Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem

My son, with humility have self-esteem; and give yourself the esteem you deserve. Who will acquit those who condemn themselves? Who will honor those who disgrace themselves? (Ecclesiasticus 10:28-29, NABRE)

My son, be modest in your self-esteem, and value yourself at your proper worth. Who can justify a man who runs himself down, or respect a man who despises himself? (ibid., Jerusalem Bible)

It is easy to despise myself. I became really good at it as a result of the long years of constantly being confronted by my inability to control or stop my addiction. This self-loathing was reinforced by the Christian tradition I was in for most of those years. In that tradition they profess that each and every man is utterly loathsome before God because of his sins, and he should see himself the same way. I was very good at this. I would also turn up my nose with the best of them when someone talked about self-esteem (“another name for sinful pride!”). Loving your neighbor as yourself implies loving yourself, but this was implication just never pursued by me and my coreligionists.

As a Catholic i have learned the folly of those notions, and I am thankful for this clarity of perspective. It has helped me in my recovery. But I must say that although I have read it before, the passage with which I open this post never caught my attention until i re-read it recently. As Ecclesiasticus shows, it is divine wisdom to love myself rightly! That does not mean being bloated with pride or being narcissistic. It means to hold myself in the same esteem that God holds me. And He loves me so much that He sent His Son to die for me. That’s a lot of love! Would I offer my own son to die for another man who had offended me? Wow. Yet that is how much God loves me. And it is a measure of the goodness that He created in me that He does love me so much.

It is self-defeating and a false humility to constantly run myself down in the presence of others, to deny that I have done well, or to pretend that I am worthless. As the writer of Ecclesiasticus says, if I condemn myself then it’s only reasonable to expect others to do the same. If I despise myself, who will show me respect?

As I said, having this honest perspective about myself is really helpful in my recovery. If I constantly run myself down I am more likely to believe that I deserve to be an addict. If I think that I deserve it then I am more likely to act like it. But to believe on the contrary that I am valuable and that I deserve better than the life of the addict just because God made me and loves me, I am more likely to act on this new belief. I am more likely to behave well when I realize and firmly believe the fact that God loves me and that I am lovable. I don’t “deserve” to be trapped in the cycle of addiction. On the contrary, God wants me to be free, and has called me to the freedom of His children. I am not a bad person no matter what I used to think about myself, and it is okay to say so. I have problems. I am not perfect! But that doesn’t make me bad or worthless.

Thought for the Day #3

Thought for the Day #3

In everything you do, remember your end, and you will never sin. (Ecclesiasticus 7:36, JB)

It is so common as to be normal that we rarely think about ultimate things when we think about the things that we want to do. This is particularly true for the addict and it is something that the recovering addict is trying to change about himself. It’s something I am trying to change. When I am tempted to slip and to pursue that addictive high, I am tempted to forget about the long term. I am tempted to forget about everything except getting that boost. In the throes of my addiction it was second nature to just take the path of least resistance and to focus on that immediate gratification. Doing that is a pathway to defeat.

Rather than think about what I want in the moment I need to think about other things. I need to think about the fact that I want to be free of my addiction. I need to think about the fact that giving in has never brought me any lasting satisfaction. I need to think about the fact that my life is short and that there are better ways of living. I need to think about what I want to do with my life and about why I am here. What do I want to do with my life? What are my goals? How do I wish to be remembered?

There’s an old Latin saying, memento mori: “Remember that you have to die.” If I remember this, I remember that I live my life before God, and that He will be my Judge. I remember that how I live now matters for eternity. I want to live rightly before God. I want to love Him, and I want to live in a way which shows that I love Him. When I forget this, I invariably stumble into sin. I need to remember that I am created by God to be with Him. If I can do this—and how hard it is!—if I can do this, then it helps me to avoid falling back into my addiction.

memento-mori

(source)

Thought for the Day #2

Thought for the Day #2

Do not shirk wearisome labor,

Or farm work, which the Most High created. (Sirach 7:15, JB)

Life is not all fun and games. Hard work is, well, hard. Complaining about it won’t make it any easier, and really all that does is show myself to be ungrateful for the fact that I have work to do and that by working I can provide for myself and my family and help others. Is it pleasant? No. It’s hard. It’s wearisome. I get tired of it from time to time. When it comes to some things I am tired of them all the time! But I can be grateful in the midst of my weariness for the fact that I have work to do. I am not unemployed. I am not underemployed. I have enough.

Love and Hate

Love and Hate

Today’s post is inspired by quotations from two of Madeleine L’Engle’s books. The first two are from A Wind in the Door:

If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. (p. 111)

Love. That’s what makes persons know who they are. (p. 113)

And the third is from A Swiftly Tilting Planet:

Hate hurts the hater more’n the hated. (p. 222)

If I hate someone, I do not really know him as I ought to know him. My feelings are befuddled by ignorance, for if I knew him as I ought to do then it would be impossible to hate him. Okay, that’s a circular argument. Let’s see if I can break out of the circle.

Everything which is is good insofar as it exists. Things are not evil in themselves. Being and goodness are convertible, as Aquinas demonstrates. They are the same thing under different aspects. Goodness is being under the aspect of desirability. But let the saint explain it, which he does far better and more concisely than I could hope to do:

The essence of goodness consists in this, that it is in some way desirable. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. i): “Goodness is what all desire.” Now it is clear that a thing is desirable only in so far as it is perfect; for all desire their own perfection. But everything is perfect so far as it is actual. Therefore it is clear that a thing is perfect so far as it exists; for it is existence that makes all things actual, as is clear from the foregoing (3, 4; 4, 1). Hence it is clear that goodness and being are the same really. But goodness presents the aspect of desirableness, which being does not present. (ibid.)

Just because that other person exists, he is good. That does not mean that there may be nothing objectionable about him of course; his behavior may be reprehensible. He may suffer from afflictions which are certainly not good. But insofar as he exists, he is good. She is good. They are good. This should not be surprising because God created everything, and when He was done He saw that everything which He had created was very good (Genesis 1:31). That includes you and me. Hopefully these few thoughts break the circle!

And that brings me around to the topic of this post again, and my purpose. I have spent a lot of time hating myself because of my addiction, despising my weakness, abhorring myself because of that which I could not stop. But I think now in retrospect that I was suppressing the truth about myself. I denied that I was an addict and held myself accountable for every hit of my drug of choice. I denied that anything good could be found in me as I was, and I denied that I deserved any good treatment from others. If they really knew me, I would think, then they would hate me as much as I hate myself. They wouldn’t say such nice things about me.

The upshot is that I do not know how to be kind and loving to myself. Even now, after years in recovery, those words seem hard to me to fathom. How do I love myself without being either narcissistic or self-serving or self-centered or any of a dozen other ugly things? Worse: if I am to love my neighbor as myself, then how can I continue to not love myself? Hating myself goes right out the window in the light of the second Great Command, because my love for my neighbor is to be modeled on my love for myself. If that’s true, how can I do the one without knowing how to do the other? And I fear that I do not know how to love myself really and properly. Is this because I do not know who I am—who I really am? Certainly I know that I have hurt myself by my self-hatred. That goes without saying. But it seems that I cannot know myself without loving myself, and that I cannot love myself without really knowing myself either. This is another circle: a virtuous one wherein the one virtue of knowing myself reinforces the other of loving myself, and likewise reciprocally (see what I did there? I carefully avoided saying “vice versa” when talking about a virtuous circle 🙂).

So I start with baby steps, being kind to myself when it seems right, and changing my self-talk from bash-and-trash to forgive-and-forget. And move on from there.

mercy

You, too, have a Work

You, too, have a Work

Here is our quotation of the day.

“They will be Teachers. It is a High Calling, and you must not be distressed that it is not yours. You, too, have a Work.” (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door)

I have spent basically my entire life frustrated by the question raised by this quotation: what is my calling? What should I be doing? In my pride I hope for a High Calling, but I have no certainty as to what my calling should be. In fact I am so bereft (if that is not the wrong word to use) of any clear sense of calling that I often wonder whether the question asks the wrong thing, or asks something that cannot be known at all.

I would like to think that I have a calling to be a teacher. But upon what grounds will I say that I have it? The mere fact that I may be good at something does not imply a calling. Musicians are often good at math and vice versa, for example. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to spend quite a lot of time in a mudhole. Isaiah went naked for a while, and Hosea had to marry a prostitute knowing in advance that she would be unfaithful to him. It does not strike me as reasonable to say that their gifts and talents fitted them for such extremities. And what shall we say of those who have found themselves persecuted for their faith? So it does not seem that a particular talent implies a particular calling.

But if that is true, then what do I do with myself? How should I then live? I suppose that the answer to these questions must be answerable in some way. I do not believe that God would assign a calling to us and expect us to walk in it (and evaluate us according to the measure of our walking therein) without making it quite clear what it is that we are supposed to be doing. The only alternative to this is a trap: will God indeed judge me harshly for having not done that (whatever that may be) or for doing it poorly without having told me that I was supposed to do it? Certainly not.

So it seems that the question as asked is a bad one, and that consequently I spend too much time fretting about pointless rubbish. And I have no trouble believing this!

But if “I, too, have a Work,” as L’Engle proposes, then what is it? I guess there is a two-part answer to that. The first part is that my pride disposes me to dissatisfaction with where I am. I think I should be doing something else; I have grandiose ideas about what I could be doing (even if other people would think them to be rather small than grandiose) compared to what I am actually doing, and I wonder whether I am wasting my life and my time on things that don’t amount to a hill of beans in the long run. I need to stop thinking that way.

The second part of the answer is something I maybe already know but can scarcely force myself to accept. It is that my calling is right in front of my nose if only I will see it and accept it. It is that my calling is love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is that my calling is to love my neighbor as myself. These are the two things God is concerned about. It really is as simple as that, and yet as fearful as that too. Because my grandiose addictive thinking wants grandiose things for my grandiose self. And it seems that this is not going to happen. There will be no comfort for the wounds to my self-esteem that my addiction has inflicted—not, at any rate, by the hopeless pursuit of grandiosity. I must not hope to make amends either to myself or to God by Dreaming Big Dreams. I must not suppose that the only way to make up for what I have done is by doing Something Great.

The fact is that I do have a Work. It is to love God and to love my neighbor as myself. That should be enough, in whatever small way that this works itself out. There is another quotation from A Wind in the Door that is fitting in this regard.

We don’t have to know everything at once. We just do one thing at a time, as it is given us to do.

This is a great way to think about it. One Day at a Time, seeking to do those things each day by which I can love God and my neighbor.

Vision Update

Vision Update

I have updated my Vision. I have added the following:

I strive with all my heart to be myself.

This is an important thing to me. It is trivial in a sense and borderline marketing in another, inasmuch as our culture’s advertising-based philosophy emphasizes the importance of “breaking rules” and “being yourself”. It’s funny in a degenerate sense that by these guidelines the rules that always get “broken” are never the ones that society seeks to impose, and being yourself means doing the same things as everyone else. Not that conformity is a bad thing in and of itself. We want (or we should want) to be conformed to the truth. That is, reality is a certain way, and we want to live in accordance with reality – in conformity with it. When we fail to do so we get ourselves in trouble. You can only break with reality to a certain degree; when it gets down to brass tacks, though, we all conform or perish.

The problem with that is that I have to discover what reality is. I have to know how things really are in order to conform to them. This is not an easy thing; discovering the truth is not always easy. I am hindered by my own ignorance. I am hindered by the conceit of thinking that I know just how the world works when in many ways I do not. I am hindered by the greater conceit of thinking that the world had better get in step with how I think things ought to be.

So it is when it comes to my identity. There is a certain sense in which I am who and what I am and my task is to discover who and what I am, and to live in the light of that knowledge. I get in trouble when I break with or deny the fundamentals of who I am.

There are two other aspects to this, though. Maybe three. The first is that my identity is not written in stone. I can be different from who I am today and from who I was yesterday. This is a basic part of human nature. I would get in trouble (or I would already be in trouble) if I denied the fact that I can change, that I do not have to remain the way that I am. And that raises the second aspect I had in mind. Addiction tends to make me do and be the same thing, and to despair of ever being different. It tends to make me think that this is just how I am, and I can’t change, and I never will change, and I may as well accept it. But this is a lie I tell myself (well, it used to be one that I told myself; I am getting better at not doing that). The fact of the matter is that human behavior is plastic. It can change. It can change because I have free will. I am not bound to behave in bad ways just because I always have done so. I can change. This is something that neuroscience has confirmed: the plasticity of the brain enables us to change our patterns of behavior and thinking. This is not something that is easy because the brain gets in ruts, but it is definitely possible. This is the physical side of free will.

(As an aside, modern neuroscience has largely confirmed and validated the virtue ethics of Aristotle and Aquinas.)

The third aspect of identity I had in mind is that God does not leave me helpless. He works in me to will and to do His good will (Philippians 2:13). I do not seek to be better or to be different than I am without help. God knows that such change is hard for us, and He knows that other things are just plain impossible for us without His aid, and His aid He gives us because He loves us.

I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that I want to be myself, but that my self is something that I do not yet understand entirely because God is not done with me. He does not show me all my faults in a moment, lest I cave in under the weight of despair. He discovers my faults to me over time, and so over time I can reject that in me which is contrary to the true good of human nature and the man that God created me to be, and I can strive toward those greater goods. So I want to be myself is a declaration necessarily of what I strive to be, not of what I am. It’s not a moving target, but it’s not a target that I see all that well yet. The important thing is that I at least stand facing the right direction, and slowly the fog will lift and then I will be able to hit that target.

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

On the recommendation of my doctor I started reading A Wrinkle in Time again tonight. It has been some years since I read it, and I have only read it that one time. So I took the recommendation and I have dug into it tonight. I have made it a quarter of the way through and it is a splendid little novel. Any book which is genuinely quotable is worth its weight in gold, and worth much more than several dusty shelves of works that no one will ever read again.

You don’t have to understand things for them to be. … [J]ust because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.

WrinkleInTime

[Source page]

Those two observations are separated by twenty-three pages in the edition I hold, but they go together like they were meant for each other, don’t they? And it’s exactly how the world is. The whole wonderful place goes on and on whether or not I understand how things work. I don’t have to understand them. I can see that this is so or that is not so, and the simple facts remain the same whether I figure them out or not. And this is okay. I don’t have to understand them. It’s easy for me to try and be something of a control freak in a certain way, in that I ask why all the time. I remember when I was a boy playing little league football that one of my coaches described me as the kid who always wanted to know why they wanted me to run this way, or hit the other guy that way, or whatever it was. I was never satisfied with being told to go do something; I wanted to know why.

That’s fine up to a point of course, but it’s not really a great strategy for every part of my life. It makes me obnoxious to other people sometimes, though. Because it sounds like I am second-guessing them if I ask them “why?” all the time. The horrible truth is that sometimes that is exactly what I am doing, as though everybody would benefit from the gift of my insight. Yeah, well, except not so much. Insight didn’t prevent me from becoming an addict. Asking why all the time didn’t keep me from spoiling so much of my own life with the effects of my addiction, and didn’t keep me from despising myself for my own weakness, which was totally out of my control. I never have managed to figure this one out: why am I unable to manage my own life? Why am I unable to control my addiction and bring an end to it myself? Madeleine L’Engle tells me it doesn’t matter if you know why. It just is. Being able to accept that is hard for me to do, but it’s the truth whether or not I understand it. That’s how things are. I am way better off when I can just take things as they are whether or not I understand them.