Perspective: The Pity Patter of Little Defeats

by Paul S. (Punanai 2011)

Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.

~ John Gardner


self-pity4-240x180Like alcohol, self-pity was something I wallowed in, straight up. Undiluted. It was part and parcel of my alcoholism. Like depression and anxiety, self-pity was part engine, part exhaust of the vehicle. Self-pity helped to drive the vehicle, and yet was a by-product. It was a toxic circle of life that fed upon itself in a sick manner of living. The more I felt sorry for myself, the more I drank, and the more I drank, the more I felt sorry for myself. Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink, as the saying goes.

Self-pity came easy to me. I didn’t have to struggle to feel sorry for myself. It was one of those things that I could tee up and crank out of the ballpark. Every. Single. Time. Self-pity was my “go to” when alcohol was or wasn’t working. Self-pity gave me identity : Paul, Victim Extraordinaire. Nice to meet you. Here’s my card.

Now, I never understood, even into my sobriety, why self-pity was seen as such a big deal. So what if I was down on myself a bit? (Or a lot.) So what if I kicked myself while I was down and thought less of myself? So what if I couldn’t count one good grace in my life? I wasn’t hurting anyone, right? So what was the big deal? I heard people talking about it as if it were as bad as drinking.

But after talking to others on this recovery path, and doing a little research and soul-searching, I finally understood why self-pity is such a powerful narcotic, as Mr. Gardner’s quote describes.

You see, while I may not be addicted to self-pity, I did find it intoxicating. And you know what? I find it the same today. If and when I choose (and make no mistake, I now choose to get into self-pity), it’s intoxicating. When I am immersed in self-pity, everything floats away. I am the only one there. I am grounded to nothing and my thinking reflects that. That’s the allure of self-pity – nothingness. Getting away from the real world around me.

Self-pity is fear and self-centeredness ripped on ‘roids. When I feel sorry for myself, I am fearful of something. The way it works is like this: when I am frozen in fear about something, I react by convincing myself that there is no choice in the matter. I am fated to be in some particular situation. There are no other ways for me to change things. That is because I fear making that change.

So if I am afraid of making a change in my life, I justify it by getting into a place of victimization. And in that victimization, I no longer am in the sphere of gratitude. I lose perspective. I start to see the negative in myself. I start to see the perceived pointlessness in the situation. Self-esteem gets trampled on and I find myself dropping down the ladder of spirituality.

The other part of self-pity that truly trounces on us is that it takes us out of the chance of being of use to others. When I am wrapped up in self, I don’t see you. You don’t exist. All of a sudden I forget all the things that I should be grateful for. I can’t help you in any way because I am so entrenched in my own filth that I am immobilized. And the more I get wrapped up in self, the more I stay wrapped up in self. I am no longer of service to myself, or to you. I am gone. Sounds familiar, yes? My alcoholism worked in exactly the same way.

See, this whole thing we do, as alcoholics in recovery, is all about getting to the causes and conditions of our behaviours and ways of thinking and reacting. My room for growth is limitless, as it is for everyone.

Through the strength of keeping tight ties with the Creator, with the fellowship of others, with counsel, with prayer, with written work, with mindfulness and meditation … all these things are at my fingertips, and it’s my choice whether I use them or not. I am not powerless over this. It’s whether I want to be there. It’s whether I choose to be in bleakness or gratitude. Darkness or brightness. Pain or love. Ego or selflessness. Self-pity or self-esteem.

I need to continue bringing myself to the light, to usefulness, to purpose, to love, to joy, to looking at the good, looking at the similarities, looking at what the heart has to say. Come with an open heart and open mind. If I do that, I am at least on the right path.

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to throw my old business cards out. Perhaps get new ones: Paul. Child of God. Extraordinaire.

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email