Addicted to Self-Hate
Imagine living for most of your adulthood with the thought that you are a piece of sh*@t because of something stupid you did in college. And more than 25 years later, having to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as part of a graduate school assignment, only to be reminded of the incident again. But also imagine leaving the meeting having learned from those in attendance what it was like to forgive yourself, and move on. In this article, Michael Angelo, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, owner of Encompass Counseling, discusses the sense of redemption he felt, and how it helped him turn a corner with his own “addiction.”
Stop beating the sh*@t out of yourself. Give yourself a f*!#king break . . . please!
The thought filled my head as I drove to my first ever Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that Sunday morning in May 2009. I wasn’t there because I was an “abuser” of alcohol, but as part of a graduate school assignment for my addictions class.
It hardly mattered.
I had been abusing myself for years, not with booze but rather with bad thinking—really bad thinking—for a stupid mistake I had made in college. It was all that I could focus on as the A.A. meeting approached.
Why did I do it? I thought to myself. You should have known better.
I should have realized that Matt was trouble. I knew him enough to know this about him. He loved to mess with people. I wasn’t immune. But I believed him when he said that the weed was fine.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said. “Just the normal stuff.”
How was I to know that it was laced with PCP, or something worse? I freaked out so badly that I was in a state of heightened anxiety for more than an hour. I shook violently. Images of demons and Satan himself filled my mind. They seemed very, very real.
The thought, Mom will be so disappointed in me for doing this, ran like a broken record in my head during those 60 or so minutes of torment that I underwent that terrible night. How could you betray her like this?
I thought the panic would subside. It didn’t, lasting for more than 25 years.
I suffered immensely because of this one mistake, and I couldn’t forgive myself. I chose to embrace an enduring anxiety that seemed unreal its intensity and duration as a way to punish myself.
I wonder how many recovering alcoholics have similar regrets for what they’ve done because of their drinking, I thought. Did they pummel themselves for something that sent them on a downward spiral for years, if not decades? Did they have a broken-record message of self-hate spewing in their brain?
Almost certainly they did. I didn’t have to wait long to discover this. Within minutes of the start of the meeting, the answer became apparent. But it didn’t happen in the way I had thought. Instead, I gleaned it from what was not said as much as what was voiced by the members that morning.
Their words indicated a sense of helplessness they felt because of their disease. The message was implicit but ascertainable: alcohol has messed me up, and I feel as I am flawed. No one came right out and used that phrase, but I could hear “screw-up” in their tone.
Sometimes, it’s not what we say but how we say it that speaks volumes.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable,” someone said.
“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character,” another person added.
“Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings,” echoed from someone else.
“There’s something in me that craves a drink,” he said. “I need the fellowship here to recharge so I don’t relapse.”
Without the accountability and synergy of A.A., it would be easy for Paul to revert to restlessness and irritability, and engage in self-loathing. It seems to come with the territory. David, another recovering addict, confirmed this truth by saying how quickly he could deceive, prevaricate, and regress to the type of behavior he hates about himself without the program.
“Without A.A., in times of stress, I’m tempted to drink,” he said. I could hear the hatred he had for himself. It surfaced in an instant, as he shared how he had attended at least one meeting a day for the past week, and on some days how he had gone to two meetings. That didn’t seem to be enough to alleviate the racing thoughts of rage and revulsion against himself that surged through his mind.
Many in the audience picked up on this. We could almost hear him saying to himself:
You’re a piece of sh*@t. And you’re right. Your life does hang in the balance between sobriety and a drunken stupor, between liking and despising yourself, between changing for the better and remaining stuck as a pathetic drunken loser forever. But when all is said and done, there is no balance. You are destined to tip the scale toward screwing up and being a screw-up until the day you die, and I hope you die soon!
Oh, the demon that is addiction. He’s relentless, always on a mission to make you feel your worst.
Then there was the speaker, who discussed how he had to drink to escape reality and the feelings of being a disappointment to himself and others. He went on to say how sorry he was for what he for what he had done to the people around him, and how badly he felt about it.
“My self-esteem isn’t the best every day because of it,” he said, “but I continue my journey anyway. I’m learning every day how to manage my fears of alcohol and myself.”
When he finished speaking, hands went up. A middle-aged woman with blonde hair and a pocked marked faced shared how much she could relate. “I’m not good enough,” she shouted. “I have an inferiority complex. I’m no good.”
A man older than she, with slicked back silver hair and a sullen-looking face, said: “We’re not healthy people who happen to be sick. We are sick people trying to get better.” It was as if he were speaking for everyone in the room, including me, implying how we all need to stop beating the sh*@t out of ourselves and to please give ourselves a f*!#king break.
We make mistakes, I thought. We’re not perfect.
And while there’s a time to grieve over the blunders we’ve made, we have to realize that our Higher Power heals, providing redemption for those who ask.
Thank God for that! And, thank you, Jesus. I love you. Now let me live the life you have for me, to accomplish great things for you, doing what you want . . . for your glory and my redemption. Amen.