Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“Inherently Unlovable”

I do a little performing, here and there. These days, it’s stepping up at a poetry event or open mic night to speak words from the spiritual principles album I’m finishing. It’s a whole other animal than when I’d play piano or was playing keys in someone’s band. When I was up there behind a set of black and whites, I never got stage fright. Standing before a group of strangers, when it’s just me and just the words I have to speak from my heart, it’s nerve-wracking to say the least. Sometimes I hide one leg behind the other so that no one can see it shaking.

It begins with Honesty…

I didn’t know how to speak from the heart before I got into Recovery. All I knew how to say was what I thought other people wanted to hear. If I had something I wanted to say that was mine, I’d beat around the bush, talk as far around it as possible, because I always felt like I wasn’t allowed to have something of my own to say. I thought it would be burdening other people. I thought I was a burden. This still shows up from time to time when I find myself struggling to call someone else in the program. Especially if it’s late at night and I’m struggling. In some ways, it’s almost as though the worse I feel, the less I’m willing to make that call and get the help I need—the more of a burden I think I am.

When I chaired an NA meeting recently, I found myself with a similar kind of nervousness. I sat at the front of the room and nearly forgot that I had every right to be there. I forgot for a moment that my experience, strength, and hope is every bit as valued and valuable, and that even if I was only able to help one other person in the room that night, that was all that mattered. I pushed through it, just as I do when I perform, and talked with my sponsor about it afterwards. He laughed.

He laughed for the same reason so many of us chuckle during a fellow members’ share: because he understood completely how I felt and had felt the same way himself many times. He joked, wondering tongue-in-cheek about how low a group he would have to be addressing before he himself wasn’t concerned about what they thought of him. “Hello, hello, and thank you for welcoming me to the triple-murderer’s annual convention!”

Feeling like I am not enough, that there is something inherently wrong with me, is not a feeling that has gone away. It ebbs and flows, and on the whole things are much better than they used to be, but all I have to do is address a room full of strangers with the intent of speaking my own piece of truth, and it all comes back in a flash: the nervousness; the fear; the feelings of lack of worth. I find myself right back in that place I was before I started my Recovery. In some ways, it’s even earlier than that. During my using career, I suppressed and repressed all those feelings.

I’m thinking of when I hit six months clean time and stumbled upon the jolting realization of how I didn’t love myself. It was like something I had always known, but had never truly understood, and in that moment I finally did. I finally could see how it was because I didn’t believe in myself, because I did not yet know or believe that I was enough, that so much of my life had been the way it was. Because I thought of myself as worthless, I allowed others to treat me as such. Because I thought I didn’t deserve for good things to happen to me, good things didn’t happen. On the rare occasions when they did, I usually found some way to sabotage it because I couldn’t bear the thought of things actually going well. It didn’t fit in with my concept of the world or of myself. I may have wanted for good things to happen to me, I may have wanted for people to treat me well, but the reality was that I didn’t honestly feel I deserved any of it. And because that was the honest truth at the heart of my being, that was what was borne out in my life.

Speaking at a meeting where I’ve never been brings up all those old issues. Performing in front of a crowd of strangers does, too. But I need these experiences. It’s important to remember where I’ve been. It’s important to remember those dire, desperate feelings of inadequacy. There was a time—and not nearly as long ago as I would care to admit—where those feelings were how I felt all the time.

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