it as self-loving.” ~Kim McMillen
I like to think of my inner self as a curly-haired stick figure who lives inside my chest cavity. Like most inner selves, mine has a simple, childlike quality. She smiles when she’s happy and cries when she’s sad. She has an intuitive sense of what is right and wrong. She speaks her needs simply, the way a young girl might.
My inner self and I are on good terms nowadays, but it hasn’t always been this way. When I was addicted to booze, food, and relationships, I treated my inner self like a prisoner.
For years, I dazed her with whiskey and wine and snuck away to make rash decisions under the light of the moon. Through a groggy haze she would slur warnings: “Don’t drive! Don’t sleep with him! It’s dangerous!” But I had abandoned her, lost in the sweet abyss of another blackout, and left her alone to handle the consequences that met the body I’d left behind.
As I got older, I sought love in the way the women of my family had for generations: by getting thin. I fed my inner self rations and scraps, barely enough to get by. Her hungry cries were met with six almonds, a tall glass of water, one slice of bread.
As my eating disorder progressed, I purged after most meals, eyes watery and kneecaps bruising against the linoleum floor. I monitored my inner self with scornful eyes. She shrunk under my gaze.
As you might imagine, playing captor to my inner self got very tiring. I felt a wave of relief when I became romantically involved with a partner and could focus my attention on him instead.
Finally, a respite! I was no longer trapped alone with my inner self and her incessant whining, her needs, her uncontrollable feelings! By contrast, he seemed uncomplicated. Unbroken. Better than I could ever be.
Over the next two years, my visits to my inner self became more and more infrequent. She gathered dust like a china doll.
Sometimes—after particularly debilitating hangovers, tortured binges, or grueling arguments with my partner—I would recognize, with a sharp burst of clarity, the unmanageability of my predicament.
Remorsefully, I would vow to do better. I would rush back to my inner self and pant, out of breath, “This is the last time. I won’t treat you so badly again.” But those promises quickly collapsed under the weight of my shame.
To alleviate my self-loathing, I cracked the whip above my inner self, desperate to improve. “Work harder!” I shouted. ”Do more!” “Be better!” “Fix yourself!”
Around the addiction carousel I went, stumbling from drinking to eating disorder to codependency to perfectionism. My inner self bore the brunt of my cruelty. Eventually, she stopped trusting me entirely.
Years of therapy and self-reflection later, I reached an impasse.
By most definitions of the word, I was utterly free; I made my own work schedule, enjoyed financial security, and could travel any time, anywhere. In the presence of friends, I radiated enthusiasm and laughed straight from my belly. But in my own company, when the afternoon sunlight cast shadows across my carpet and the muted sounds of the city came through my open window, I felt utterly alone.
I couldn’t deny the truth: I was trapped in a life dictated by vicious, anxious cycles. The life I wanted—the liberated, peaceful, inspired life—would be unattainable until I confronted my addictions. Not just one of them, but all of them. I had to tug the weed from the soil at the very root.