“If the chocolate doesn’t hit the sides on the way down, chances are you may be self-medicating!”

I’d heard the term “Self-medication” before, but I thought I was to do with taking too many pain killers when you hurt your back, or doctors prescribing drugs for themselves.

But I thought it was all about numbing some kind of physical pain.

Didn’t know it could apply to emotional pain as well.

I read in Brene Brown’s work that she would drink alcohol or eat cake to numb things. I just didn’t understand what she meant about numbing.

Over time I have grown to understand that we can look to numb emotional pain. When we don’t have the tools yet to handle the emotions.

When I look back over time, I notice that I used to spend lots of money. I would buy handbags and dresses and shoes and anything else going. I could spend a whole bunch of money in the space of half an afternoon.
And sometimes I would even wear the clothes or the shoes or the handbag.

But more often than not I might wear it once, then leave it languishing on a shelf till the next purchases were brought home.

I used to think it was because I was bored.

Now I wonder whether it was because I was numbing.

Numbing the anxiety I felt that I wasn’t good enough, that I was an imposter, a fake. Numbing it because I was afraid to name it. I wasn’t supposed to be scared and anxious. I was supposed to be the strong one.

I also did a great line in OCD – obsessive compulsive behaviour – checklists to leave the apartment, taking pictures of wall sockets to prove I had switched things off at the wall, endless checking of the car doors that everything was locked before I went on a trip.

Controlling behaviour is also an example of self-medication.

Go figure.

How do you know, then, if you are self-medicating, or simply buying something nice, enjoying a treat of chocolate or wine, or just making sure everything is shut before you leave?

Well, it would seem that if the chocolate barely hits the sides on the way down, that might be an indication that you are self-medicating. If the things you bought barely see the outside of your apartment, those purchases might be some form of self-medication too.

And if you are looking to numb some kind of emotion because you don’t have the tools to manage those emotions, what emotion is it that you are trying to numb?

Well, only you will know that.

One thing to consider is what you were doing just before you picked up the pack of biscuits. What was going on then? What did you feel?

Often today in my “I earn a lot less than I did when I was buying all those clothes” present existence, I reach for the food rather than the credit card (cos I don’t have the same money to spend on Longchamp handbags as I used to) when I am in a funk.

Now, to quote Dr JJ, “Being in a funk” is not an emotion. So, I need to get clearer.

When I am in a funk it means that I am feeling uncertain and anxious about something; or guilty that I haven’t done more in the day; or worried about what tomorrow will bring.

Now I have the tools to handle things more easily. Naming the emotion, getting curious about the thoughts that lead to that emotion, and remembering that they are just thoughts. And if they are just thoughts, knowing that I can reframe those thoughts into something more helpful.

I also recognise the choice point – the moment I can choose whether to pick up the packet of biscuits and continue eating the contents, or choose to do something else. Eat something more healthy, go for a walk, get some fresh air.

Its all a blooming work in progress, something that needs to be practiced – noticing these things.

I am glad to be on the journey.

What about you? Do you feel like you have the tools to manage your emotions? Or do you find yourself eating, or spending money, or [insert as appropriate] as a way to numb?


In this second episode of “Jo and JJ go mental … health”, we talk about self medication. We also talk about having difficult conversations, and managing our anxiety around those.
In particular, we cover the following:

3.10 – “I feel like you are an asshole” – why that’s a thought not a feeling even if you used the word “fee”
7.30 – the importance of language to ease connection
9.40 – lets talk about self medication
12.40 – when you don’t even taste the chocolate, chances are its self medication
15.49 – controlling behaviour and self medication – same thing
17.33 – sometimes its good to start a conversation with “i am scared of this conversation, but we still need to have it”
20.39 – when there’s a power dynamic, sometimes you do need to stay quiet
22.48 – going into a conversation with clarity on your objective, what you want for the relationship and your self respect
27 – the environment – you cannot control the other person and how they will react, but you can still go into that conversation with confidence and courage