I recoiled in horror at my first step five—where we share an inventory of harms, resentments, sexual misconduct, and fears—and was devastated by the endless list of defective thinking that my sponsor had pointed out. I knew that my thinking had to be distorted to some extent to be chugging four bottles of wine and a handful of pills each day—but I didn’t think it was that bad.
The inventory I completed had over 100 resentments, endless harms, sexual misconduct, and fears. I quickly realized that resentment was my biggest problem—it led to me feeling so much anger and rage that it permeated my every day existence and interaction with others. I wasn’t pleasant to be around.
I studiously spent a year carefully inventorying my behavior on a daily basis—poised to spot and remedy any defective thinking. After all, it was—what is often referred to as—stinking thinking—that led to misusing substances (So I was told).
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My friends told me that I was obsessed. I was. I was terrified of drinking and using again. To do that again was to die—I just couldn’t go back to that endless pain and hopeless existence.
With continued sobriety, we unveil parts of us that require some emotional recovery. They say that we become emotionally stunted when we start using substances addictively; others say that parts of the brain responsible for rational thought don’t fully develop in some of us as a child which can in later life lead with substance misuse. Either way, we need help mentally and emotionally—to develop new thought processes and coping strategies.
To help with that, I went to therapy, I read and digested lots of books. What I uncovered was the real root of my problem: my self-esteem was so low, and I felt so inadequate, that I couldn’t effectively express myself. I felt somehow mute, without identity, and completely and utterly lost. It was debilitating. My inability to communicate led to constant disappointment that people couldn’t read my mind, inward resentment that I couldn’t express myself, and ultimately hating others—that was the place I constantly sought to escape with substances.
So I started writing a list of credits each day in my journal. I have found that single practice to be the most revolutionary to my recovery. Each day, I was so focused on what I was doing wrong, that it led to a negative perception of myself—as a broken woman. In perceiving myself in that way, I overlooked all of the things I was doing right—my credits (staying sober, self-care, showing up, working out, eating well etc).
As I continued to grow as a woman and in my sobriety—by connecting with myself and others, learning new coping strategies, and developing an identity and sense of self—I started to like, and later love, myself. And I started to develop a voice—initially a whisper, but before long I was sharing my feelings with the world on my blog.
I finally developed enough self-esteem and confidence to feel like I belonged in this world.
By two years sober, I had remedied my thought processes and uncovered my morals and values—and I lived by them, daily. To continue to inventory my behavior for defective thinking was at odds with both how I had grown as a woman and how I now acted. I stopped looking for defects—and viewing myself as defective—and found it to be the most freeing part of my recovery. Instead of looking at what was wrong with me, I started looking at what was right.
I feel that we have a tendency to bat each other down for speaking up, not identifying ourselves by our old behavior—an addict (something we used to be)—and instead talking with confidence about what we have achieved. I’ve heard this type of positive self-talk requiring ego deflation and showing a lack of humility. I couldn’t disagree more; I don’t know about you, but my self-esteem and ego was in the gutter when I reached rock bottom—I needed practices to focus on building self-esteem and confidence. I needed to know that Liv was doing well, that every day in recovery was something to be celebrated, and that it was okay to speak up—to speak loudly. This Liv isn’t defective, she has bloomed in spite of her past.