From a very early age, I harbored a deep sense that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t fit in somehow, that I was less than. Growing up in the country, my early feelings of unworthiness stemmed from the fact that my family didn’t have a farm, that I didn’t have my own bb gun, that I didn’t have a pocket knife and of all things, that I didn’t have a down vest. See, those were the things that the “cool” kids seemed to have.
As a kid, I was oblivious to the good things that I had. It didn’t matter that my father was a world renown instructor at the National Fire Academy. Never mind the fact I was sent to private school because my parents desperately wanted to make sure that I got an education in a town where education wasn’t valued as highly as a set of antlers mounted on the wall of your living room.
When I reached the age that little boys start to think that it might be nice to be around little girls, I felt like all the girls wanted nothing to do with me — and for the most part I think that was true. I asked the same girls to “go with me” over and over and got the same response every time, “no.” Not even a “thank you.” It didn’t help that my options were limited to about 15 girls in my class, but I didn’t understand that.
Years later, I still struggled with this. On the night that I met my wife, I was so convinced that she wouldn’t want to see me again that I struggled to ask for her phone number — after talking to her for nearly two and half hours at a bar in DC. Finally, in desperation she pulled out her card and said, “Call me” before leaving for the night. See, my feelings of unworthiness were so strong, perhaps only outweighed by my fear of rejection, that I’d never asked for a girl’s phone number in a bar. I was 31 years old and couldn’t work up the nerve to ask for her number.
At times, those feelings are still strong in my recovery.
This past week has been, by all measures, a fantastically successful week. We left for Disney on Tuesday and came back to Maryland on Christmas Eve. My son has been wanting to go to Disney for years. My wife and I have dreaded it. The idea of being surrounded by people, waiting in lines, in the heat of Florida has never appealed to either of us. And while I was in my darkest days, the idea of going anywhere besides to my job and to the liquor store was threatening.
I’d been to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA when I was a kid. It was fun, but I remember long lines, short rides, and a lot of sweating. As an adult, I’ve never wanted to go to Disney. I hoped against hope that my son’s interest would fade from his fancy, but it didn’t and I knew that the day would come. This summer we got an invitation to our friend’s wedding in Tampa, inconveniently planned for the 21st of December, the winter solstice.
Mrs. TKD asked me tentatively about it when the invitation came. Now, Jean-Paul and my wife go back a long way. They worked together in their 20s in DC, well before I was on the scene. They are old friends, but I don’t know him well. Nevertheless, Jean-Paul sang at our wedding and I felt that there was no way that I could say no to the idea. And I really didn’t want to. Jean-Paul is a wonderful man and he’d finally found his partner. It was important to me to suit up and show up for him, so I said, “Of course we should go.”
Then she laid Disney on me. Sneaky. I thought about it, quickly, and resigned myself to the fact that it had to be done. I said yes to Disney but I didn’t want to go. I really didn’t want to go.
We got to Disney on Tuesday and headed straight for Space Mountain. We had a FastPass so we bypassed the line. I never thought of myself as a guy who likes roller coasters, and so when I found myself getting into the very front seat of the very first car, I thought that things were about to go horribly wrong. That’s when the miracle happened. I let go. I told myself that it would only last a few minutes and that I’d be fine. And I had a blast! In fact, I had a blast on every ride we went on, even the ones that I was nervous about. Truth be told, the rides at Disney are not as wild as some other parks, and I was fine with that.
Several times during the week, my son told me how awesome I was as a dad. And that’s when those feelings of unworthiness came back. I hadn’t done anything to help with this trip other than purchase the tickets on Southwest and rent the car. My wife planned the entire thing, and I continually told Mr. Grey that, over and over and over again. She deserved all the credit, rightfully. But my son kept telling me how great I was.
Every time he told me how great I was, all I could think about what how I wasn’t that great. That I’d fucked things up for 8 years. I watched other fathers with their little ones having a great time and I thought, “that could have been us if you hadn’t been such a mess.” I thought, “I really missed out on some good times with this little dude.” I thought all the things that a recovering alcoholic thinks about himself. And no matter how much I tried, the words “We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it,” just refused to ring true. I did regret the past and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shut that door.
We flew home on Christmas Eve. We’d planned to go to visit my family for dinner, but those plans fell through as I was on my way to the airport in Orlando when I got a text telling me that two were down with a stomach flu and that dinner needed to be rescheduled. We would need to figure out what to do on our own. I stressed because we didn’t have any food in the house and we’d get home after the stores closed. We made arrangements with Mrs. TKD’s father to pickup supplies on his way to our house. It was a dubious plan, at best. I love my father-in-law, but reliably following instructions is not his strong suit. Dinner was sure to be take-out.
The self pity party, already revved up, was now in full effect.
Christmas was wonderful. We exchanged presents in the morning. I got out for a walk in the woods at a local park. We had grilled cheese for lunch. In the afternoon, we went to see Rogue One and I loved it. Against all odds, Dave followed directions perfectly and I had a chicken to roast for dinner. Dinner was great.
And yet, I felt unworthy all day. I felt like things hadn’t gone my way. That I hadn’t gotten the gifts I wanted — despite the fact that I can’t even tell anyone what I truly want. Yes, my gifts were lovely, and thoughtful, and kind — but somehow I found them lacking. Perhaps because, really, I don’t need anything. Really, I don’t want for much in life. Really, I’ve got it pretty good and material possessions wrapped up in boxes and tissue paper aren’t going to make things any better. But, Madison Avenue won’t have that.
At dinner I got frustrated with my son. He refuses to use his silverware. This drives me absolutely up the wall. In the past, especially when I was lit up, I’d have lit him up. But last night, I just cleared my plate and went to my room to lay down. Nothing good would have come from me pushing the point.
My wife came in and asked how I was doing. She told me she’d been worried about me all day. I didn’t admit that I’d been thinking about drinking all day. I didn’t admit that I felt deprived because I can’t have a drink. But, I admitted that I was having a hard time. She said, “I know you are bummed that we didn’t get to see your family today. We had to adjust. We had to roll with a non-traditional Christmas Day, and I think it was pretty good.” I just looked at her.
She continued, “You know, the holidays are hard. These are the hard times for people like you. Maybe you should go to a meeting or maybe call your sponsor.” It was 7:25 and there was a meeting at 7:30 around the block. I fought it. I resisted both ideas. And then I realized that I was purposely stewing in my own shit. I needed a meeting. And so I went, even though it’s not may favorite meeting of the week.
I arrived late. The meeting format had been modified — they couldn’t find a speaker for Christmas. It was much smaller than it usually is and the chairs were arranged in a circle instead of rows. This was going to be a good meeting. Everyone shared. We extended the meeting by twenty minutes because we hadn’t gotten around the circle at the top of the hour. I heard what I needed to hear. I shared what I needed to share. And I felt better.
As I sat there, I heard other people talk about not feeling worthy. I heard others tell stories that were far worse than mine. I knew that I’d been in my head too much all day and that I’d created my own little version of hell.
This was my second Christmas sober. Things have improved immeasurably over the last fifteen months. I went to Disney World with my family and had a blast this past week. I’m doing things that I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m doing the right things today.
In short, my life is good. And I am worthy.
I need to remember that.