew up’. They always held time and space to hang in the hammock or sit by the lake, without a care in the world and no agenda to get things done. Time seemed to stop and had no demands other than to rest and enjoy. The warmth and sounds of bees seemed to create a soothing place with no worries.

Power-lounging has its limits!

As I moved into adulthood, these times almost vanished. And when I tried to recreate that space, there were always nagging voices saying, “you need to get this done” or “you’re wasting time”! The to-do list was never-ending. I remember as young adults, we were trying to figure out the new territory of jobs and cars and houses and family. We were experiencing more stress than we knew what to do with and, I remember one summer when we invented a new way to beat stress. We called it power-lounging! It was based on the premise that we didn’t have much time, and we really needed to de-stress deeply but quickly. It involved sitting in rubber dinghies on the shore, calling out some cheeky comment to other friends on their boats as they sailed by, and a lot of rum and coke to lubricate the process.

This was obviously what could be called self-medication. It fit with the popular culture, and we did have fun and even managed to find some space to be creative and still get to work in one piece on Monday morning. We all thought for a while that power-lounging was a perfect strategy for self-care. Until it stopped working and, our stress continued to climb, and we started to feel anxious, depressed or otherwise unwell.

Coping strategies are different than self-care.

We all have strategies we use to soothe or distract from stress. Most of these come from a life of experiences that have taught us how we need to be and act to feel safe and acceptable. Whatever the action was, it worked when we learned it, in that it helped us feel safe – or at least unconscious of the stress. There is a long list of things labelled as self-medication: eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, shopping, or simply being too busy with the to-do list that we use to keep ourselves numb to what is going on inside. Power-lounging was a great strategy! But it didn’t create peace, or calm or any sense of self-nourishment. And neither do other self-medication strategies. Over time, it was draining, and we needed to recover from the very thing that was supposed to bring relief.

We need to understand that our nervous systems are all wired for safety and survival, and if something threatens that – even the rumour of a feeling that we can’t quite put our finger on – we will do what is familiar to relieve the suffering. Even if it is harmful in the long run. Understanding how we are wired for safety and how we learn these strategies in childhood can create some space for self-compassion. And that is where change can start.

How does self-regulation fit in?

When I was introduced to EFT, I started to hear the term self-regulation, and I was shocked. Really? Is it actually possible to not be blown whichever way the emotional winds were blowing? Can I actually be in a place where I don’t need to hide all the time? I had no idea I could take intentional and conscious steps to regulate my emotional state. Once I got the hang of it, it seemed almost like breathing. So self-medication by using less-than-ideal strategies turned into an exploration of self-regulation. And from there, I started to think of it in a broader sense – that of opening to self-nourishment. Using EFT and other practices have become as natural as enjoying a good meal.

It IS possible to make the shift from self-blame and self-medication to self-regulation and self-nourishment. We are learning so much about how we can make simple shifts that add up to create an inner space that is conscious, calm, connected, creative, compassionate, confident and courageous.

If you are curious about how you can make the changes you want to see in your life, connect with me for a free conversation about how Conscious EFT can help you.