It’s possible to see yourself in a particular way for years, believing it’s what you truly look like, the way you intrinsically are, how others see you. It’s the script that you live your life by. All the decisions you make and every thought that passes through your mind are tethered to that framework – the one that tells you you’re no good, a failure, and a waste of everyone’s time.
This kind of negative mind-set is all encompassing and set in stone. It’s nurtured by bad habits, addictions and dangerous, self-destructive ways.
Yesterday I drove past an imposing, steel grey block of high-rise flats in Sheffield city centre and felt tears pricking behind my eyes. I was on my way home from the gym where I’d been lifting weights in a circuits class with a group of women I really admire – strong women who take care of themselves and believe they are worth something.
That tower of flats, about twenty years ago, was a place where I spent some nights, out of my head; young, vulnerable and mixing with people I should have never gone anywhere near. Men and women who had no values, who were addicted to hard drugs and who’d hit the deck of life many years before I ever met them. They used people, exploited them for their own gains and felt nothing for anyone or anything except their next fix.
I cried when I drove past that building yesterday because I wanted so much to grab hold of my twenty-year-old self and drag her away to a better, brighter place. I wanted to whisper in her ear that whatever she thought she was getting from that grimy world, it was an illusion, a delusion; it was a diversion off the road she'd been taking in life, a meandering into a den of iniquity.
Why? Because it excited me and reinforced the framework I had built about the person I was – a bad girl, a thrill seeker and a rebel.
This warped perception of who I was continued for many years – two more decades in fact. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking alcohol in 2011 that I was finally able to start addressing my self-image and change the way I viewed myself, and my place within the world. I gradually unpicked the negativity and began to build a new, healthier self-image. It took a long time and it was often a case of one step forwards, two steps back. I had days of self-loathing where I still couldn’t bear to look at my reflection in the mirror, but then moments of awakening, realisations that I had focus in life and direction, and that what I said and did really had meaning. These things mattered to people in my life, people who loved me. For years I had taken decisions based on the belief that what I did never really mattered to anyone.
Slowly, I started to see that this wasn’t the case.
It’s not an overnight process, creating self-esteem and a positive self-image. Far from it… but you definitely can’t begin to start until you put the bottle down (or quit whatever addiction you are caught up in that reinforces your unhelpful and negative vision of who you are - and which I can guarantee will be wrong).
Children are taught that they are something, a certain way, through a mishmash of experiences and various adult and peer views and insensitive comments, and often, this persona has nothing to do with their true potential and real life. Self-fulfilling prophecies can take decades to undo and be an arduous uphill struggle to reverse.
But it can be done.
For anyone who’s striving today to get sober, remember, it’s essential you reframe your self-perception first, to begin to regard yourself as a person who deserves good things and happiness in life.
To escape a pattern of self-destruction, you have to be able to look in the mirror and see someone who you feel compassion and love for. It doesn’t come easy at first; it takes work and persistence. But it’s the key to making long-lasting lifestyle changes – the ones that will organically reinforce positivity in your life everyday, once they are in place…