Getting Self-Esteem (I’m Not Much, But I’m All I Think About)




I used to love looking in mirrors. As a child, I’d frown, make funny faces and would see just how far I could cross my eyes. I inspected myself—the gap in my two front chompers, the length of my hair, the way my eyebrows almost met. As I grew up, I found myself getting more critical of that young man in the mirror. I didn’t like my skin, my face, or the shape of my body. And when I finally became an adult, and deep into my alcoholism, I couldn’t look at the mirror at all. When I did, I nearly spat at what I saw.


Feeling “Less Than”

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment that I started to feel “less than”, but certainly a sensitive boy like me was not able to withstand the bullying I endured for many years. There wasn’t enough of “me” to battle the harsh words thrown my way. So I swallowed it all down, taking to heart what people said about me. Eventually it wore my self-esteem down into a nub. Eventually, I also started to swallow down alcohol as a way to deal with the fissures and cracks in my spirit.


There is an expression used in addiction—“I’m not much, but I’m all that I think about”. That was my unspoken mantra as I tried to navigate through the complexity of human emotions while in a haze of drunkenness. The problem is that I stunted my emotional growth the moment I started to self-medicate. My body may have been in its thirties, but emotionally I was still a wounded 14-yr old child. I acted like it—lashing out, defending myself when I didn’t need to, and trying to craft the world around me to suit my selfish needs. But underneath it all was the sense of not being worthy of what I was created to be.


I drank because I had no self-esteem, and my self-esteem plummeted because I drank. It was a vicious circle.


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Getting Sober Didn’t Cure My Shattered Sense of Self

Getting sober wasn’t the cure for my shattered sense of self. Plugging the jug didn’t release me into the ether, filling the space around me with the grand breadth and breath of me. I needed to learn, that I wasn’t what the stories I told myself said I was. There was, and still remains, much to be healed in terms of mending my shattered self-worth, but the effort has afforded me a greater sense of comfort in my own skin.


Here are Several Ways to Increase Sense of Self:


  • Stop comparing myself to others – possibly my greatest challenge. When I see how far I have come or how much I have improved, I start to feel good about myself.
  • Creating and sticking to boundaries – when I can draw a line and be firm yet responsive, I am being an advocate for myself. I create space to respect others and myself.
  • Exercise – when I am sweating and grooving, I am respecting my body. I show myself that I am worth the self-care. Exercise also taps into the mind-body-spirit connection, which grounds me, and keeps me attached to my Higher Self.
  • Meditation – this allows me to get centered and quiet the negative voices in my head. It’s an oasis in a desert of self-defeating thoughts.
  • Stop, Drop and Roll – when I feel like I am starting to create smoke from self-critical thoughts, I stop myself. “Is this really true?” I ask. Also, I drop away from the negativity and choose a new direction. I then roll with more positive or affirmative thoughts.
  • Don’t beat myself up – especially after making a mistake. I have learned to adopt Rule #62—don’t take myself too damn seriously. It’s perfectly fine that I am not infallible.
  • Focus on the things that I change – straight from the Serenity Prayer. Thee are plenty of things I can change about myself for the better, and that is what I focus on. Not rearranging the world to suit my own needs.



Working It…

Working on these approaches have helped me immensely, and I notice that when I stop these practices, I start to slide back into old habits and ways of thinking. Recovery is about a new way of being, a new way of approaching life and enjoying it as well. My outer world reflects how I feel about myself. The more I feel comfortable with myself, the more I am at peace with my true nature, and the world. And now, especially with my kids around, mirrors are fun again.



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after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a viral writer, recovery coach, and recovery advocate. She is the Marketing Director at Sanford, responsible for written and creative content, website design, new media, promotions, subscriber outreach, and SEO. Excursions Magazine is a particular source of pride; it serves a wide range of readers, and “excursion” has become part of the company vernacular, describing Sanford’s signature experiential outings for those in treatment. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board of JACK Mental Health Advocacy.