Friday, September 16, 2011

"Building Self-Esteem"

After a long week in white long-sleeved shirts, it feels so good to throw on a blue t-shirt and swim around in my baggy-ass, tattered jeans. I sit on the patio of my favorite coffee shop, waiting for my iced decaf. I've got about an hour before my homegroup starts, and I've been waiting for a chance to write for days. I'm fighting off a summer cold as well, so that combined with the exhaustion from an even more stressful week than normal well, we'll see how the brain does with the blog.

I've had self-esteem on my mind lately. It's one of the medicines my totem animal brings, specifically self-confidence. With what's been happening in my life lately with the job, the opportunities that are presenting themselves, I've needed that help. But I'm also seeing and hearing the subject discussed around me a lot lately.

When I was taking my psychology classes, I remember having multiple discussions about self-esteem. We'd talk about the movement in primary school education to avoid anything that might damage a child's self-esteem. We talked about it as a tact in child-rearing, how parents will tell their kids they're wonderful, beautiful and smart, attempting to build their children's self-esteem and how the only thing children actually learn from this is that their parents are liars. Or clueless. Or both. I remember an old joke from a tv show where the nerdiest loser kid in school is humilated and walks off in tears, wailing, "but my mom says I'm cool!" Oh no wait a minute, that was me.

No amount of telling someone how great they are can truly make them believe it. Belief in one's self comes only from experience. You may have heard it in the rooms: to build self-esteem, do esteemable things. It's only one of the many things we in the rooms of Recovery have in common; low self-esteem is a huge problem for so many of us. But, like our other issues, it can be addressed. It can get better. We have to do our part, do the footwork, and let our higher power take care of the rest. Like the rest of Recovery, improving our self-esteem and our self-confidence is a process--sometimes a painfully slow one--but if we set ourselves a good course and keep on keepin' on, we will make progress. It is the way of things.

How do we do this? How do we improve ourselves in this area? It's different for each person, but some of the common threads are already known to us if we've been in Recovery for a while. Just as getting away from people who are still getting loaded helps us to stay clean and sober, getting ourselves away from negative influences--people who tear us down--helps us to change. Besides, if you're anything like this addict/alcoholic, then you don't need anyone else to tear you down; I can tear myself down better than anyone else ever could!

We can't control other people. We can't make them change. We can only change ourselves. Giving ourselves permission to get rid of the bad influences in our lives is an important step to building up our sense of self-worth. By doing so, we're taking action to show ourselves we deserve better, that we deserve more. Even if we don't quite believe it at first, we're moving in the direction towards being good to ourselves.

Something else we can do is set achievable goals for ourselves, and then achieve them. We learn this the moment we walk into our first meeting when we learn to stay clean or sober one day at a time. It's a mangeable goal, something achievable. I applied this principle when I started exercising. Even though I had never been physically active in my life, I am now running multiple times a week. I didn't start out by running a marathon, I started out by running a few blocks and slowly built up over time.

Another thing that's really crucial is our own attitude. Again, that's something we do have control over. Beating ourselves up is a bad habit and not something that changes overnight. But it is a behavior we can unlearn. We can intentionally look for the good things in ourselves. When I take my sponsees through the steps, I have them write a up a character assets list as part of the fourth step. Then, later on when they feel low (as we all inevitably do from time to time) I remind them of it, have them pull it out and read it to themselves. I have lists of my character assets, too, and reading those truths about myself, written in the black and white of my own handwriting, is every bit as powerful as the other parts of the 4th Step inventory are.

We say pain is the price of admission, that pain is the motivating factor which brings us the willingness to change. It's as true regarding our low self-esteem as with anything else. At some point, we decide that we can't endure feeling that way anymore, and we find the willingness to do the work necessary to make real, permanent changes in our lives.

Things can be different. There is a solution. Become willing, do the work, and reap the rewards of it.

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