Girl Behind the Mask

I want to be true, honest, authentic in all that I do, all that I say, all that I am. Being something I’m not, pretending, role-playing…it’s exhausting. I sometimes wonder how actors who pursue acting full-time have any energy left to be themselves off the stage. Do they even remember who they are after spending so much of their lives playing someone else?

Since I was a kid, I’ve had this deep-rooted belief that I am inherently bad in some way. Perhaps it was my Catholic upbringing which I used from a young age as a whip to train myself to be obedient, unfeeling, “perfect.” I was afraid of being authentic, because I truly believed that given that freedom, I would be someone ugly, untamed, maybe even hurtful. I wish I knew the reason as to why I developed this self-loathing, this absolute rejection of self-trust. I remember very little about my childhood, but I often grow desperate wondering why my child-self decided that to be me was a sin.

My inner critic has been a constant companion for as far back as I can remember. I have a memory of myself when I was five years old, lying in bed and praying to a god that I believed hated me, pleading that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. What kid wants that? When the kids at school looked at my scarred arms, called me “gross” and said I had a disease…I accepted it as fact, because it was what I already believed. When I was told off for crying, I remember trying to suck the tears back into their ducts, telling myself that to feel was weakness, to show emotion was shameful, to ask for help was burdensome.

It feels as if I have this hand-crafted mask of what I’ve believed to be acceptable that I’ve worn since my early years. Thankfully, I’ve grown and the mask no longer fits, nor do I want to wear it. I’m tired of hiding in my decorated prison, living in the torture chamber that has been my mind for many years. I’m sore from the whippings, I’m weary of the constant inner critique, I’m done with the act.

I’ve started building my true self, seeking out my passions in art, music, helping others…but the construction is far from complete. I am so far from complete. The twelve steps tell me to be honest, to live honestly…this is hard to do when you’ve spent your life refusing to trust yourself. I’m constantly questioning my every thought wondering, “what does this belief say about me” and “does this thought mean I’m a bad person?” My brain circuits all of the conversations I’ve had each day over and over, analyzing my comments, my jokes, my words, seeking out instances in which I was wrong, insensitive, awkward. Still, I find myself searching for proof, evidence that I’m the horrible person I’ve always believed myself to be. The rumination never stops.

It has to stop. I do believe that I’m trying. I’ve started to counter my internal arguments with the very reason that fuels my self-critique: lack of self-trust. If I don’t trust myself, who am I to believe my thoughts? What if I’m not horrible? What if I’m human and that’s okay? What if I really am doing the best I can? What if the people who say that they love me actually believe that I’m worth loving?

Maybe I don’t need to know the reason I was the way I was…to change the way I am, today.

Maybe being honest…starts with facing the fear of discovering my real self.

Beautiful Article about a Beautiful Person

lexiA friend of mine is using her tragedy to prevent more tragedies in the life of addicts and those affected by the disease of addiction. I’m inspired by her strength to be vulnerable in a world that so often hides, lies about or stigmatizes this real and very heartbreaking struggle. Thank you, my friend, for sharing your truth. Hopefully the world will start following suit.

Love to you, Lexi, and to all those whose lives have been damaged by this disease or the ignorance of its existence.

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/04/18/opioid-profiles-lexi-reed-holtum

Feel.

Feelings are a language of their own.

Sometimes, I compare my life to those of others. I listen to all that they’ve been through and think I had it easy, that I have no right to speak of my own pain. But in truth, that’s a lie. Circumstances and details are what separate us, make us think that we are too different to relate to anyone else. “Terminally unique” is a phrase I’ve heard often in my recovery. We compare and contrast the differences before we have the chance to acknowledge the similarities. I truly believe that though we have experienced different events, crises, traumas, relationships and/or situational stresses, we can all relate on what we have felt during these times.

It doesn’t matter the depth of your “rock bottom,” the size of your trauma, the number of people you have hurt, how “charmed” or destitute your childhood. These differences so often cause us to separate ourselves, to compare or even resent one another. I know I do this and have to work at being aware of when these thoughts try to isolate me from others. The fact is, most of us have felt the same emotions as those experienced by our neighbors or friends in recovery. More importantly, we cannot make assumptions about what people have or haven’t felt if their circumstances don’t match our own. We cannot judge feelings based on their circumstances.

Feelings are one of the most painful, erratic, explosive, exhilarating, beautiful and human traits that we possess. For a long time, I was afraid of them, of their weight and unpredictability. I was so afraid that I sought every possible way to numb myself, to escape them. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how necessary they are to live a healthy, stable and authentic life.

For years, I thought numbness was protecting me from pain. It was a rude awakening when I realized it was also “protecting” me from everything else, from living my life, from feeling alive.

We need more than a pulse to truly live. In technical terms, life can be defined as simply existing in the world. What I’ve discovered, however, is that I am not alive if I cannot feel, experience and participate in my life. Though the pain throbs in my chest at times, I now know that it will prove useful to one day, connect with someone who is feeling or has felt the same.

Feel the life you live.

The Ditch

There’s a metaphor in twelve step programs in which, no matter how much “time” we have in recovery, no matter how far down the road we’ve traveled, we are just as close to the ditch as someone who has only a day. The number of days, months, years, decades we have, we could just as easily swerve off the road and fall.

This description has often been comforting in the past, because it puts all of us on the same level, no hierarchy, no superiority. Even after years of recovery, we remain addicts.

Lately, however, this message has been one of fear for me. Through the grace of my higher power and the support of so many people, I had my 2 year sober anniversary earlier this month. I am so grateful for where I am today, the people in my life, the growth I’ve achieved. And yet, I put a lot of pressure on myself at this time, to feel that I was two years sober. I had been holding the expectation that I would be more stable, less needy, more confident at this time in my sobriety. And yet, though I may feel that way at times, I still struggle.

To use the ditch metaphor, my hands have been shaking on the steering wheel, allowing my car to swerve slighting from side to side.

For the first time in a year or so, I’ve caught my gaze lingering on the neon “liquor” signs that decorate the highway. I’ve even found myself envisioning a glass of Jack Daniels on the rocks. And honestly, it looked pretty damn good.

I’ve had a lot of fear in my life lately. I lost a job recently and am now starting a new one next week. I started working with a new sponsor, going through another thorough fourth step. I’ve been dating here and there, insecurities thriving inside my head. My spirituality has been stronger than ever the last few months, but these last couple of weeks, my focus has wavered from the will of my higher power. Most of all, my fear has been of self-sabotage, of using a behavior, of using.

My steering seems to have been drawing my closer and closer to that ditch on the side of the road.

I confided in a good friend yesterday about these thoughts and feelings and she simply said that though I’ve found myself wanting to drink, I don’t have to.

What that metaphor leaves out is that though we are all at different places along the road to recovery and that we remain the same distance from the ditch, driving forward at all means that we have skills, we have a program, we have a fellowship, all of which can help us straighten our direction. The ditch is always there, yes, but we also carry the tools we’ve acquired in recovery to stay on the road.

The message of this post is to let anyone who may be afraid or feeling lost in recovery to know that it is okay to struggle. We all do at times. Life doesn’t get easier, but we get stronger. What matters isn’t whether we are tempted. What matters is whether we choose to redirect our steering.