Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Missing Piece of my Heart

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with the notion of love.  

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I always thought that it had to be earned. So when my parents said, "We're so proud of you - you did a great job," or, "I love you, honey," I didn't believe them. More often than not, my response was "You have to say that, you're my parents."

It breaks my heart today to imagine how that must have hurt them. And in truth, it hurt me too.  I rejected their love and attention because I didn't feel that I deserved it and consequently reinforced my low self-esteem.

As a teenager, this lack of self-love manifested itself in many ways:

  1. social anxiety
  2. fear of flirting or dating
  3. self-deprecating thoughts and words
  4. depression
  5. suicidal ideations
  6. lack of genuine or heart-felt relationships
  7. fierce independence
  8. stubbornness
  9. determination
  10. judgement - of myself and others
  11. isolation
  12. diminished spirituality
  13. anger and hate
  14. impatience
  15. restlessness
I was missing a piece of my heart...the piece that showed showed me how to love, appreciate, and accept myself.

When I started drinking, I forgot about the piece of my heart that was missing. Suddenly, I was cool, funny, happy, and relaxed. I didn't care what other people thought of me and I felt liberated.

But it didn't last long.

After a short while, I began to binge drink. Drinking any amount lowers your inhibitions, and binge consumption lowers them even more. I started to say and do things I'd never do sober. First, it was just minor stuff like swearing or ranting angrily about various issues. Then, as my tolerance grew and I drank more, my actions became more unpredictable. I drove drunk. I physically attacked people. I slept around. I ignored rules left and right and gave myself excuses.  

Nights out were immediately and invariably followed by emotionally painful days. They were so painful that I often drank to forget the things I did. 

And so the vicious cycle began:

I drank to forget the hole in my heart.  

The more I drank, the bigger hole became.

The bigger the hole, the more I had to drink to fill it up.

By the time I got into rehab, the hole felt like a canyon...a seemingly endless crevice in my soul that could never be made whole again.

A counselor at the treatment center tasked me with journaling for 5 minutes a day on something that I loved about myself. After day 1, all of my topics came from the suggestions of other clients. It took a long time, but this exercise started to change the way I saw myself. 

What helped me the most was actually a process very similar to a Catholic confession. I was open and honest with another (sober) person about what happened while I was drinking. I told her specific stories and we looked for times when I was being selfish or self-seeking. 

You might think that this process would only make me hate myself more. Yes, I hated the things I had done. I was ashamed and embarrassed, but that was only a temporary pain. Talking with a trusted friend actually normalized my drunken and careless behavior. She reminded me that I was not the only person to have said or done that "horrible awful no-good very bad thing" that I was so afraid to admit. 

She helped me to accept my flaws and mistakes as part of life. 

She showed me acceptance and forgiveness. 

She taught me that my past shaped the person I was becoming, but it did not define my quality of character.

She showed me how to love myself.

And the hole filled up. My heart became whole.

Through this process I learned that love is an omnipresent energy; it is everywhere.