It would creep up on me at the most inopportune times.
While I was driving in my car, walking down the street, making love with my husband, writing – it would start to churn away, slowly but surely, that little tiny voice that says, “I’m not good enough,” “It’s impossible,” “Who are you kidding?” “You’re a sham, a complete sham,” and on and on. That little voice that got louder and louder with each step I took, with each word I wrote, with each road I traveled, with each kiss my husband planted on my lips. The unending voice of doom. For many years that voice – that insidious voice – had complete control and power over me. It owned me, lock, stock and barrel. It often felt like an unwanted friend. You know the type I’m talking about. Someone who calls incessantly, who never asks how you are, but just rattles on and on and drains you of all your energy. You try – sometimes in the most obvious way – to say, “Hey, I just can’t talk now,” or “Listen, can I call you back?” As if they don’t hear a word you say, they come back, draining you of energy and life force and act as if they are entitled to your time and space. That’s what my self-doubt, and low self-esteem began to feel like. An unwanted friend that no matter what I did, it just wouldn’t go away. I even tried a recipe to overcompensate for it: a sprinkle of bitter, a dash of anger, a pinch of hunger, and then to top it all off, a garnish of arrogance – all tossed together. And you wanna know where that got me? It got me feeling worse about myself. The voice came back louder, and more belligerent, “YOU WILL NOT ACCOMPLISH THIS,” “THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN.”
I decided a few years back that this was no longer acceptable.
I equated this lack of self-esteem with all the clothing hanging in my closet that no longer fit me, and for whatever reason, I refused to get rid of. It was just hanging there, useless, unattractive and most definitely out of style. But none the less, every day I would open my closet and see with my own two eyes what I no longer needed or wanted, what no longer fit me and yet, resisting; deeply afraid of tossing it all away, I would simply close the closet door and act as if it didn’t exist. On the days when my self-esteem rose above water level, I would fantasize about tossing everything, having all this space to buy new sassy clothing – and of course, in that fantasy world, everything is in it’s place, all matching hangars, shoes lined up on the floor – color coordinated no less – and always something fabulous to wear. To put it another way, it would be uncluttered. Those fearless fantasy moments came and went in a snap.
Until one day – taking a coffee break from writing my book, I was walking down the street, sipping a hot and foamy cappuccino – when all of a sudden I heard this voice, “Who’s going to even want to publish this?” “Why am I writing this?” “It’s crap, everything I’m writing is crap.” “You’re such a sham, your whole life is a sham.” I stopped dead in my tracks and thought to myself, “Whoa, whoa, this negativity, this self-loathing is cluttering my fucking heart.”
I decided right then and there to tackle this – from the inside out.
While self-doubt and self-esteem has been etched inside of me this entire lifetime, I have been unbelievably fortunate in so many other ways. I have come to realize on the most fundamental level that life is in fact a journey – and only truly when we are ready to conquer something, overcome something, accomplish something – does the opportunity present itself. Although, in my impatience, I have often tried to fit a round peg in a square hole – not only doesn’t it (ever) fit properly, it often feels just plain wrong. In my wisdom, I have come to see the value of letting things unfold. I had never been ready to deal with the issue of self-doubt, self-esteem. I was so very comfortable in trying to manipulate the environment, that the mere notion of doing exploratory surgery on myself felt passive. As long as there was someone to blame, I could muster aggression – which I mistook for passion. I had a bookshelf filled with self help books, and while I would get a real charge out of reading a chapter that matched perfectly with my personality – it always felt like a band-aid, and for a brief moment I would be encouraged that others experienced the same self loathing as I did. Nothing like a group of people bemoaning their lack of fortune, and feelings of victimization.
I decided to review my life. My entire life. As I dug deep inside – I saw, much to my amazement – a continuing thread of self-doubt, a deep lack of self-confidence that stretched along with me from childhood, to adolescence to womanhood. Those feelings of not being good enough, not belonging, the need to please, the need to be loved and liked, the need to feel important, to feel wanted, to be accepted, to be validated, to be approved of. I had knotted that thread for over 50 years. Along with looking at my basic fundamental darkness, I also gazed upon the fortune that surrounded me. My home; my husband, my career (a very successful career) as a writer, my friends, my family, all my material wealth and possessions. I had achieved and accomplished so very much, but at the end of the day – when I would lie in bed at night, and everything was still and quiet, I would think about how undeserving I felt. I could feel it in the core of my being. My solar-plexus, as my acupuncturist would say. For years and years, I would think, if I just had this I would be happy, if I just had that, I would be happy. Well, I was surrounded by “this and that” and still felt unworthy, undeserving – and more importantly, unhappy. What struck me was despite these feelings of unworthiness – I still had fulfilled my dreams. And more than that – while fulfilling my dreams – I still felt that I wasn’t good enough. A catch-22 if ever there was one. I decided it wasn’t about filling my life with more ‘stuff’ – it was about getting to the root of this suffering and pain. That seemed like a perfect – albeit fucking difficult – place to start. To start with me — to change how I felt about myself. If this pain and suffering was inside of me, well then, it was up to me to change my opinion of myself.
Let me share with you ‘the’ defining moment in my life.
The pity-party I was throwing for myself was in full gear.
I was most definitely scared, and filled with doubt. I decided it was time to seek some encouragement, some guidance, a couple of words to inspire me. I went to see a friend. A Buddhist. His passion about life always lifted me. He had a way about him. A simple, kind man. My eyes filled with tears, I gave him a blow-by-blow of all the obstacles and challenges, doubts and fears that were consuming me. He listened patiently as I rambled on. Then he took my hand, and said, “Amy, please become a woman of unlimited self-esteem.”
Oh my god.
It sounded so poetic.
Become a woman of unlimited self-esteem.
I began that journey – the journey of finding & becoming that woman. Everyday I prayed, single-mindedly, with every fiber in my being to become a woman of unlimited self-esteem.
And with that prayer, that hope, that desire … every fear; every doubt, every single feeling came right to the surface, right up to the nerve ending. I had two choices – to either give in to this self-slander; self doubt, self-loathing, or challenge and transform these feelings that were lodged in my soul. I chose to challenge myself. And to be quite honest, it felt like do or die. For two weeks I entered a battle – a huge, painful internal battle. There were days when all I could do is cry, feeling sorry for myself. There were days when I was amazed at my determination, feeling proud of myself. There were days when I felt nothing. There were days when I felt powerful. There were days when I felt shame and guilt, and there were days when I felt appreciation and humble. There were days when I felt like a sham, and days when I felt authentic. And there were days when I didn’t think I could go another inch. Then, after two weeks, I felt a sudden shift take place from deep inside me – it dawned on me that I had viewed my self-doubt as an effect, rather than the cause. It became crystal clear to me that the environment was merely reflecting how I truly felt about myself. For so many years my thought pattern was, “So and so doesn’t like my work, so I guess it’s not good,” or “She (or he) is saying it can’t happen, it’s impossible, so I guess I should just give up.” I allowed my environment to chose my life for me, to decide the outcome. I never once thought that the negativity that was coming at me was a reflection of how I truly felt about myself. The minute I understood that in my soul, it was liberating.
That’s when I truly understood what self-esteem isn’t and finally able to understand with my life what it is.
It is: courage, the courage of ones conviction, it is confidence, the confidence to stand in your own shoes and own your dreams, every bit of them, it is respect, respecting each and every feeling that may come up in the process of fulfilling that dream, it is honoring one’s life, honoring the struggle, the challenge, the ability to take one more step on a road that feels unbelievably long and winding, and it is faith – from the time we make up our mind to accomplish something to seeing the result of that determination – that in between time, when the doubt, and the self loathing, and all the fear creeps in – when we feel like giving up, when it feels as if everything is falling away – that’s when we get to see what we’re made of.
To have faith in our own life.
And faith in our own life manifests in unlimited self-esteem.