Recovering From Self-Doubt
“That voice [ of self-doubt ] is the wounded little girl who experienced abuse and trauma and never got the love and care she needed and deserved. She is lost and scared and desperately trying to protect herself.”
It has taken more than half my life to get and stay sober from alcohol and opiates.
“Sober for now,” it whispers.
There’s the problem. “How long will you last this time?” it taunts, reminding me of all the times I’ve failed before. It is always there, that voice of self-doubt. It tells me what a fool I am for believing I can be well, for thinking I am whole, for imagining that people actually love and accept me. I am not sure where or when I first heard these things, but I know I have believed them for far too long.
At times I really thought this voice of self-doubt was me, that it was the truth, and there was no way to quiet my inner critic and no answer with which to rebuke it. Instead, I escaped with pills, powders, and drinks. I filled myself with poisons to avoid facing this voice. I lived a double life as an intern and student, working and studying to be a medical professional, and as an addict, with a severe, crippling opiate addiction. I was living a lie, no one – including myself – knew my truth. At work I was a dedicated, industrious, trusted employee, and at home I had friends and a boyfriend, none of whom realized, at least not at first, that I was under the influence almost 24/7. Eventually, I lost almost everything. I lost the tangible things like my place to live, my school enrolment, and my driver’s license, as well as the intangible things, like my sanity, most of my memories, so many opportunities, and more years than I care to admit. But what I never could seem to lose was that damned voice.
Even after embarking on a journey of recovery, it remained. It even got louder and clearer – especially during the early days of sobriety. I focused on the things that I wanted and tried to stay busy. I got my doctorate degree, ran some marathons, and was a recovery leader at my church. I got married, became a mom, and still the voice was there. To cope with my inner critic, I found myself doing other things against my values like binging or withholding food, stealing things I didn’t even want, or manipulating people just to prove I could. Nothing could silence it, sober or not, that voice of self-doubt remained. Removing substances did not bring me peace. Sure, I felt better physically but emotionally I often felt worse as I was feeling all of the pain I had previously numbed with substances.
“Then what’s the point?” the voice yelled, and back to my poisons I ran. My relapses and recurrences were extreme and riddled with days of blackouts, arrests and self-destruction. I knew about my substance use disorder, I had attended 12 step fellowship meetings and completed the steps, and I even had a spiritual awakening; but I remained in this cycle of building everything up just to tear it all down again a few months or years later. Never have I felt so scared and hopeless. In the midst of a particularly devastating and painful relapse, I realized the “Return to Self” SHE RECOVERS retreat for healthcare and allied professionals that I had signed up for many months earlier (during a period of sobriety) was coming up and was only four days away. My dear friend and sponsor of many years insisted that I go on this retreat. I had to choose: listen to my mentor or the voice that told me not to go. I was sure that I would be the sick one, the worst case, the messiest of all the women there, the one that didn’t belong. I envisioned everyone else would be so well put-together, beautiful, and successful health care professionals thriving in recovery. I was not even employed at the time; so, would I even be permitted to attend? Ultimately it was divine intervention through the words and encouragement of other women in recovery, that I found the strength and compassion I needed to give myself permission to go.
Amongst these other women in recovery, seemingly strangers, I presented myself, raw and open. I arrived empty with nothing to give. I felt broken and scared, but I showed up anyway. In the presence of these fellow travelers, I could finally breathe. I felt understood. And then, I began to witness them. I saw these women walk with their heads held high, their hearts full of love, and their spirits at ease. I carefully studied their actions and absorbed their words. Trusting the pathway created and worn by those who came before me, I jumped in with both feet and took every opportunity to participate. Having been to many treatment facilities, I wasn’t hopeful that this immersive experience would be any different, but it was. The SHE RECOVERS retreat shone a light on a lot of childhood and intergenerational trauma that I didn’t want to acknowledge, let alone work on. I opened myself up to healing these wounds. I was vulnerable, and most importantly, I let them love me, freely and unconditionally. I chose to believe and accept their gracious, compassionate, and loving words and discovered that together we could quiet that critical voice of self-doubt inside my head. Hand in hand, speaking our truths, holding and creating space, there was just no room for it…we are all worthy of recovery.
At the end of that retreat I was nervous to reintegrate, to go home and to get back to my day to day life in recovery. Without being surrounded by such empowering women, how would I silence the voice of self-doubt should it return? And, it did return almost immediately. However, this time I was able to recognize that it was a part of me all along, my inner child. That voice is the wounded little girl who experienced abuse and trauma and never got the love and care she needed and deserved. She is lost and scared and desperately trying to protect herself. She doesn’t always see things clearly, she is irrational, and most of the time she isn’t aware of the bigger picture. So now when I hear her, when I recognize her voice, I know that I need love and care. I am no longer afraid, and I do not need to run. Instead, I rest, practice a sacred pause and I listen. I let that little version of me show me what it is that I’m really upset about. I look to my dear friends in recovery to amplify this truth and understanding and I spend time in prayer and ask my spiritual Father and Guide for help with this healing. Above all, I am gentle, compassionate, and loving with the little me and therefore with myself.
Julie is a woman gratefully living in active recovery, which to her means that she gets to enjoy being a wife, mother, sister, and friend. A board-certified specialist and licensed medical professional, today she uses her experience to help others.
Recovering Healthcare & Allied Professionals face unique challenges.
We know that specialized resources for women and recovering professionals working on the front lines are limited.
The SHE RECOVERS Support Group & Gatherings for Healthcare & Allied Professionals create opportunities to heal alongside women with similar professional and lived experience. This group welcomes nurses, physicians, social workers, therapists, professional coaches and other allied healthcare professionals.