I was brought up in a way that ensured that I hated myself and had no idea who I really was. To survive in my childhood family, I had to be what my parents needed me to be. My father especially needed me to be a carbon copy of him. Expressing a different opinion from him, on even the most trivial of matters, was literally a life-threatening proposition to me. He was apt to explode into a violent rage, and I literally feared for my life. I learned to shut up, keep my head down, stuff my anger, and do my level best to be whatever my parents needed me to be. My parents also appeared to detest me. I was constantly told I was a loser, an idiot, a total piece of crap, that I would never amount to anything, and many other such shaming criticisms.
As a result, by the time I was legally an adult, I had zero idea of who I really was. I had completely lost touch with my true self over the many years of wearing whatever mask my parents demanded that I wear. I hated myself and thought I was lower than the lowest. On a scale from zero to ten, my self-esteem score was around negative 10. These two outcomes persisted for quite a few years into recovery. This had severe negative consequences for me.
My choice of romantic partners reflected these facts. I found myself attracted to women who reinforced my low self-esteem and self-loathing, women who told me that I was “the problem” in the relationship and that they were pretty much perfect just the way they were (and yes, one of them actually said those very words to me!). I chose women who covertly hated men, or who had significant anger issues toward men, and who took their anger and hatred out on me. And I accepted these behaviors, because I believed that their criticisms of me were right on the money. I tried harder and harder and harder to please these women, but there was no pleasing them. I was miserable.
My career reflected a similar phenomenon. Since I had almost no idea what I really wanted, needed, enjoyed, or was good at, I consistently chose jobs that fit me like the proverbial round peg in a square hole. And so for a good long time, my career life was extremely painful. I hated my jobs, for the most part, but had no idea what would be any better. So I just cast about blindly, making attempt after attempt to find something that suited me. And it took me many years of recovery before those choices began to improve.
I spent my whole life, pre-recovery and for awhile in post-recovery, in self-rejection and trying to be anybody other than who I am. This is an intensely painful way to live. In recovery, very gradually I began to learn to discover, and to accept, who I really am. Several factors contributed to my growing self-acceptance.
First, I had to completely revamp my spirituality. The religion of my childhood taught, quite explicitly, that mankind is utterly depraved, drenched in sin, and deserving of nothing but Hell. This dovetailed in a nightmarish way with what my parents taught me about me. I had to let go of that old God and find a completely new conception of God. I needed to develop a relationship with a Higher Power who is loving, accepting, compassionate, and completely non-judgmental. This process is ongoing.
I also needed to begin a long-term process of self-inventory and inner work. Over many years, I learned to get to know myself, including both the positive and the negative aspects of myself. I had to confront the childhood abuse I suffered, and the burden of false shame I was carrying due to that abuse. I had to confront the false, negative messages I internalized as a child, and process the pain associated with the traumatic abuse I suffered.
As this process of inventory and healing continued, my self-hatred gradually disappeared and was replaced with serenity and self-acceptance. I learned that I am just another imperfect human being, and not a freak. Gradually I learned more and more about who I am, and my relationship and career choices began to improve. My friendship choices also improved, and I began to attract healthy, loving, caring and accepting people in my life. Gradually, I discovered my deepest and truest talents; I discovered my calling in life.
Doing this work is the most important work we can do in recovery. Without it, we simply will not recover, and our lives will remain unmanageable.