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The Self Reflection, Reflection...

I was a bar drinker.  I loved the shitty pool halls and dive bars.  I liked to be in the kind of place that you could throw darts at a dartboard, or a stranger, either was kind of acceptable.  I am not sure why I felt this kind of grimy life was the one for me, I just know that I felt important there.  Like I belonged there more than any other place in my life.  In that dingy, beer soaked environment, I felt important in a way that I just didn’t anywhere else.  So I went there as often as I could.

I think, looking back, it provided me a level of superiority.  I felt better than most of those people in that dive.  I mean, most of us were college students, grad students and the like.  It was not a hard core pool hall with bikers after all.  It was just a smoke filled (yes you used to be able to smoke inside - crazy right?) pool and dart hall that was filled with a great deal of drunken debauchery and I loved it.  I felt home there in a way that I didn’t in most other places in my life.

I can remember deciding one night that I would no longer look in the bathroom mirror when I went in there.  I was always so disappointed with what I saw.  When I was out in the bar, doing my thing, shooting pool, running the table, winning, I felt like I was so damn sexy.  But the image didn’t translate to the bathroom mirror that offered up actual proof that I was not that hot, not that cool and really looked fucking drunk and disheveled.

I remember actually making a decision to not self reflect anymore.  Not in that fucking bar bathroom or really anywhere else in my life either.  I was a fuck up and that was just how it was.  My relative forays into self reflection were morbid and produced a level of shame, guilt and anguish that really caused me to not want to be on the planet anymore.  So I just quit...

Except I couldn’t.  Self reflection is one of those things that I cannot seem to avoid no matter how hard I try.  I cannot stop assessing the exterior of me or the interior for that matter.  If there is one thing that has remained constant throughout my life, I think about myself way too fucking much.  On the whole, this constant and unremitting self reflection has been very self centered and unproductive.  I think all kinds of things about myself and your opinion of me, then alter myself, or at least try to, based on my suppositions about myself that I have attributed to you, without any independent verification or confirmation.  So basically, I think about me, then I think about what you think about me and then I make decisions based on these two things that are really just the same thing from a different perspective, but the perspective was still my own.

The result?  I think about myself way too much.  It has been a prison really, one of my own making, where constant self reflection leaves me feeling less than, quite despondent and completely unworthy.

Back in the day, my actions were far more egregious than now.  I was never a “bad” person, I was always trying to do well, it is just that once I had a few drinks in me, my ability to care so much about what you thought about me waned to the point of being almost nonexistent.  I just did what felt like what I wanted in the moment, completely incapable of seeing how this latest course of action was only going to land me in hot water with you, or within the confines of my own judgment, one more time.

It was a vicious cycle from which I could not escape.  The more I self reflected, the more I fell short, and the more I fell short, the more I drank.  And then the only real conclusion I could draw about myself was that I was a complete fucking mess.  And that was a pretty astute observation for one so fucked up and whiskey soaked.

How I managed to function back then is somewhat of a miracle to me.  I was so drunk all the time.  And yet, there I was going to grad school, working, dating, paying bills.  I was doing the deal but feeling like I was failing at everything I did and to be honest, I felt like it was all a house of cards that threatened to come tumbling down any moment.  It was a precarious existence...and it felt that way every single minute of every single day.

When I got sober, I didn’t have any tools for productive self reflection.  I had self recrimination, disgust, judgment, condemnation but I had no actual tools to help me see that my way of reflecting was actually hurting me and perhaps even killing me.  It was this delusional self appraisal that kept me stuck in this everlasting ignorance for a very long time.  It was not until I went into recovery where I learned some different self appraisal skills that would come to revolutionize my life.

I have learned forgiveness, compassion, empathy, accountability, the willingness to see my part, honesty, affection and kindness not only when dealing with evaluating myself but others too.  I have learned that I do have things to offer and I also have quite a lot of work to do on myself.  But these new tools allowed me to experience forward progress when my old tools just buried me further away from any kind of fucking onward (or fonward as we say in this blog) movement.

I used to look in the mirror and absolutely hate what reflected back at me. I felt I was rotting from the inside out and it was showing on my exterior,  This is not to say that today every time I glance in a mirror I am thrilled at what I see, but I really don’t see the decay of my soul anymore.  I mostly see wrinkles and sagging skin which leaves me wondering where all my youth went...and then I just move on with my life.  Not much can be done about things as superficial as why worry about it?

So as I move a day closer to the anniversary of my surrender, I am self reflecting, using all the tools recovery has given me.  And the evaluation is far kinder than it used to be and more honest.  And not quite so delusional.  I mean I still vacillate between grandiose and punishing, but the extremes have moved more toward the middle and exist less and less on the lunatic fringe.

I do not hate my reflection anymore, in large part because I have done a fuck ton of work to clean up that image, my self reflection reflects better than it ever has because I am no longer rotting from the inside out.  I have made peace with my demons, those fuckers come have tea or coffee from time to time but they do not own me anymore.  They have their rightful place in my history and I owe them a debt of gratitude actually...because if it weren’t for them, I would have never been so hellbent on self annihilation that I would have ever needed or sought recovery and that has been my salvation.  It has provided me the grace to begin, one motherfucking day at a time to grow, to heal, to change and allow self reflection to be something that is a productive use of my time instead of 2 x 4 with which I bludgeon myself repeatedly.

I am far from perfect but I do not hate what reflects back to me today.  I have made my peace with this woman I am, both internally and externally.  Of course there are days when I reflect harder and with more venom than others, but on the whole, I can see that I am endeavoring to do my best, to be the best version of myself I can. Not so that I get a better self reflection, no that was also a misguided use of the practice, but so that I can serve others.  My self reflection should be productive so that I may be useful to others.  That is really the whole point in me still being here.  To get out of my own way enough so that I might have a chance to put myself and my life to productive good use.  And so I attempt to do just that every day.  In my personal life, in my friendships, with my family, at my job, in my recovery community.

What I have learned these past 29 years is that I can morbidly self reflect and kill myself or I can use the spiritual tools that have been so freely and generously shared and recover.  And it all begins, and to some degree ends, with my ability to accurately self reflect.  I am not the worst I know, and I am also not the best.  I exist someone where in that vast middle ground...where I can see I am perfect just as I am while also needing just a little bit of work as well.



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