The July 1st reading in OA’s For Today quotes an English proverb:
“When a proud man hears another praised, he thinks himself injured.”
This entry in our little white book reminds us that inside we have a hole that cannot be filled. We tried with food. We may have tried with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Eventually we get so desperate, we try to fill it with self-recrimination, and that only exacerbates our problem. If we’re honest, we’ve also tried to plug the hole with affirmation and validation from others as well as its opposite.
How many times in school were we disappointed when our English teacher cited someone else’s paper as an exemplar? How many times have we gritted our teeth when the boss holds someone else’s work up for praise? How many times did we cop a resentment when our family lauded our sibling(s) and forgot about us? When we didn’t get the award, the honor, the mention we should have?
As much as we’d hear people talk about internal motivation, about following our passion, about how the journey was worth more than the destination, we never believed really them. We wanted someone to tell us how good we were. That we were right about something. That we were, contrary to all internal indications, okay.
We couldn’t trust ourselves to fill the hole, so we looked for someone else to do it, and because the hole cannot be filled, the things that were “given” to us (graduation, honor roll, employee of the month, marriage, positions of prestige and wealth) never relieved our self-doubt. In fact, they made things worse because every time we got something big and it failed to ease our discomfort, we grew more panicked that anything to foot the bill.
Our pride could lead us to arrogance, entitlement, and resentment. For some of us (quickly or slowly), the process turned viciously inward. At a certain point we began to root against ourselves. We didn’t want to feel the hollowness of another unfulfilling milestone. Too painful, so let’s hope against it. This easily led to thoughts like I’m not worth noticing anyway or I’m not good enough, so why should I expect anything. Our sense of self-esteem flowed out of us and was replaced by dread of recognition. By being found out.
At least compulsive eating could numb those feelings. For a few moments at least.
In recovery, we discover that we had simply been chasing the wrong solution all along. Our minds, sickened by addiction, led us to extreme self-centeredness. We thought that because we couldn’t make ourselves feel worthy, it must be available from others. It’s not. Our sense of self comes from a spiritual communing with our Higher Power.
As we progress through the Twelve Steps, we uncover some interesting truths. For example, that we were OK all along. That our lives have as much inherent meaning as any others. That our thoughts deceived us. In Step Seven, we ask God to change us, including and, perhaps, especially our thinking. We learn that we must accept what’s given us with gratitude and place no extra meaning upon it. Our achievements do not signify our worth, but they give us much to be thankful for.
Furthermore, we learn that giving away our solution enhances our own sense of self. Therefore, when others receive what we hoped for, we embrace their good fortune as well. We celebrate their success not at our expense but to our enrichment. We have come to recognize that self-esteem comes from estimable acts, not from external validation.
Is it easy to see another’s success does not signify our loss? Not always, but the more we do it, the more we reduce our sense of self and break the spell that our addict brains have over us.