At a meeting recently a member was sharing about his OK cup. This was an imaginary cup he carried around with him at all times. Over the years he had put different things into the cup to make himself feel better. In his case, he had put a lot of smoked cigarettes and a lot of alcohol and drugs into the cup. The problem was that the cup had no bottom. No matter how much he put into it, it never stayed filled; and he never had any type of serenity.
Each of us carries around our own OK cup. We each put our own combination of items into the cup. Besides drugs, alcohol and nicotine, many of us tried food, gambling and assorted other distractions. We all ended up with the same result, because that cup could never remained filled regardless of what we put in it. How can you expect to fill something that has no bottom?
Today, we no longer attempt to fill ourselves up with things. We realize that feeling good about ourselves involves internal work. On some level, all of the tools and fellowship of the program provide the bottom to that cup that could never be filled.
Personal Reflection: How has my self esteem improved through the program?
Low self esteem was an issue for many of us before we came into the program. Its roots often predated our drinking and drugging. These feelings of being less than caused us to make many life decisions that were not in our best interest. We ended up in relationships that were unhealthy and career choices which were often below our actual abilities. We turned to alcohol, drugs, food and other unhealthy activities to buffer all of those negative self images.
By immersing ourselves in the program, we began to peel away many of those negative feelings we had towards ourselves. In fact, in doing our 4th step we listed low self esteem as one of our character defects and asked G-d to remove this from us. Over time, as we grew in sobriety, many of those feelings of self loathing actually began to disappear. In fact, we really began to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments in sobriety. Sometimes, we began to feel too good about ourselves. That’s when our sponsor had a conversation with us about being “right sized”. Healthy self esteem is all well and good. However, as soon as we started becoming arrogant, our spiritual and emotional growth declined. Continued progress would only take place when accompanied by humility.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to work on my humility?
Growing up many of us had a low sense of self esteem. This was especially true in families where one or more of the parents were active in their addiction. We could never know what to expect. One day our parent was full of rage, the next day they were crying and walking around depressed. Because we were children we often assumed blame for the way our parents acted. We got used to saying, “I’ll make sure that today I will be daddy or mommy’s good little boy or girl”. We twisted ourselves into a pretzel so that our parents would finally be happy with us and finally love us. When they still lashed out at us or became even more withdrawn we resolved to try harder the next day
We carried those feelings of attempting to please others into adulthood. When we entered the program, we found out a piece of startling news. We had not been responsible for the happiness and well being of our parents. They needed to have their own spiritual awakening. It was not our job to fix them. If they chose not to change, that was part of their journey. Our self esteem was not tied up in how others felt about us. It was really about how we felt about ourselves. Much of this was revealed as we engaged in step work.
Personal Reflection: When I look in the mirror, what do I see?
We are going to meet many different kinds of people in the program. They come from all economic and social strata. Politically we are a diverse group. You will encounter an age range literally from pre teen all the way to great-grandfather. Some of the people we meet we develop a strong emotional connection with. Our relationships often blossom into close friendships.There are many others who we only know well enough to say hi to at meetings. Yet, they often say and do things which we find to be extremely instructive in our recovery.
Of course there are people at the other end of the spectrum. From the moment we met them, it was like oil and water. They often said and did things that just rubbed us the wrong way. In fact, they often had that effect on others in the program as well. With these people we need to be extremely cautious when speaking about them to others. It would be so easy to denigrate them; given that others in the program share our feelings. Perhaps in the past we might have shared our disdain with others. We tore down others to bolster our own self esteem. Today, we know that self esteem is an inside job.
Personal Reflection: Do I still bolster my self esteem at the expense of others?
While we were active, we often became upset about how little respect we received from others. Wherever we turned , it seemed that people were trying to take advantage of us or disrespect us. This often ended for us badly. We would get into disputes about perceived injustices. What we failed to understand was that we created our own reality. The persona we presented to the world unfortunately attracted criticism and often argument. We engaged in actions which often triggered negative responses from others. Being loud, abusive sarcastic or argumentative led to a response in kind. People did not take us seriously when we showed up drunk or high or both. In fact, our actions acted like a magnet for certain types of people; who were just looking for someone to engage in drama with due to their own defects of character.
In sobriety, we found that as our persona changed, people’s response to us changed as well. When we acted in an adult gracious manner others often responded in kind. When people acted inappropriately towards us, we developed tools which helped us to either disengage or reframe the situation. We also began to attract people into our lives who were healthier on many levels.
Personal Reflection: How can I improve how I treat myself?
We turned to drugs and alcohol because many of us suffered from low self esteem. We,thought that by taking a substance, our feelings of being less than would go away. Perhaps it initially worked. Over time however, we found that using substances actually had the opposite effect. They only magnified our feelings of not belonging and of inferiority.
In early sobriety these feelings still dogged us. Upon reflection, we realized that these feelings of inferiority pre dated our substance use. Just giving up our drug of choice was not enough. We needed to become comfortable in our own skins. This meant accepting ourselves with all of our defects of character. For those of us who were perfectionist, this was often a bit of a challenge. In the past, we bent over backwards to get the approval of certain people because we believed that their approval would validate us. As we grew emotionally and spiritually we came to see that validation could only come from within. How we felt about ourselves really wasn’t dependent on anyone save ourselves. Over time we began to let go of our desire to gain the approval of others. We “were enough”, and at the same time we strove to improve ourselves.
Personal Reflection: Do I still seek the approval of others?
Recently at an AA meeting a person shared how he had been chosen by his brother to be godfather to his newly born nephew. On Sunday morning, he got dressed in his best suit and headed over to his brother’s house. He never made it. He stopped at the bar and somehow “forgot” about the event. Needless to say his brother and sister-in-law were furious.
This type of scenario was very common while we were active. Our substance of choice often fueled self-sabotage. When we stopped using alcohol (or any other substance) we saw that the “ism” of alcoholism still remained. Just because we no longer drank or used didn’t mean that much of the associated behaviors were immediately lifted. Emotionally, many of us were extremely immature when we entered the program. On an unconscious level we engaged in sabotage to verify to ourselves that we really were unworthy people. As we worked our program and began to feel better about ourselves, we no longer needed to resort to self sabotage. We were able to drop the bravado and see our intrinsic personal worth as well as acknowledging our endorsable acts. Self sabotage was no longer a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Personal Reflection: How much “ism” do I still carry?