Tag Archives: Self-loathing

Pain and god

Recent events have reminded me how, for so many years, I lived trapped in relentless self-criticism, how I suffered in hating and pitying myself, and how blindly I sought escape from that tangle of feelings. The emotional health I’ve gradually been graced with is paradise by contrast, but living here causes me to forget how lost I used to be — an amnesia that dulls my compassion.

My son came to me last night and shared that he’s in tremendous emotional pain.  I’d had no idea.  The news came as a shock. I remember when he was 6, he told me one night in his sweet, piping voice, “I feel sorry for anyone who has to be around me — because I’m such a horrible person.” I did what I wished my parents had done for me: took him seriously. I explained that he mustn’t listen to what the “mean voice” said to him, that it would always find fault with him just for existing.  I explained all the ways I cope: identify it, label it, question it. Whenever I checked in with him in the weeks and years that followed, he told me the mean voice had gone away. Last night I learned that’s not the case.  As he’s grown to a 6′ young man, so, too, has his self-loathing swelled to a powerful announcer of worthlessness.

And here I hit up against my own powerlessness to lead him out of his pain, as much as I wish I could. Because the resounding, unavoidable fact of life is that we each must find our own way.  I know I could never have healed without the loving community of recovering alcoholics to which my higher power guided me. But my son, like every person ever born, must find his own path.  Will I send him to counseling?  Of course!  But even an excellent therapist can only clear the ground and help us give names to the various forms of suffering and trauma we carry.  To step out of those to a higher plane — that’s something each must do for themself, collaborating, whether consciously or unconsciously, with god. 

No one can hand you freedom. The whole problem with drugs, alcohol, or any addiction is that they seem to — so we chase them, no matter what anyone tells us.  

In fact, my powerlessness to help my son brings me up against my powerlessness to help anyone; it makes me question the whole premise of this blog. So often I write about the view from this safe, cozy ledge of sanity I’ve settled on, forgetting what it was like to dangle above that dark chasm, clinging to whatever false fix of the day.  I wish so much I could hand over to the world all I’ve been given — but life doesn’t work that way.

Image: Mario Sixtus

I come back to my core belief: that we are all incomplete without god, that we’re each set down on this Earth with a mission to reforge that connection, and that to the extent we succeed, we expand the power of love/god.  “We all live inside of god” — that’s how a Near Death Experiencer I recently interviewed put it.  And yet we bubble ourselves off inside fear, anger, and ego, languishing in isolation. Each time we pierce the bubble by reaching through with love, we express the energy of god.  We are god’s tendrils, its nerve endings, the leaves of its vast tree. But if a leaf seals itself off from sustenance because for some reason it’s denying the tree’s existence, it withers. And withering hurts.

My father, I, and now, I learn, my son were all given minds wired for self-condemnation. Until last night I believed that, because my son doesn’t use drugs or alcohol, we’d somehow broken the chain. Yet today I consider that, although I was 6 years sober when he was born, I remained a confused woman clinging to a dysfunctional, codependent relationship. When that relationship fell apart, my son, who was then only two and a half, lay face down on the carpet and spoke the words, “My family is dead.”  I tried so hard to love him so much that the pain wouldn’t sear his little heart — but for whatever reason, I couldn’t spare him. I don’t know that I could have done anything differently.  All I could do was be honest and love him — and that’s more true than ever today.

Last night I tried to speak to him of god, of the crucial importance of seeking out whatever font of goodness lies within our cores and appealing to it for help. Doing that, I said, saved my life. How lame my words sounded!  How lame they sound here!  Because finding god is an inside job, while words are just outside symbols, and never the twain shall meet.  That’s why religion rings so hollow for most of us.

Yet the same is true here.  Words, words, words! 

My own truth is that god has led me every step of the way through my own messy, twisted, often sick-sick-sick story, though I never knew it in the moment.  That fucking cliché poem about only one set of footprints in the sandThat has been my experience. For instance, without that dysfunctional, codependent relationship, I might not be here today, because that partner was sober in AA when we met, whereas I was a dying drunk. 

Every pain I’ve walked through has been my teacher, a way for god to suggest a deeper truth if I was willing to see it.  Pain — listening to it, not fleeing it — has shown me what works and what doesn’t.  In essence, it’s been like an electric fence bordering my own unique path toward happiness. I’ve had zap myself repeatedly by straying after various  dumb shiny things before I’d become willing to abandon them and proceed along a wiser tack. Slowly, gradually, I’ve learned how to live.

The same, I pray, will be true for my son — and for you.

 

 

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Filed under God, Recovery, Self-worth, Spirituality

Self-Loathing: it’s a thing

Whatever I write here, it’s going to  fail epically because my words can’t capture the feeling of self-loathing.  I’ll just end up looking like some pompous dork who thinks she knows shit, so she posts, “Hey, everybody!! I know ALL ABOUT self-loathing!  Yeah, um, it’s like, when you hate yourself!” All you guys reading are going to wince in response, saying, “Whoa–” and hurry to click your way outta here.  OMG – I’m so embarrassed.  Cause here it is, me again, tainting everything with that gross, defective me-ness and fucking it all up. Why? Because there’s just something fundamentally wrong with me! Cause I just plain SUCK!

Okay, that was a simulation.  Really I’m okay.  🙂  But if you didn’t recognize that mental path as familiar turf, you should probably skip this post. Chances are, if you’re an alcoholic, you know it well. Self-loathing is that voice that volunteers ruthlessly condemning “insight” when you’re tired or sick or PMSing  – or sometimes even when things are fine.

Gary-snail-spongebobSelf-loathing is particularly pronounced in alcoholics/addicts as the flipside of self-aggrandizement. We develop an oversized ego that attempts to compensate for our weak sense of self-worth. You can envision it as a big, technicolor-shelled snail waving antennae of “I’m so totally awesome!” that, when you flip it over, reveals the oozy slime of “I so totally suck!”  Scientifically speaking, relief derives from becoming a humble, right-sized little snail like Spongebob’s.  That’s why we need the 12 Steps.

Before I came to AA, I believed the voice of self-loathing was unique to me. As described in my addiction memoir, I first experienced it in preschool, a feeling that other kids could all consult a script I lacked.  In my teen years through recovery at 34, I thought of that voice as “brutal honesty” or “facing facts.” When it was on, any sense of my own basic okayness struck me as self-satisfied idiocy. It seemed to declare truths I’d always known deep down.

The only person I’d ever heard speak self-loathing was my alcoholic father. “As soon as I wake up,” he’d confess, “I say to myself, P—,” (our last name) “get your lazy butt out of bed! You’re gonna louse something up today, you no-good schlemiel!”  Sadly, Dad never got sober, and gradually his self-loathing developed an immunity to the alcohol that had once curbed it.

By contrast, when my sweet son was only 6, he cried to me one night before bed: “I just feel sorry for anyone who has to be around me, because I’m such a horrible person!  I don’t feel sorry for me, I feel sorry for them. I just wish I could be anybody else!  I hate me!”

Hugging him didn’t help.  Telling him he was wonderful didn’t help. What helped was explaining to him what I’m about to tell you.

Self-loathing is a thing.  It’s a voice, an entity unto itself, a part of our mind that tells us the same stuff over and over.  My sponsor taught me to call it “the worm.” My son and I named it “the mean voice.”

Having a name for self-loathing, recognizing its voice self_hating_by_lithraelwhen it speaks, takes away half of its power. In meetings, when I first heard others describe their self-loathing, I was floored. How could John possibly experience self-loathing? He’s such a wonderful guy!  Karen is so funny and smart – how could she possibly think she’s shit?

In my experience, most non-recovered alcoholics (and some Al-Anons) vacillate between thinking they’re the shit, and thinking they’re a piece of shit.  Normies must experience this phenomenon too, but A) I doubt their swings are as extreme, and B) people outside the program rarely admit to things that make no sense, even to themselves.  We in recovery, however, admit to everything and thus discover we’re not alone, which opens the way to healing.

Getting rid of self-loathing entirely is not, at least in my experience, possible.  What we can do through the steps is label its voice and take away its megaphone to render it fairly harmless.

DaisySteps 4 and 5 showed me my fundamental human foibles. Steps 6 and 7 narrowed them to flaws I could, with god’s help, stop practicing – self-pity, self- importance, and harsh judgement of others – all platforms on which self-loathing stands.  Steps 8 and 9 allowed me to set straight past wrongs to arrive at a clean, guilt-free slate.  Today steps 10, 11, and 12 keep me current, connected, and useful.

How does this weaken our sidekick, self-loathing?  Working those steps and many years of living a spiritually-based life have drawn from my core a certainty that god loves me. Despite many human shortcomings, I am fundamentally good – because god guides me toward goodness.  Ultimately, that’s the sunlight the vampire of self-loathing can’t endure.

And yet – even after 21 years of sobriety – self-loathing still won’t die.  It hurls insults at random intervals.  “You’re alone cause you’re boring and no one wants to be with you!” “You’re wrong and shameful!”  “You’re full of inherent, bumbling dumbness!”

Coprolalia

It helps to make friends with that voice.  Like someone suffering coprolalia – the Tourrette’s symptom of uttering profanity – it just can’t keep quiet!  It’s trying to beat the world to the punch, blurt out the worst so no one else can surprise us with it.  Stripped of its accusations, self-loathing amounts to nothing but another guise of fear.

The quickest strategy I’ve ever heard for dealing with self-loathing is my friend Brenda’s. She named her self-loathing voice Carl.  Why Carl?  No particular reason.  Now, whenever it crops up and tells her she’s a failure, no one likes her, etc., she just rolls her eyes and says simply, “Shut up, Carl.”

It works!

Did John F. Kennedy ever think incredibly dumb things or occasionally fart with a quizzical inflection?  Of course he did!  But he alone knew it.  Because we know ourselves more intimately than does anyone else alive, we must love ourselves – screw-ups and all – with equal fervor and humility.

Take that, self-loathing!

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Codependency, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality, Twelve Steps