Halfway through my Peace Corps service, my group held a conference to talk about our first year as volunteers and then discuss goals for the second year. In an exercise, there were statements written in marker and tapped to the walls. These sayings were general attitudes about how we felt about our services thus far, and we were to stand next to the sign we most agreed with. They ranged from “I’ve done all that I can and my projects are successful” to “My projects are failing but because of challenges outside of my control.” I can’t remember the exact phrasing on the poster that I stood next to, but it was something like, “My projects are not where they should be and there is more I think I should be doing.” I was the only one at that sign.
After the session, our deputy of programs and training pulled me aside. He is a kind, gentle man that I had had several conversations with before this point. “Heather,” he said in his soft South African accent, “you need to know that you are a good volunteer. I am afraid that you don’t know that.” I stared crying, of course, partly because I didn’t believe him and partly because this is something I’ve heard my entire life.
You are too hard on yourself. Most people who are close to me would tell you that this is true, and it’s always bothered me a bit because I don’t really have a response. I don’t know how to change the fact that I beat myself up constantly. I’ve read books, been in therapy for years, recited mantras. I’ve just assumed I will always be someone who is not good enough in her own eyes.
In the last few weeks, though, I’ve noticed a slight shift in my thinking. It has less to do with not ostracizing myself when I’ve made a mistake and more to do acknowledging my triumphs. A few examples:
A few days last week I’ve straight up killed it. I’ve been efficient and have produced quality work. There are days when I am off my game and things fall apart, but I don’t see those one or two lack luster projects to define my work as an employee. When I take a honest look, I know that I am good at what I do. That sentiment hasn’t always been there and it doesn’t come from a place of cockiness or self congratulations, but rather taking myself in at eye level.
Also, in writing. Sometimes I write things that I know deep down to be really, really good. I can feel the writing pop out of me and I know it has potential. For example, years later, I can look back at this post and still think it’s really good and not give a shit what someone else thinks because I know it to be true. There are other times when I know what I wrote is garbage and it will never see life outside of a buried Word document. Like, this morning, when I wrote for an hour and produced 600 words of dribble. I am learning to accept those strides of writing and that because I produce bad writing sometimes doesn’t mean I am a bad writer.
I am not entirely sure where this clarity comes from; it could be maturity or a fleeting sense of enlightenment. However, I have an inkling that sobriety has helped reroute some of my self doubt.
I often drank to drown out my insecurities and anxiety. In those few hours guided by $7 craft brews, those voices of not being good enough and who was I really to believe I earned success were quieted, and I could forget for a small amount of time that they even existed. Yet, when I sobered up, those voices raged back, making up for lost time. Consequently, when I shut out the negative voices, I also kicked off the positive ones.
In sobriety, I do hear those “I am not enough voices’ louder and I felt powerless for a bit without having drink to use as a temporary reprieve from them. However, I also hear the confident voices more now, and without booze I am getting better at listening. I have more confidence in my ability to ignore those statements that matter and dig my heels into the ones that do.
Being hard on myself is part of my make up, and no matter how much I grew into my own self there will always be that self doubt. I am OK with that, I accept that. However, I also have a side in me that is confident and lustrous, and I can feel her coming out more and more. Again, that may just be part of maturing, but I think removing the numbing of drink helps too. It doesn’t bother me when the hard voices come, because I know the good ones will too. With both of them present, I am a living a more whole life.
Best part of being sober: I met up with a friend this week and she suggested tea. She knew I wasn’t drinking, and it was just really thoughtful that she picked a place without the temptation of booze for us to catch up.
Worst part of being sober: I had a whiff of beer when I was out on the street, where it’s not common to smell beer but also not unusual. The craving hit hard and fast, then disappeared.