Self worth and Sobriety require that we know what our values are, and that we live in keeping with them.
When I began my journey to recovery, I pretty much considered myself down there with the worms and whale shit, an outcast who wasn’t even good enough to make ‘pariah’ status. Such was the state of my self-worth in the beginning.
I’d go into a meeting, listen to the others share their stories, and it all sounded well and good, but I wasn’t one of them. I could come up with all kinds of reasons why I wasn’t like them: that one drinks more than I do, that one less; he drinks tequila, I only drink vodka; that one is homeless, I still have a home, car, and family. The list was endless. And the more I focused on the differences, the more I became convinced that I was not at all like ‘those people’ and therefore nothing they had to say to me would help.
Then someone on an internet forum wrote to me, “Why are you focused on why you’re different from the other guys in the room? You should be looking for the similarities.” And so it seems. Now, with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, I can see that what I was really doing was looking for reasons I couldn’t get sober, and that, of course, allowed me to continue drinking. For sure, it was all on a subconscious level. It was much the same as that little voice we all know that keeps telling us “You can have just one” and “Go ahead, no one’s gonna know,” only it was quieter and far more subtle.
After I took the advice to look for the similarities, to “compare myself in” instead of comparing myself out, I discovered there was essentially no difference between other alkies and myself. There may be thousands upon thousands of surface differences, like those I mentioned earlier, and some of these seem like they should be important, but the fact is they are not. What is important is to understand that we are all humans, with common problems and common reactions, that we are more alike than we are different.
So what’s the connection of all this to self-worth? Now that I was hearing the similarities instead of the differences, I discovered that just about everyone in the rooms had felt the same way I was feeling about myself. It seems high self-esteem and active alcoholism don’t often run in the same circles. And many had found a solution!
Self-worth comes from within, and I’ve heard it said: “To gain self-esteem, do esteemable acts.” I’d suggest a two-fold approach: (1) Clean up the baggage from the past while also (2) doing something that gets you out of yourself and into esteemable actions. There are countless ways we can go about cleaning up our past; I found, like many others, that AA’s 12 Steps (specifically 4 thru 9) are an elegantly simple way to get it done, and in the process I discovered just who the hell I am. Thousands of others have discovered themselves the same way, and not one of us was anywhere near as bad as we thought ourselves to be! As for esteemable acts, what worked (and works) for me was/is volunteer work, 12th Step work, AA service work when I’m in a group, random acts of kindness like a smile and kind word to the cashier, or an appreciative word (with smile) to the waitress. Those are just a few examples; the list is as long as one’s imagination.
I should note that while high self-worth and active alcoholism are rarely seen together, there doesn’t appear to be much direct correlation between self-worth and sobriety, either. If you look around the rooms of AA (not to pick on AA, it’s just that the rooms are a good place to find a lot of alkies in one place) you’ll find many who are staying sober without much self-worth. Generally, they’re the miserable ones, but they’re staying sober. And we all know there’s a bunch of folks running around out there with good self-worth who drink regularly; sometimes they’re referred to as the “normies.” (You won’t hear that from me. I personally think that we’re the ‘normal’ ones, those of us who know we’ve got problems and are doing something about them.)
Finally, know that you don’t have to be a particularly strong person to gain all the self-worth you could ask for. All you really need is the strength to step out of your comfort zone long enough to start doing the Steps, discover who you are, and do some esteemable acts.