“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens” ~ Louise Hay
So, after all those years of hitting my head against the brick wall of Neil’s alcoholism, why, at 50, did I finally decide to divorce? Why didn’t I do it earlier? I used to think it was because I was a coward, that staying married was the easy option before I realised that it all boiled down to having low self-esteem. I didn’t think much of myself, didn’t think I deserved anything better; I lacked the confidence and courage to let go of what I couldn’t change.
This is actually a difficult thing to write, to admit this about myself, to say out loud, as it were, that I could tick most of these ‘low self-esteem’ traits. People who have low self-esteem:
- Suffer anxiety and emotional turmoil
- Usually see the ‘negative’ in any situation
- Lack social skills
- Have little confidence
- Struggle to accept compliments
- Indulge in negative self-talk
- Worry if they might have treated others badly; although they tend to treat themselves badly, they never treat others badly
- Worry about what they imagine others think of them
- Back away from a challenge or a difficult situation
- Rarely put themselves first
- Always question their own opinion
- Expect little out of life for themselves
In February 2014, Neil was hospitalised for double pneumonia; he was there for almost a month. Instead of rehashing the details, if you want to know more, here’s the link to ‘Uncertainty’.
When he was moved to the general ward after a couple of weeks, it didn’t take long for him to get hellishly bored, but he did spend a lot of time thinking. I was hoping and praying that what he’d gone through was enough to make him want to give up drinking because the consultant had told him he’d come very close to dying while in the induced coma.
A few days before Neil was discharged, he told me that he’d thought hard about what had happened to him and he said he never wanted to go through “this” again. Then he made a promise. He promised that things would change, we would do things together again like we used to; he said he would take the boys out more and do more with them.
I couldn’t believe my ears! Couldn’t wait to get home and tell the boys. They were so excited, they literally stopped what they were doing and started to plan all the things they could do together.
The night Neil came home, he did have a couple cigarettes, which annoyed me because he hadn’t smoked or had a drink for almost a month. But, within a couple of days, he stopped smoking. He’d been smoking since his late teens and he quit, just like that, with only the aid of patches. Credit where it’s due, I was amazed at his willpower.
That amazement didn’t last long when I realised the drinking had taken the place of his smoking. The amount he was drinking gradually increased. I realised, and he admitted, that he was drinking before going on a night shift. Was he drinking at work? I don’t know.
I didn’t have to say anything to the boys, they could see what was going on for themselves. He was keeping himself apart from us even more than before. I tried to talk to him about it; Gordon tried to talk to him about it, even showing him undeniable facts and figures about the effects of alcoholism. He’d nod, make like he was listening but his glazed, disinterested expression said otherwise.
The promise he’d made while in hospital, about things changing – that was the last broken promise the boys were willing to put up with; the last ‘hurt’ they would accept. Neil’s relationship with his sons was going downhill fast but he wouldn’t – couldn’t? – do anything to mend it.
That was the last straw for me. My low self-esteem was still there, my severe lack of confidence. But I’d already begun exploring different spiritual paths and was starting to settle into a spiritual way that was working for me. Without realising it, I was already pulling myself out of that black hole. Without realising it, I’d started to believe that I was worth a whole lot more than the life I’d been plodding through, the life I thought I deserved.
And that was when I knew that something had to change. That I had to be the one brave enough to make that change. I went to see a solicitor. But it still took me almost 2 months before I told Neil, on 29th August 2014, that our marriage was over.
When it comes to finding ways to help you overcome low self-esteem, there’s plenty of helpful advice on the internet.
What worked for me, apart from embracing a personal spiritual, faith-filled way, was keeping a journal. A journal is like having a combination of a best friend and therapist always there for you. You can confide your deepest secrets – it won’t judge you; it won’t interrupt you; it certainly will not betray your confidence.
I wrote about anything and everything that was annoying and upsetting me. There was no structure to my journal writing. My only agenda was to make myself acknowledge and face my feelings, no matter how uncomfortable. I used different coloured pens and pencils; I drew and doodled; cut out and pasted pictures from magazine; I let my writing mirror my feelings – there were times, when I was really angry and/or upset, I would, literally, scrawl all over the pages. Having said that, I also wrote about what made me happy, to remind myself that there were good things in my life.
Of the things I’ve done and all that I’ve read about overcoming low self-esteem, I believe the most important way is to have compassion for yourself. Love yourself first. Replace the negative self-talk with loving, caring words. You have to make sure you’re completely ok, only then will you be able to care for the important people in your life. It’s like when you’re on a plane and you’re told to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before seeing to your children – if you pass out, who’s going to help them?
“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself” ~ Steve Maraboli