Category Archives: self-esteem

No Burning Bushes

Many of us speak about our “relationships” with our Higher Power, whatever that may be, but how many of us spend our time asking for things instead of for the power to do things, as in the Third Step Prayer. (Look it up: page 63 in the AA Big Book.)

How many of us spend our time telling H.P. what we want, asking for advice, but then never shut up long enough to hear any answers? What kind of relationship is that? That doesn’t even work with humans! Continue reading

None Of My Business (Revised)

SerenityBecause I talk to folks about recovery a lot, I run across issues with self-esteem (in addition to my own). It’s not unusual to find situations where someone is obsessed with a remark they heard and blew all out of proportion by projecting their own fear onto it. Often these are comments that the offended party perceived to be “rude” and regarding which they believe that they are entitled to an apology. (Translation: “My self-esteem is damaged and I have to shore it up in any way possible without threatening it any further, therefore it’s the other person’s job to fix it.”)

I try to point out that everyone is rude on occasion, for a variety of reasons, and that even though some people behave like jackasses a good deal of the time it doesn’t mean that we have to give their remarks any more than minimal weight. I often mention that what other people think, even about us, is really none of our business. That doesn’t usually penetrate far, at least at first.

I’ve seen this a lot over the years. Some folks just don’t understand that (a.) we can’t control what people think about us, or what information about their lives they choose to share with us; (b.) that those things really are none of our business; and that (c.) we aren’t “entitled” to anything, outside of a legal framework. Our entitlements are strictly in our own heads. You get a lot of push-back when you say that to folks, but consider . . . Continue reading

Lovecraft Had It Right

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,
and the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
~ Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Cthulhu

Head Monster, or just Cthulhu?

Lovecraft knew a lot about fear. From “The Color Out Of Space” to “The Call of Cthulhu” he dispensed it liberally, so well that his writings are practically legend and have even spawned a pseudo-religion.

I’ve found that fear is the principal issue that has hindered my recovery over the years, and that “unknown” part is the biggest by far.  I’ve spent a good part of my life semi-paralyzed by fear: of not being good enough, of being ridiculed, of being thought “less than,” of losing people’s love and respect, of not looking good, rejection, and abandonment — the real biggies for me. In short, all those things that addicts understand so well deep down inside, if not consciously. Continue reading

My Cup Runneth Over (It’s not what you think)

“The minute I stopped arguing, I could begin to see and feel.”
Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions, AA World Services

A student went to visit a Zen master. As the student talked on about all the things he knew about Zen, the master served the tea. Naturally he served the guest first, as is the custom. He poured until the cup was full, and then continued pouring. The student watched the cup begin to overflow and  blurted, “It’s full! It’s overflowing!”

“This is you,” the master replied. “How can I teach you unless you first empty your cup?”

Many of us are afraid to admit that we don’t know. To us, it’s like a little piece of death, as if someone were taking away a bit of who we are. For those of us whose self-image is based on our intellect, rather than a steady belief that we have an innate value that can’t be taken from us, to admit that we are wrong is to admit that we are of no value.

It’s a terrible way to live, constantly having to argue, to show others how we really are on top of our game, that we’ve got it together, that we know it all. It’s like being in a constant battle for intellectual — and, often, moral — superiority, and it prevents us from learning things that can eventually lead to truly clear, unfettered thinking and the ability to appreciate ourselves and others for who we really are.

Another pertinent aphorism reads, “You can’t teach a man what he thinks he already knows.” How true, in all but a very few cases.

I used to teach remedial driving to police officers who had exceeded their department’s quota of auto crashes. Most police departments accept that officers will occasionally have a “bit of a shunt” as the British say. It’s the nature of a profession that involves a lot of unavoidable distracted driving, often augmented by adrenaline and a certain amount of fear (and maybe a teensy bit of testosterone, but let’s not go there).

Almost to a man — and I use “man” intentionally, because women are, generally speaking, far easier to teach — they’d sit in the classroom session on the first day and look totally bored, ask smartass questions, and generally act like a bunch of macho guys in a place that they find embarrassing. “Me? Need driving school! Hell, I write tickets for people who don’t know how to drive right!”

We’d tell them specifically what the driving exercises were going to be and the technical details of what it would take to complete them. In the afternoon session, we’d take them out on the track and put them in situations that required pretty sophisticated driving skills. Invariably, they’d quickly become teachable as they discovered that the instructors actually knew stuff that they didn’t, and that they were willing to impart it to those who would listen. By the end of the 3-day course, some of them were asking if they could come back and repeat it.

That’s sort of like hitting a bottom. We find we can’t do it, whatever it is, and we then become teachable. But we still have to overcome the automatic defenses that we’ve built up over our lives: the inability to admit that there’s something we don’t know. We have to empty our cup in order to accept more tea. And then keep our mouths shut until it’s our time to serve the tea.

Any of that sound at all familiar?