“To really succeed, you need to do it for yourself, not for someone else”
I can’t remember the first time I heard this message, but it’s something repeated often, and for many different circumstances. I hear this especially when it comes to mental health or addiction. When you decide to get sober, it is a choice you have to make for yourself, not one that you can be doing to please others. If you’re doing it for other people, you’ll inevitably fail. When you seek treatment for mental health, it has to come from finally acknowledging your problems yourself and loving yourself, not from wanting to please others. If you’re doing it for other people, you’ll fail. Does this narrative sound familiar? It should, it’s fucking everywhere. It’s also utter bullshit.
When I tried to stop drinking, I had deeply internalized this message. I tried to stop for myself, or I said I did, but I also tried to stop to save my relationship. My ex-fiance had cheated on me, had been cheating on me for months by the time I found out, and I knew that part of it was because I had been such a shitty partner. The responsibility for his actions is still on him, but he was looking for love from someone who was compatible and healthy for him, and I was not that. I gave myself the challenge of going from drinking around 12-20 beers a night, something I had been doing consistently for about three years, to going 100 days sober. I did it, and our relationship still fell apart. He cheered me on, but was still cheating on me the whole time while claiming not to be. I backslid some then, after making it my first hundred days. I tried to transition into drinking in moderation, and I was not ready for it, and the circumstances were poor since I was getting out of a six year relationship with someone I had been engaged to, that had ended with betrayal. So doesn’t that prove the point that you have to do it for yourself, and if you do it for someone else you’ll fail? Fucking nope. It does show me that doing it to try and save a relationship that was already failing and beyond saving, without even evaluating if that relationship was healthy for me (it wasn’t), was a mistake.
So I kept working at moderation, and at times I took another 30 days or 100 days of sobriety. Ex-fiance moved out, I started school, life continued. I told myself over and over that I had to stop drinking for myself, it had to be for me, or I would continue failing. I came out and began transitioning, I worked hard on getting a degree, I really started to love myself with a depth I haven’t known before. I still struggled with moderation and sobriety. I did the work for myself, because I truly wanted to be better, and for some people that is enough, for me in this instance it didn’t work. I got an okay handle on things though, over the next three years I went from the daily 12-20 beers from before the first time I tried sobriety, to drinking just on weekends, then to drinking once a month, then to drinking every few months. I still felt weak, like I was fucking up, like I couldn’t do it. I was doing it just for myself and I was feeling like a failure.
One of those times when I drank, I broke the other rule I had for myself, even when I had been a constant alcoholic. I had made a no hard liquor rule at the beginning because I saw how much I was beginning to drink, and I knew I’d be dead within a year of accidental alcohol poisoning if I didn’t set myself that limit. Well, this one time, a few years into moderating, I went to a barbecue with Kelev and had hard liquor, and much too much to drink. I made a complete ass of myself, I was rude to Kelev, I needed help getting into the car so he could drive me home, I was just a complete shitbird that night. The immensity of how badly I’d fucked up hit me like a ton of bricks the next day and I realized that while Kelev had been an ever patient and supportive loving force, and extremely understanding because he had a history with alcoholism as well, that it might be a matter of time until he said enough and left. Even if he didn’t, what I was doing was hurting him, directly on nights like that when I was a rude fucknob, and indirectly as he watched me hurt myself.
When I decided to take a full year of sobriety, I did it for him. I did it because I didn’t want to fuck up the best relationship I’d ever been in, I did it because I didn’t want to hurt him with my behavior, and I did it most of all because I wanted to make him proud. And you know what, it worked. I made it a year sober, and so many times he would glow with pride and tell me how amazing my efforts were, and that was what I needed to keep pushing through. I got out the other side, and every previous time after I had hit a goal like that, I would go back to drinking after. Less each time, I had gotten to a point of moderation where usually I only drank every few months, and rarely too much like I did at that barbecue. But there was still always that relief of my sobriety stretch being over, and I celebrated with a drink. This time I had no desire to. I had him by my side telling me how he was so proud I’d actually made it, and I felt better then I had in so many years. I still haven’t drank since then, and I may eventually decide I can handle moderation someday, but I’ve had no interest in that day coming anytime soon. I had decided to throw away the notion that I had to do it for myself. Instead I had to find -a reason- important enough for me, and do it for that. I found that, and that is what mattered, having a driving force that could support me through the hardest moments and push me forward.
Yesterday I was talking to my partner D, and she was telling me how her other partner, the Brit, had taken an important step forward for his health. How he had done so without her prompting, but because he wanted her to be proud of him. She said how she wished he had done it for himself. It reminded me of my experiences, and of the trope we buy into that we have to do things for ourselves for them to work, or to be healthy, or to love ourselves. Sometimes when it comes to physical and mental health, one of the biggest barriers is not loving yourself. Low self esteem and self regard can really hold people back in seeking help. Apathy or self destructiveness can feed into the most unhealthy behaviors. That is where the trope that you have to do something for yourself becomes harmful, it can hold someone back from seeking help because they can’t muster up enough love for themselves alone, or desire to exist, to push forward.
It is okay to get help because of external motivation. If you are doing something that is good for you, because you want to make someone else proud, or for any other external reason, you are still doing something good for you. That is important, that is valid, and it still pushes you forward. In fact, that is still even a form of self love. When you decide to take care of yourself because you want to make someone else proud, you are still doing so because you enjoy the feeling of them being proud of you. You are still on some level seeking out a good feeling, and that is loving yourself enough even just a little, to seek something you enjoy. Even if you only are getting joy from the happiness of someone who loves you, you are letting them love you and take pride in you, and that is an act of loving yourself. From there you can move on to acknowledging that you deserve that love, as you succeed for them you can build yourself up and build confidence in believing that you may actually be worthy of that support because you are succeeding in what you are doing. This isn’t just that the ends justify the means, but that in trying to improve for other people, you often create a healthy cycle that feeds your healing.
Of course there are situations like I had with my ex-fiance, where I was trying to improve to save something that was unhealthy for me and not worth saving. But even then, if I had not started on my journey at that point, I may never have continued pushing until I found a reason that was strong enough to bring me through this, and I might not be where I am today. So when you decide to make a big change for yourself, when you are facing a struggle and looking for a reason to improve, let go of the toxic trope that the only reason that will work is an internal one. Let go of the idea that you must do everything for you and you alone, and that is must come from this already existing place of loving yourself. Loving yourself may help a whole heck of a lot, but it is okay to seek external motivation as well. What matters is finding reasons that are healthy enough and good enough for you, that are strong enough to pull you through the hard times. If you foster love for yourself to start and let that drive you, it might be easier at times, or it might not be enough. If you find the strongest reason you can and run with it though, the self love will likely come in time. And you can succeed, don’t be afraid to lean on others for support and to seek validation and encouragement. That is just as good of a reason and you will see that when you reach your goals.