I came to recovery broken. I came to recovery having lost all sense of self. I had a huge sense of what I had needed; another drink, another line, another pill – anything- I just needed something! Until I didn’t. Until I had only one thing left to lose: my being. The day after I had taken my last drink, and NO, I didn’t know at the time it would be my last, but that day, that morning I woke up, sitting on the edge of the bed – looking out at nothing. I felt lost and doomed. I felt that if I did this one more time, if I drank and drugged just one more time, I would walk out on what was left of my life. I would walk out of my dingy infested room, out the front door and turn my back on the last bits of a normal life. I would walk away from my children, my friends, myself.
My first act of self-esteem, and the one I would hold onto for months before I found another, was to get clean and sober. I put alcohol down that day. (I relapsed on and off for over a year on drugs before I left them behind as well.) My first act of self-esteem was to stop drinking.
After that, though, I had no sense of self-worth. Even practicing all the tools of recovery, I had no sense of self confidence or self-respect. I was still embroiled in a deep and pervasive sense of worthlessness that manifested in having no boundaries, wanting to please others, having no sense of personal preferences or choice. Well, not completely – I still had rage and hysteria and sadness, but no way to vocalize or communicate issues before they became emotional emergencies. I lacked any further development of self-esteem.
Self esteem – it is a part of the pathway to a full and satisfying life. I learned in the rooms of recovery “you build self-esteem by doing esteemable acts.” And this is true. It is a useful tip on how to build some self-respect. Contribute to the good of the group, be of service, find a way to be useful. So my first esteemable acts were setting up chairs, emptying ashtrays, setting out the coffee, being the literature person and so on. My self-esteem was developed by doing service. This is good, but it can be a trick.
If my self-esteem is only based on what I do for others it can be a trick- an illusion. Self-esteem is an inside job; so doing for others is a way to demonstrate my value of service and not the other way around. The same action: setting up chairs say, can demonstrate my ethic of being useful, but if that is reversed; if my goodness is based on the fact that I set up chairs I become trapped. If I cannot set up chairs, am I still good? Are my ethics still intact? Am I a fraud? Is doing good a trap; defining my self-esteem?
So further down the path to recovery I have had to use the TIPS I learned in the rooms, (be of service to the group and to others in recovery) turning this inward in a healthy way, and finding dignity in self-care. I also learned about the TRICKS of practicing kindness towards others to learn to practice kindness towards myself. Later I have fine tuned these lessons and in doing so have avoided the TRAP of believing that only OUTWARD action will lead to self-esteem. Inward care is self-regard; a true source of an enduring sense of self-esteem. There are times I need to step back from service to others, to nurture myself.
In this process I may be practicing the greatest act of self-esteem of all: self-care through self- respect.