If a person in recovery is fortunate, lives long enough, and searches diligently and deeply for 'causes and conditions', answers begin to come. Answers to the questions, "What is it going to take for me to begin to really enjoy life? What's it going to take for me to stop sabotaging myself, even in recovery? What's it going to take for me to stop hating myself, much less like, or even love, myself?" One such answer came to me this evening. It is probably not THE answer, but it's a big one. I ran across a quote in my Facebook feed from Roland Bal, who treats PTSD and C-PTSD, and whom I follow. It is this: "Self-righteousness is an outcome of uncontained and unresolved anger. Think opposites; when you are made to feel small, you want to feel significant."
Reading that statement opened a door for me. You see, I engage in a whole lot of self-righteous, judgmental thinking. Now, I very rarely expose myself by actually saying what I think when I'm in that mode - I also have huge people-pleasing tendencies, and I don't think that people-pleasing and self-righteousness mix well together. Additionally, I loathe self-righteous people (which is a bit ironic). But I also still loathe myself a lot of the time, especially lately, when this type of thinking in which I'm engaging bothers me. It bothers me, but I'm not very skillful yet at stopping it or letting it go. I do recognize that I've nothing to be self-righteous about. I am a very far cry from being a pure and perfect human being. But the fact remains, on occasion...well, on many occasions...I think I'm smarter than and better than most folks. And this happens a lot at work, and it happens off and on at home (my current home, living with 10 young men).
In the Recovery Dharma program, compassion is big. Practicing compassion is emphasized - both compassion with others, and compassion with ourselves. Additionally, as a trained and certified (but not currently working as) Peer Support Specialist, I am supposed to practice compassion and empathy and be non-judgmental. And the weird thing, maybe, is that I do practice compassion, and I am empathetic and non-judgmental. When I sit down with another person and have a real conversation about recovery or life or whatever, I set my intention to be that compassionate person, and I am. And I don't judge those whom I've gotten to know through this process. So, if I have the capacity and the skill for compassion and empathy, why does my mind flip at times to self-righteousness and judgmental-ism?
The answer is in the above quote: "...when [I am] made to feel small, [I] want to feel significant."
This is obviously an issue of self-esteem and self-worth, and I know I'm not alone. In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, co-founder Bill Wilson writes in his own story, "...Twenty-two, and a veteran of foreign wars, I went home at last. I fancied myself a leader, for had not the men of my battery given me a special token of appreciation? My talent for leadership, I imagined, would place me at the head of vast enterprises which I would manage with the utmost assurance. I took a night law course, and obtained employment as investigator for a surety company. The drive for success was on. I'd prove to the world I was important [emphasis added]." (Alcoholics Anonymous, AA World Services, 4th ed, pp. 1-2) Now I had read Bill's Story numerous times over the years, and I missed the line, "I'd prove to the world I was important." When it finally hit me, it occurred to me that a person with normal self-worth and normal self-esteem doesn't need to prove to anybody that they're important. And Bill felt this way at the beginning of his alcoholic journey, before his mind had been warped and he'd been beaten down by the disease.
I'd heard often in meetings that alcoholics are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes, and it certainly seems to agree with Bill's statement. In the last few years of various treatment modalities, I've learned that alcoholics and addicts take on some of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This isn't to say that all alcoholics have this disorder, but that a number of the traits that those with the disorder have are developed during the course of a person's addiction, such as, "I know better than you (or anybody)" and "I can do whatever I want."
The AA way is to classify this egomania combined with feelings of inferiority as a character defect or shortcoming, and ask God to remove it. That actually never worked for me.
I assert that Bill Wilson's desire to prove he was important developed long before he ever took his first drink of alcohol. Roland Bal's statement suggests that when I am made to feel small, I want to feel significant - the opposite of small. When I am unheard, I desire to be heard. When I am made to feel stupid, or useless, or less-than (not good enough), I desire to feel smart, useful, or better than good enough. I'm not an egomaniac. I think egomaniacs have ambition, something I've never seemed to have a lot of. Or maybe will, or drive. I do remember wanting to show the 'peers' (I use that term really loosely here) with whom I attended high school that I was something, and often got on the path to do just that. But I could never stay on the path. I always, always, always failed. Every single time. Some people become great successes, yet still feel inferior at their core - for no good reason. I had reason. I was inferior.
So, over the years, I retained my better-than-thou attitude because having it made me feel superior, or significant. But, just like the alcohol, and the substances, and the behaviors that made me feel good, my attitude could never sustain how I really felt, what I really believed about myself - that I was less-than, and defective, and really undeserving of anything good. For the longest time, I wasn't even lovable; if somebody did love me, they were either crazy, or I had fooled them into loving me. That love was never sustainable.
But I digress. The fact is that I had developed a habit of thinking, an attitude, in which the world and most of its inhabitants were really quite shitty, and unsuitable for me. So even when I got something nice, like a shiny new car, or a shiny new job, or a shiny new girlfriend, eventually my overall attitude would color the the new thing or person, and it wasn't good enough any more. And I'd leave. Or drink. Or attempt suicide. Or all of the above, it did not matter, I would fuck. it. up.
I had a new job once and a friend asked me how I liked it, and I said, "It's great! I really like everybody there!" And they replied, "Don't worry, that'll pass." Yep.
This evening, after I read that quote, memories came up of a lot of the times growing up that others, usually authority figures, made me feel small. Or, to put it more accurately, I erroneously believed the demeaning words and actions of some people. But, when a five or six-year-old child is told by their 1st grade teacher to stand in a corner and stay there, and "don't turn around because nobody wants to see your face," that child, who is supposed to respect his teachers and believe what they say, might have a tendency to believe that teacher. To this day I have no idea or recollection of what I did wrong. But I knew I was bad. And what happened with me was I began to look at almost everybody as better and/or bigger than me. I was small.
So what happens at work, or at home (living with 10 young men), that triggers this 'small' feeling, to which I respond with thoughts of judgment? I can truthfully say that it's all internal, not external. Nobody has talked down to me, or done anything purposely to make me feel small for a very long time. It's the fear of being judged 'not good enough' that I carry with me. It's the fear of people that I don't know well and that are 'different' from me that I carry. There's the opportunity to be judged at work, because I'm not perfect at my job. There's the opportunity to be judged at home, because even though we're peers in addiction, I'm different because I'm old (and probably old-fashioned). I've got some nice things going now, but I need to be wary because things always change for the worse. That idea right there is the underlying belief, and the key to becoming a professional self-saboteur.
I like signs of progress, and I experienced some progress the other day. A person at work who handles pricing and making price tags (we must have a million) called me up to their office. I had set up some displays the day previous, and did not make any signage for prices or product description. They let me know in no uncertain terms that that can't happen, and that if I need assistance in making the signage, they'd help. Now, the person telling me this did this in a manner that was pretty stern, and very understandable to me. The progress I made was I accepted that I had screwed up, this person was letting me know, very firmly, how to avoid screwing up again. I did not take this personally, like "I'm a bad person." (In fact, come to think of it, if my thinking had gone that way, the better and more accurate version would have been, "I'm a bad worker). I left that encounter examining what I was thinking and feeling, and it was all ok. I screwed up, they let me know. It happens. I like when things like this happen - I can respond in a rational way. I know I can do it!
What can I do about this habitual, downward spiral thinking of mine that causes me suffering? I've already started with the first thing: objective self-examination/reflection. The next is to share this with someone, such as my mentor.
Then I would probably visit my inner child, the 5 year-old me, or the 11 year-old me, or the 19 year-old me, in meditation and say something like this: "I am sorry you are hurt. You do not deserve to be hurt. When adults speak to you in a demeaning way, a way that makes you feel small, it is not you. It is not your fault - adults have no business talking down to a child, and those that do have their own issues inside that they haven't dealt with. They really know no better, and it is not your fault. You are a worthy person simply because You Are. When your peers make fun of you, and make you feel 'not good enough', know that this, too, is done out of their own ignorance, and their own issues. People who feel good about who they are don't put others down. Please know that you are loved, that you are a valuable and worthwhile person. Please know that your life is valuable. Please know that for every person you meet that puts you down, you will meet 100 others who will lift you up. You are not a burden to anybody, and you are so much more than 'enough'." Something like that.
Then there is journaling. Actual journaling, not just this blog. And forgiveness - me first. I will forgive myself for believing the lies with which I grew up for so so long into my adulthood. I will forgive myself for the harm I caused myself and others through acting on my erroneous beliefs. And I will forgive those that I believe hurt me. I will begin practicing understanding and compassion when I think of these people. I will send metta to every one of them.
And I will consciously practice gratitude for every person in my life. I will practice seeing the best in them. In doing so, I will eliminate the cognitive dissonance I experience and the self-loathing I feel from desiring to be a kind, loving, compassionate person while thinking like a self-righteous twit. I will open myself to even greater connection with others and begin to recognize the worth of us all.
So that's the plan. In my last post, I wrote about recognizing and developing personal power. A person who feels small and insignificant does not feel much personal power, if any. The better a person feels about themself, the more personal power they have to direct their lives in a way that is beneficial not only to the person but to those whose lives they touch. That is my desire - to live in such a way that benefits humankind and eases the suffering of others.
And we'll see where that goes.