Self esteem story about the daughter of an alcoholic struggling with her own relationship issues later in life
I know the moment I realized my self-esteem would be the death of every relationship that meant something to me. It was late at night and I was standing in the doorway of my boyfriend’s apartment, screaming in vain at the man I loved, inches away from walking out on him. My mouth kept forming all the wrong words in a tone reminiscent of my childhood. I was screaming because I didn’t know how to communicate, not because I wasn’t being heard.
Mark and I had been going out for a year. We reached a point where he wanted to talk about our future in an effort to make it move forward. All I felt was pressure: the pressure to be perfect, to know what I wanted, and to make it work.
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Pressure was a familiar feeling. I grew up striving to be perfect in a less than perfect environment. It was an unrealistic idea I had created to deal with being the child of an alcoholic. I thought that if I could do everything right then I could make everything all right around me. But I couldn’t.
My mother would start drinking before sunrise, but I never saw her put a bottle to her lips. My siblings and I would find them hidden around the house instead. Some weeks she would pretend to be a mother, cook us dinner, and tuck us into bed. Other weeks, I was playing that role, comforting her during crying fits and tucking her in at night. It was consistently inconsistent. I was always on edge, expecting the unexpected. I was always ready for that change.
Some of her bad weeks were worse than others. After days spent holed up in her room, she would come out screaming and wailing at us. I’d hide under my bed and she would drag me out by my hair. My older brother would defend me, taking most of the brunt himself. It was physical, but it was psychological too. I was never thin enough, smart enough, or good enough for her. I just wanted her to love me more than she loved each bottle of booze. Sometimes she would tell me she did but it was always followed by something that demonstrated to me she didn’t.
I grew into a people pleaser. Pleasing my mother was nothing short of impossible, so when I could not succeed, I would hate myself for failing. I attributed the lack of improvement to some fault of my own. If there were a reason for her to love me, she would stop. I didn’t feel loveable, I didn’t feel safe, and I didn’t feel happy. I felt worthless. I would carry those feelings with me for the rest of my life.
When I met Mark, he was patient and kind. He took every possible step to earn my love and my trust. I didn’t know how to handle it. Instead of easing into the relationship, I always just felt uneasy. Again, I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or good enough, but this time for him instead of for my mother. At least, I was telling myself that while he was telling me the opposite. I couldn’t believe him. I couldn’t trust him. I couldn’t let go of something I had held onto as a truth about myself.
So there I was exiting his apartment. I had blown a discussion out of proportion and turned it into an outcry of my frustration. I wanted him to give me a concrete reason why he loved me. He told me that I needed to trust him. I didn’t know if I was unable or unwilling to do so. All I knew was that something was wrong and something was broken inside of me—my image of myself. It was holding me back and holding me away from a relationship I wanted to be in but was fighting so hard against.
I knew that I didn’t want to leave. So, I did the hard thing and stayed. I didn’t know why we were fighting or what was wrong but I knew I felt inadequate. Solving the reason why took much more time than that conversation, but it was long overdue. I had a fear of looking at myself. As my own worst critic, I was afraid to see someone who was loveable because then how could I understand why my mother didn’t seem to love me?
Part of growing up is finding out that parents are human too. I know now that she did love me in her own way, but she didn’t know how to love herself. She was never able to stop drinking. I never wanted to make the same mistakes. I wanted to learn how to embrace myself so that I could also embrace others. Mark demonstrated I was lovable and helped me find my way to better self-esteem.
By Sarah Smith (*not her real name)