by Tony A.
Self-acceptance. This has been one of the most challenging, albeit powerful, achievements in my life to date: learning to accept and love myself as I am, period!
All of my life I had been plagued with feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear, inferiority and worthlessness. From the age of seven or so, I felt a deep sense of “something is wrong with me” and that if you ever really got to know me, you simply would not like me.
I then began to use denial, fantasy, rationalization, minimization and escapism as a way to deal with these very uncomfortable feelings. As I grew older into my teen years, these dark feelings really intensified to self-hatred. Although at the time I was not aware that I hated myself, in recovery I came to see that I did.
In my reality, self-hatred has proven to be one of the most insidious of my character defects, causing me such anguish and suffering. More importantly, it gave my disease of alcoholism fuel for its devastation.
I tried to cover up the unrelenting pain and suffering that I caused myself and others with thick layers of dishonesty, denial and rationalization. Ultimately, I kept myself in a place of isolation and alienation for a very long time and had great difficulty in forming any type of meaningful relationship with people. I kept myself in a comfortable place of pretension, arrogance and false pride that was justified by the words “I do not need you and I am just fine all by myself.”
My mindset told me “I am right and you are wrong”, and was constantly in some type of conflict with myself and others. I had very intense feelings of abandonment and distrust of others, so I built up the “great wall” to keep you out because you were the enemy. I had an extremely critical focus.
It did not matter who you were or how wonderful you might be. I would find fault find and criticize you in my mind until the relationship would invariably dissolve. Generally, there would be some type of argument and if you did not do what I wanted, you were dismissed. Or, I would just leave you altogether without any notice.
This was repeated over and over again. Self-loathing, depression, apathy and loneliness were the common facets of my character and I believe that these feelings directly corresponded to my lack of self-acceptance.
I fully understand this today but in my early days of recovery, when I was completely immersed in the intensity of these feelings and the disease, I really could not see it. I was compelled to do other things in the hopes of combating those awful feelings, and I tried many!
Most of these behaviours were rooted in obsessive methods of seeking validation, approval, pleasure and attention. Each would work for a while, but invariably the spell or rush would wear off and I would land right back in the same place.
This constant yo-yo of emotionalism, ranging from intense highs to very sad lows, was not the way I wanted to be in my sobriety; it so closely mimicked my using days.
When I honestly looked at my behaviour and attitude, with the help of a loving and compassionate sponsor, I could see that work needed to be done around my ego and self-centeredness. Lots and lots and lots of work!
Unravelling the causes and conditions brought me to an understanding and awareness of my condition, but this was only a beginning. It was the corrective measures that I took to change my behaviour and attitude that really mattered.
This has not been an overnight transformation, and working on this area of my life continues even today. I have been sober many days, but this kind of deeply-ingrained belief does not just go away. It’s like the disease of addiction: I must remain vigilant with the program of action.
Otherwise, it starts to rear its ugliness in my life again. For me, the ugliness starts with indifference towards you and a lack of honesty that is played out in many ways and goes much deeper than just not telling the truth.
My early days were filled with the “could haves, would haves and should haves” and these ideas were the first that needed to go. The overwhelming remorse of a very dark way of life, and the horrible things that I did, certainly did not help in the forming of healthy esteem and self-acceptance.
Every time a thought would come into my mind reminding me of the dark side, I needed to turn it over and let it go and replace my focus immediately on something good and light.
Not that was I was exercising denial or playing “let’s pretend this did not happen”, but I saw that it did me no good to brood in the past and it really did keep me stuck and my heart closed with shame. There was much good in my sober life, in the here and now, that needed my attention.
I found that another good practice was to try my best to focus on goodness wherever possible, especially in 12-step meetings when I really did not want to listen or my mind would instantly turn to judgment and criticism of you. I needed to catch myself right away and turn my thoughts to something that I liked about you.
Learning to reprogram my thinking and attitude needed constant attention and mindfulness; otherwise, I would slip right back to the same old patterns of thought, just like that.
Doing esteemable acts has been another source for the building of my character and self-acceptance: doing for others what I really desired for myself. If I wanted more love and inspiration in my life, then I need to be more loving and inspirational to others. I learned a long time ago, thanks to good sponsorship, that this was essential.
Although I did not necessarily want to be so loving and kind to others (I was very needy and mistrusting in my earlier days), I could start with the smaller things like being of service to a group and doing volunteer work for a charity. The words “If you want what we have, then you do what we do” really resonated with me.
I really had a lot of admiration for the people who had a lightness of heart and did not take themselves so seriously. The people in my life (both in and out of the rooms of 12-step programs) who truly live and love life have been a real inspiration to me and I do my best to pass this on.
Above all, I do not underestimate the power of love, tolerance, kindness and compassion. It is said, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” This has been the most amazing gift.
To have this happen in my life, I had to first start by letting you love me. By believing that a higher power loved me no matter what. By believing that a higher power had directed me to this wonderful and often wacky world of recovery and to the fine people in the fellowship. By inviting the fellowship into my life and heart, to treat it as sacred and not take it for granted. Most importantly, by being grateful for this way of life.
Then, all that was asked of me was simply to pass on what had been given to me so freely – to complete the circle of love and service.
When I first sobered up, I could not look at myself without feeling disgust and shame. Today, I really like what I see and can honestly say that I love myself and my life as it is. It’s a journey and well worth it.