Shifting themes: grief to self-worth

A couple of years ago, I had a therapist who helped me understand some truths about myself on a deeper level.  Being a more right brained thinker, I’ve known for awhile the need to grow in my ability to feel feelings…not just analyze situations.  He talked about integrating the heart and the mind, so that both feelings and thoughts were equally present.  He also gave me some tools for identifying and responding/reacting to feelings.  And while I’m confident that this will be a continual struggle, I believe I’m making progress.  I’m aware, I have some tools, and I’m spending some time feeling, being fully present, being aware…

In that “life theme,” he also helped me see my need to grieve.  He said I’d be entering a period of grieving…  and jokingly, I still wonder “when will it ever end?”  Since then, in addition to ending a 7 year relationship, being fired from a 19 year career, and losing a style of living that went with that career, I’ve faced the loss of my mom and grandmother as well as several close friends.  Call it the journey of entering my 40’s.  I’ve also done some deeper work on realizing and grieving losses from my childhood that have hung over my head and heart, keeping me stuck in patterns that weren’t healthy or aligned where I wanted to be.  And again, while I believe grief is a feeling or process that is with me for the long haul, and I will probably uncover things I still need to grieve, or situations I need to grieve on a deeper level, I’m making progress.  I’m aware, I have some tools to understand and feel grief and loss, and I’m spending some time accepting those losses and moving on…

So while I hesitate to say I’m done with learning how to feel or how to grieve, I’m in a 3 month sabbatical period, and I believe I was enlightened today and this week with the “theme” of this sabbatical — which like other topics, will probably extend beyond the remaining two months.  But two close friends and a devotional reading highlighted the same theme for me – so in my world, three data points make a trend, and I should listen!  The concept:  self worth.

At the heart of me sexual addiction (which played out in a nasty way last month…), and my competitive nature which drives me to overachieve and my depression is this feeling of low self-worth.  It plagues me, and has for much of life – despite many “successes” and external praise.  I hear what others say about me, and discount it…unable to love myself (at times) for just who I am…a beloved child of God.  The devotional today talks about our “inner door” — how nobody can go through the inner door with us, and until we sufficiently “walk through” the issue or issues that face us in life, we will continually return to them — face them head on — bang our head — and wonder why we are going crazy.  For me, I believe it’s self-worth.  

When my counselor told me about grief, my immediate question was “Ok, so how do I grieve?”  He laughed, and said that was the wrong question.  In fact, there wasn’t a question to be asked.  I just needed to let go, and allow my body and mind and Higher Power show my the path I needed to follow.   I believe much of what I faced in the following years were part of that path of enlightenment…

So, as I face this question of “how do I learn to love myself?” – I want to get answers from the world out there (your comments), or read books or somehow find the fix.  But, I’m reminded that this is my inner door — my path of enlightenment.  And while others can help me along the way and shine light on the path, the only answer that is true and authentic is the one that I find for Todd.  So, for now, I will “anoint” this remaining two months of time to explore the journey of self-worth, of loving and accepting self…

“Why?” is not the right question…

I have a tendency to “lose myself” in other people, places, things. I’ve lost my voice in relationships, lost my identity as a human being to my work, lost my pain in addiction. This past week, I’ve caught myself drifting back into some of these patterns — over investing in some work related efforts or fantasizing about romance, dating. The dangerous part is in getting caught up in all of this, I was losing my focus on recovery. I got *very* short-tempered and lashed out at a couple people on Tuesday. As I reflected on things, I realize I’ve been going to recovery meetings a lot, but not doing much work beyond that. I have been skipping time to meditate, read devotionals all in the name of getting things done.

I was sharing this with my therapist this morning because he has been helping me see how unhealthy this tendency to lose myself continues to be. I asked him “Why?”  I wanted to know why this happens. I wanted to understand.

His reply:  “Why?” is not the right question!

When I asked, what is the right question…he hesitated and said, “Well, there isn’t really a right question. Instead, I suggest you focus on how your powerless over this. You can’t understand – you’re not God.”

I’m learning in teachable moments like this to stop – listen – and absorb the lesson. It’s a hard habit for me to break. I’ve always prided myself on my thirst for knowledge, for understanding. I’m smart – it’s what I do. But, my best thinking got me here as they say in the rooms! And my attempts to understand my co-dependency, or how to grieve, or why I do certain things — are really masked attempts to control…to “play God.”




So what do I need to do differently?

Let go.  Admit I’m powerless.  “Work the 12 steps” on…[insert my intellectual attempt to disconnect from who I am.]

That is the point.

This is about growing up. At 42.

This is about finding a sense of self – rediscovering who I am.

How?  I don’t know.

But I’m learning to listen – to remain open and willing – to be honest with myself and others – and to admit I’m powerless.

Mirror: seeing myself in others

I’ve come to accept that I’m an addict – which means I have just as easily used people and relationships to “escape” from reality as I have drugs and alcohol. In fact, I’m realizing now that my “deeper” addiction — the one I’ve lived with longer — is based on using co-dependent relationships or sex as my “drug of choice.”

I’ve recently started another “90 in 90” — 90 meetings in 90 days — as part of my twelve-step recovery process. Additionally, to bring some relief and clarity on an emotional level, I’m committing to a 90 day period of abstinence from acting out sexually. More on that later, but let me share an experience I had today that showed me how shallow I have been in my past with respect to people…how I’ve used people, plain and simple.

An “online buddy” of mine text me today to see “how I was doing.” He made it clear pretty quickly what he was looking for…and to be honest, a month ago, I would have been looking for the same thing. In fact, I know I reached out to him on at least one occasion and never heard back from him…he was busy with studies. I remember thinking “how self-centered…all he thinks about are his own needs!” Of course, I just wanted him for mine…but never mind, I couldn’t see that at the time.

Today, I shared with him that I was on a 90 day abstinence plan. He asked, “how long ’til your 90 days are up?” I replied “80 days!” He pondered his dilemma then replied, “That will put me back into the middle of next semester…see you at graduation.” And that was it. End of text.

As I reflected on this, I was proud that I stuck to my plan — that I actually am starting to value myself and others beyond the purely shallow physical needs. Let me add that I’m quite early in my recovery from THIS part of my illness (lest I get too confident!)

I found myself wanting to say “But, I’m available for other stuff — talking, movies, getting to know each other as human beings!” — but I realized that was not the context for our relationship and would be asking for more than it could probably offer…and more than I really needed to be seeking at this point in my recovery!

Then, I found myself a little angry and frustrated — I think he’s actually a pretty interesting character and would like to get to know him…and I was offended that he only saw me for one thing — an object to be used solely for his needs, selfishly and physically.

And with that, the mirror appeared I saw myself clearly….

One way in which my sexual addiction manifests itself is in the objectification of men — seeing them not as whole beings (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) — but only seeing part or parts of them. I would then use them as solely physical beings to selfishly meet my physical needs, or to help me avoid pain or escape from reality. How was that any different from the way in which I had just been treated?

It wasn’t.

I see in others the character defects which I so desperately want to overcome. I see the splinter in his eye, not realizing there is a log in mine. I have some to appreciate that parable on a deeper level…it doesn’t just mean I have my own issues, some of which may be “bigger” or “worse…” For me, I now see that it means I often have the same defect…made of the same material…the same wood…the same brokenness.

So, I empathize with my friend – my fellow human being. So quick to judge or anger, I must instead take responsibility for my own needs, actions and thoughts…and admit my powerlessness over my addictions. It is only in surrendering that I will find relief…just for today.