Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

I Should Know Better

There isn’t enough room in a blog post to write about how I despise the word, “should.”  I believe that one single word nearly destroyed me.  The list of all the things I told myself I “should” be is longer than Santa’s.   Suffice it to say if I could have that word eliminated from the English language – or any language for that matter – I’d be thrilled.  But since I’m not that powerful, I have learned to accept its presence and move on.

However, I feel the need to address this idea of “knowing better” or in my case “should know better.”

I’ve done a lot of self-study about what kept me in lock step with the powerful disease of addiction.  I’ve peeled myself back, layer by layer, to unveil the root causes for this.

One of the most profound things I uncovered during that investigation was how the phrase “I Should Know Better” directed my life.

Growing up, I heard, ” Honestly, Alison you really should know better” on a rather regular basis.  This phrase was so ingrained into my head that as I grew older, if I found myself in a bad spot, it would take no time at all for me to think, “Ugh! I should know better!”

For the average person, a reflection like that is nothing more than a check-in of sorts.

Not so for someone who lived underneath addictive, obsessive diseases such as alcoholism and an eating disorder.  No, that statement is monumentally damaging.

When those words are spoken, it’s in response to having said or done something identified as an error.  When I heard those words (either in my own head or from someone else), the message received was, “you made a wrong choice and therefore, YOU are wrong.”

Oh, but I didn’t stop there!  I would continue this mental beat down, internally telling myself the following things.

You should be ashamed of yourself

Which led to … “You’re a failure

Which turned to … “And because you’re a failure, you’re not acceptable.”

In that one simple statement about how I should have known better, I found myself catapulting down a path of  never-ending, terribly damaging, negative self-talk.  And this pervasive cycle went on and on and on.

You can only imagine how strong this sequence of messaging would hit me when I suffered the numerous consequences of daily drinking and sporadic eating habits.

In those moments, and there were many, the self-talk would be, “My God, Alison, a woman your age should know better.  You shouldn’t be behaving like this.

It got to a point where I could not understand why I even had a right to breathe the same air as those around me.  Toward the end of living in my addictive hell, isolation was my only relieving solution.

Here’s the gift.  Once I reached out for the help I needed, I began to untwist this damaging trail of thinking.

There is a belief that when someone enters the rooms of recovery, emotionally they stopped maturing beyond the age in which they first used their substance of choice.  In other words, the age according to one’s birth certificate has absolutely nothing to do with how one had been navigating life.  Thus all the acting, reacting and behaving prior to recovery was like that of someone far younger than the physical self.

For me, I had my first “all out” drinking experience when I was 13.  So, when I entered the treatment center to combat alcoholism, I was the physical age of 40, yet viewing life through the eyes of a young teenager.

I (and my parents) started paying attention to my eating habits when I was 10 or 11, only to be given my first meal plan at the age of 12.   When I barely walked through the doors of an eating disorder treatment center at the age of 46, I was viewing life as a little girl, emotionally and physically.

As much as my head continued to tell me I “should” have known better than to drink to the extent I did or starve myself to near-death, I was clearly incapable of doing so.  Maybe I should have known better based on my birth certificate.  Yet the truth is, I didn’t know any better than a little girl would know how to handle life as a grown woman.

So I took the time to find and understand that little girl inside.  Once I did, I allowed her the space and time to mature into the person I am today.

And while I hope I still experience life with a little bit of child-like wonder, I know my actions and words are those of a healthy, peaceful, grateful 50-year-old woman.



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3 thoughts on “I Should Know Better

  1. Monica on said:


  2. Thanks for the reminder not to “should” all over myself! Love it!

  3. I love this post, Alison. I recently blogged about “shoulding” on myself and the shame spiral that it can encourage. I have tried to train my mind to concious and diligent about avoiding this word. I also really relate to the idea of being emotionally on pause while we turn to our destructive coping mechanisms to help assuage the pain we think we will always have in simply being. You continue to inspire me and my writing.

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