No doubt about it, one of the big reasons I drank was because I did not believe I deserved to be loved, to be happy.
My experiences as a child and young adult were hard. Yes, we had enough to eat and money for sports and dance, but I did not feel loved. My parents did their best to raise their five kids but the combination of having one alcoholic parent and both parents who had not learned much about being parents themselves meant home was not a very fun or easy place to be a lot of the time. (By the way, this is really hard to write because I have a great relationship with my parents now, and they have shown me in very many ways how much they do love me.)
Adding to that, I started using drugs and alcohol at 13. That meant being in a lot of unsafe situations and learning a lot of unhealthy behaviour. What made it harder was that I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to about my life, and I was pretty young to be handling some of what was happening.
As I got into my twenties, I continued to drink and do drugs. At the same time, I finished university, got a good job and did well at it, and got very involved in volunteering and community activities. So everything looked pretty good on the outside.
Where things were not so great was on the inside. I did not feel I deserved to be happy. I did not believe in myself. I did not feel very worthy of love, of respect, of trust. And I could not trust myself. Those feelings – and the ongoing negative, judging voices in my head – just made me seek drugs and alcohol to cover my pain, to blunt my anger, to hide my feelings of inadequacy.
Working on Step 6 – “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” – and the rest of the A.A. program 25 years ago meant facing those demons, the low self-esteem, feeling unloved and unworthy. Changing those feelings was not easy. It did start with getting ready to let go of my defects of character, my lack of belief in myself, and my crazy ideas that drugs and alcohol were helping. Working on Step 6 with a group of people, and continuing to work my A.A. program, attend meetings and give back by sponsoring others, all helped me work on my self-esteem.
After I was about 3 years sober I also worked with a therapist who helped me look at my childhood stuff and my experiences as an alcoholic and addict. One of the biggest gifts she gave me was a suggestion for changing the negative, judging tapes in my head:
Take a piece of thick paper and write something positive and loving about yourself, and carry it with you for the day, remembering to read it regularly.
I’ve always carried lip balm in a pocket, so my pocket that was a great place to put that piece of paper each day. I would write something simple and positive – “I deserve to be loved” or “I am a kind person” or “I make a contribution in the world” – on that paper and carry it with me. My fingers would bump into that piece of paper each time I reached for the lip balm. It would remind me of the affirmation I had written. Some weeks I would carry the same message each day; other times I changed the message every day.
Over time, it was amazing to hear the tone of my inner judge change from self-hatred to a kinder and gentler voice. I judged myself less and thought positively about myself more. It deepened my belief in myself as a loving and lovable person. And it brought incredible contentment to my life.
It was tough work to let go of those defects of character, that belief that I was unworthy. My life has become so much richer and I am so much more able to live with intention. My thanks to that great therapist. I have used her technique time and again when I found myself slipping into the negative thoughts, and shared it with others struggling to still their own negative thoughts and words. Doing that work is so worth it!