One of the nuances of the past 9 months (9 MONTHS!) of sobriety has been a shift in my ability to just be with myself. It’s a near absence of insecurity. I am unfamiliarly comfortable in my skin; I don’t second guess every feeling I have. I don’t have anxiety about every choice or uncertainty about every aspect of my life. My standard feeling is becoming one of “I got this.” Nerves haven’t disappeared, but I’m consistently up for the challenge (and privilege) of my life. It seems radical to say but I’m happy to be me.
I can’t remember feeling this way since sometime in middle school, in the late 90’s. Shortly thereafter, I picked up through context clues that I was decidedly not cool and wanted desperately to change that. Alcohol came into my life at the most raw, intense period of social interaction. Suddenly there were complex rules for fitting into the groups, and I knew I was not getting it right. When I moved to a new high school in 10th grade, I was determined to become the popular girl of my fantasies. It didn’t hurt that I was coming to West Virginia from glamorous New York (Rural Apple Orchard New York, not Big Apple New York, however my new classmates didn’t know that). But in trying to be more sophisticated or mature or likable, I kept building a façade that wasn’t actually me. I sadly thought I had outgrown my ability to simply be (and like) myself with puberty, but I’m reacquainting with that feeling. I guess it was there all along, covered by 20 years of the wrong wallpaper.
I thought alcohol helped me deal with this discomfort, not an uncommon attitude, but after days, weeks, and months sober, I can see it actually perpetuated it.
I was insecure for many, many years — insecure about my decisions, insecure about my body, insecure about my relationships and my future and my past. I thought alcohol helped me deal with this discomfort, not an uncommon attitude, but after all these months sober, I can see it actually perpetuated it. I remember waves of shame for obvious reasons: that I drank/spent too much last night and did this or said that. But also shame for deeper reasons — that every relationship eventually made me feel stagnant, I found my friends and family intolerable. I was constantly bloated and tired. I wasn’t making real progress in my career; I was losing hope that I could do some of the big things I’d dreamed of. I didn’t have the confidence that I could pull them off, that I deserved to be the professional dynamo I’d fantasized about.
And if you knew me back then, you might not have noticed that negativity halo. I hid most of those thoughts from everyone around me.
I remember a sinking feeling that this was my future. I couldn’t imagine a day where I wasn’t critical of myself to the point of disgust or overwhelmed to the point of being lost. And if you knew me back then, you might not have noticed that negativity halo. I hid most of those thoughts from everyone around me. I thought they were permanent.
Nine months of sobriety have given me a really different perspective. I’ve had to face my insecurities clear-minded. I’ve had the opportunity to experience a negative emotional all the way through. I have learned to see my anxieties as experiences instead of reality. It was often uncomfortable and messy and awkward, but nothing was permanent. Spoiler alert: I survived.
Without the mind-altering effects of alcohol to constantly throw me off balance, I have substantial periods of equilibrium. I have a longer view of my future which helps me make better decisions now. Repeated good decisions yield more desirable results, even 9 months has shown me this. The successes are shifting my view of what’s possible. I feel secure in my ability to navigate the world. I feel powerful and savvy and energized.
Observing this shift within has helped me notice how it shows up in others. I’ve gotten more attuned to its particular dynamic. When present, insecurity permeates everything around us. It puts us on really shaky ground. I see how we compensate for this (admittedly) uncomfortable feeling with mental gymnastics, worrying, criticizing others, drugs or food, checking out on social media, seeking out drama, dominating or controlling others. I’ve done every single one of these. I believe most of our bad behavior comes from this insecurity, from feeling that we are not enough in some way. It’s wretched and overwhelming.
What good does it do? Why do so many of us spend our lives in the throes of insecurity?
When I think about how long I spent on that roller coaster and how many people around me are still riding, its heartbreaking. The collective time spent feeling so out of control, so lacking, so critical of ourselves and our lives. It’s wasteful, insofar as it doesn’t help us to make meaningful impacts in our communities or realize our dreams. It’s destructive, in how our discomfort causes us to do harm to those around us. What good does it do? Why do so many of us spend our lives in the throes of insecurity?
We are enough. We are smart enough, attractive enough, good enough. Succeeding in this world doesn’t require superhuman ability or a quantum physics understanding of winning at social dynamics. It just asks us to be present and be ourselves. To learn to love our “flaws”, to accept that we are enough without the masks and façades and crutches. None of us are perfect, and there’s no shame in the obstacles we each face in our lives. Obstacles are a necessary part of the process. (And kind of fun when you believe you’re capable of triumphing.)
But allowing insecurity to pervade our thoughts halts our growth. Our obsession with our flaws perpetuates an atmosphere of criticism, far from the fertile ground of curiosity, gratitude, and the attitude of learning from our mistakes. And mistakes will be made! But even so, it’s okay to be your own biggest supporter throughout the process. A healthy, grounded confidence is the most appealing quality in a person. It’s enchanting on any and everyone.
I see so many friends, acquaintances and strangers suffering from a relentless insecurity. I’m not judging, I’ve spent substantial time there. But taking drastic measures to heal it in ourselves (for me, leaving a relationship, moving into my own place and a year long period of sobriety were the measures) can offer freedom from our self-imposed chains. I think arriving to it as an adult is precious because of so many years in the tyranny of self-loathing. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t mourn the lost years. Where could I be now, who could I be now, if I hadn’t spent all that time agonizing about and self-medicating away from my shortcomings?
We don’t need those crutches or torments. We are greater than our discomfort and our limits. A sense of self-security is a gift we can give ourselves and all of those around us. It is our responsibility and privilege to dig ourselves out so we can enjoy our precious time on this earth. It will bring out our best, our most generous, our most interesting, our most audacious and creative and loving — and that’s what the world truly needs.