Confronting Your Beliefs
We are at a watershed moment encircled by the tense climate of the global pandemic and greater attention towards systemic racial violence against Black Americans. We’re being called on to question our beliefs and values in a way that getting sober might have asked of you. Why do we believe what we believe? How could it be otherwise, especially if what we believe harms us or others? As a non-black person of color, I walked into a recent Black Lives Matter protest with the erroneous belief that my experience was akin to that of a Black person’s (I feel abashed to admit this, but I want to call myself out.) While I’ve experienced and witnessed casual racism and microaggressions, especially at prior workplaces, in no way have I, or Asian Americans, been systematically dehumanized and oppressed like generations of Black Americans and it’s important to sit with that.
This is an opportune time to awaken and dismantle our comfortable beliefs for ones that ask us to step up. The irony is not lost on me that my imploring you to take an inventory of your belief systems is a belief in and of itself. Take it, leave it, or try some of it. You can always go back to an old belief if a new one doesn’t feel right or true.
Prior Misconceptions About Sobriety
Getting sober was one step towards challenging my old belief that to be a funny, interesting, smart, and creative person, I needed to be soused. Some adjectives I might have used to judge those who lived in substance-free college dorms would have been: freakish, uninteresting, serious, suspicious, self-righteous, nerdy, and pretentious. How could someone not possibly want to use substances? I thought that to get sober, you really had to have a problem and I thought I was fine (I was not; I woke up in an emergency room five times over four years due to my usage not knowing how I got there or the good Samaritans who helped.) Some of the most brilliant, introspective, hilarious, and stunning people I know are sober. It’s easier to skip over small talk with recovering individuals and jump right into deeper, more meaningful conversations because of our shared background.
Rethinking Sobriety Platitudes
Do you accept everything you hear in recovery meetings as your personal truth? It’s one thing to acknowledge a slogan, but does it truly resonate for you or is it something you are attempting to adopt and believe as you’re encouraged to “stay in the herd?” With more sober time, I’ve found I can trust myself more and keep from blindly accepting certain recovery platitudes. As we grow more into ourselves with sobriety, we get to trim away that which no longer feels kind, warm, or useful.
12-Step programs tout that one must have a relationship to a Higher Power, or something greater than themself in order to recover. If you’re in 12-Step recovery, what is your relationship to this suggestion and has it changed over time? When disagreeing with friends or family, is your belonging in that group threatened? Is your “membership” contingent on sharing certain beliefs, or do you feel comfortable standing your ground in moments of discomfort over conflicting truths? Are you also open to hearing other sides and respectfully disagreeing as needed?
Challenging Systems of Oppression
The racist and prejudiced belief systems that underlie the history of the United States actively oppress marginalized groups. What are our personal parts in perpetuating this system?
Conscious and Unconscious Bias
In this flurry of dialogue, what are your internalized biases and beliefs--both consciously and unconsciously--around bodies that look similar to or different from yours? Some places to start exploring include racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heteronormativity, and other systems of oppression. Internalized self-prejudice might resonate for you and is an interesting realm to explore as well.
Learning about violence, discrimination, and oppression instead of experiencing it is a privilege, so go forth and read widely, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, educate yourself, attend protests, amplify marginalized voices, speak up when you witness injustice, and donate to causes that are working towards a more inclusive, equitable, and just society. Expecting the emotional labor of marginalized folks is harmful, so try and avoid that. If you must, please ask for permission first. Notice if you fall into the trap of performative allyship, or exhibiting and flaunting the anti-racist work you are doing to prove that you are “one of the good ones.” True allyship entails investing in a meaningful way year-round, rather than reactively and for clout.
Getting to the Core
Core beliefs determine how we feel about ourselves, others, and society at large. Limiting, toxic core beliefs shrink our perspective of the world and what is possible within in. Examples include: I will always be alone, I’m not worthy, I need substances to be myself, among others. These can originate from the combined messages of family members, friends, authority figures, media, society, culture, past experiences and they can easily become internalized as truth.
Try interrogating these irrational beliefs: When did I first feel this way? When was it otherwise? What would be an appropriate, balanced, and helpful alternative belief? Sometimes this line of questioning can be done alone. At other times, talking it out with your support network of friends, mentors, and a therapist can usher in the clarity you need. Sometimes it is enough to ask the questions without having an answer. They are an opening that enables you to step outside the noise and begin to disidentify with what may no longer serve you.
Discomfort in Questioning
There’s an endless array of benefits to questioning long-held beliefs and entertaining other possibilities. When you surround yourself with people who don’t think and look like you, you allow for a richer existence full of more nuance than one in which your beliefs are reflected back to you in an echo chamber, rife with confirmation bias. The term “filter bubble” refers to an online environment in which algorithms figure out what you want to see, and just as easily, we can create real-life “filter bubbles” when we limit the kinds of company we choose to keep, whether on or offline. Learn to tolerate discomfort, a space from which you’ll be able to create productive change.
Why Does Something Resonate?
Pay attention to what doesn’t resonate for you. Why doesn’t it? Do you define your beliefs in opposition to others or do they hold on their own? Something that resonates is a match to your current desires. Challenging your beliefs isn’t supposed to be a comfortable or convenient process. In fact, if it’s emotionally messy and inconveniencing you in any way, you’re probably doing it right. Let yourself have hard conversations with others about conflicting beliefs, then spend time in solitude to begin to process it. You might have an emotional hangover and you might say or do the wrong things in an attempt to understand the other side, but know that it can be ultimately rewarding. While I believe in our right to not express ourselves (especially online), I also think it’s brave to own up to past misguided actions and words and apologize as needed. Trust that you are not alone and that humility is a strength, not a weakness.
Call me a fool, but I am hopeful that our current climate is planting the seed for difficult conversations that will be healing and conducive to new ideas and paradigms. Sobriety equips me with the clarity that is necessary on a base level to be able to see beyond my beliefs to that of others and where I can contribute in meaningful ways when and where it makes sense.