I have had a recurring dream for twenty years where I am alone inside a huge house and stuck inside a single plain room. The room doesn’t have a washer and dryer, running water, or a bathtub. No books, movies, or writing materials. A bare room with a small bed and nobody to share it with. After what seems like eternity, I tiptoe fearfully into other parts of the house, each room more exquisite and grand than the last, yet every section I enter is haunted by a more powerful entity than the last who tries to scare back into my tiny room where I am free from harm. I had this dream again on Friday night, and I woke up wondering what the hell it all means. Since I am not a counselor, a psychologist, a ghost expert, a demonologist, or a dream interpreter, I didn’t get too deep into things. But for some reason a single word continues to replay in my mind, “Doubt,” with a capital D, especially “Self-Doubt.”
Why is it that every day I am faced with so much self-doubt that I sometimes stay in the same comfortable little space even though it’s not very comfortable and I want more out of life? Sometimes I get over it and move through it, other times I don’t and I later beat myself up for letting it rule me. After two years of seeing the same counselor every week, two years of seeing him every two weeks, and nine years of consistent counseling thanks to the VA. On top of nine years of sobriety, six years of sitting in recovery rooms learning from other people’s personal struggles, growth, and development— and working a certain number of steps that cannot be disclosed on a regular basis; I have a few ideas of where the doubts come from, but they still get the best of me at times. So over the next few blog posts I’m going to break down certain sections of my life where I struggle with self-doubt and how I work through them.
Being a Husband
After so many failed attempts at past relationships, it is difficult to keep the “this isn’t going to work out” demon at bay. I regularly scan Savanna’s face for signs of distress, ask her at least once a month “do you still love me in that special way” and “are you going to leave me?” These questions are never met with a smile, and I understand, they must be super annoying. I try to walk the tight-rope of not being a pushover people pleaser, providing for my wife, and not being a stubborn asshole. It’s not easy, and I thank God everyday that I married a loving, patient, and accepting woman who understands my quirks, needs, and insecurities. Ugh, I hate the thought of being a “needy person”, but aren’t we all needy in one way or another? As somebody who didn’t have a positive example of a “healthy relationship” growing up, sometimes I feel like I’m screwing it all up and that Savanna is going to find a “real man” to take care of her. So how do I deal with these doubts without jeopardizing my relationship?
For starters, I was honest with Savanna from the get-go about my history of feeling abandoned by parents, family, friends, country, and former partners. She knows I feel guilty for some of the shit I did in Iraq, and that I deal with what some psychologists call “soul wounds” because of it. Some days are better than others. She knows what keeps me healthy and she encourages me to do those things on a regular basis. “Are you going for a run today?” She says, or “I really love that you continue to see your counselor even when you’re felling good,” or “You can write everyday from 8-12 because people are being changed by your writing,” or “I would be happy to start going back to church, whatever you want,” or “I have zero friends, and that’s too many,” or “Thank you for doing so much for us every day.” She knows that I suffer not only from alcoholism and an addict brain, but from the recurrent negative and self-sabotaging thought patterns that led to my drinking. And I know it, too! So I talk with her about how I am feeling even though I feel like a weak little runt, and she says, “Anything that is mentionable is manageable.” I try really hard to believe the positive things she tells me, and since I am one of those guys who needs verbal validation and words of affirmation, she often repeats herself.
And when I say hurtful things or I forget to thank her for the million things she does, or I’m overly critical of myself and super bitter and short with her and the family, I apologize. And we do not, I repeat, we do not go to sleep without making up. Savanna says all the time that I am the person who apologizes first anytime we have an argument and 99 % of the time she is true. Because 99% of the time I am the cause of the problem. Being a kind, thoughtful, patient, present, and compromising husband does not come natural— but four years later and with a very happy wife by my side, I am still granted an opportunity to work at it.
Being a Father
How many times can I yell at my kids before I finally realize that it bear positive results? When will I stop cussing at my kids? When are my kids going to realize that Daddy is not the hero they think I am? How do “good fathers” balance a full-time job, maintain vehicles, do household chores, pay the bills, manage finances, build friendships, cook now and then, while being a present and fun father… all without a gripe or complaint?
These are some of the negative, comparative thoughts that creep into my thick, fatherly head. I keep them at bay by forgiving myself when I lose my cool, and vowing to take deeper breaths next time with a longer pause between words. I am trying to speak less, this includes repeating myself, and being more action-oriented. Enough with the, “I’m not going to tell you again,” and the “Like I already said.” I don’t like repeating myself for anybody, how could I do it over and over for my kids without becoming upset? By working to be a better father and person everyday through present moment awareness, healthy preparation instead of obsessive worry, prayer for guidance and wisdom, and focusing on the kids rather than myself— I am able to be a better father. And when they fall asleep at night or take naps, I look at their cute little faces and I am reminded that even though they have HUGE emotions they are tiny, fragile, helpless toddlers who NEED me for safety, guidance, and leadership. And then I ask myself, “Do I want my girls to marry somebody like me? So be the person you want them to marry.” And when I start feeling bad about myself because I don’t feel like I’m doing a good enough job, I remember what it was like with a distant father who sulked from thousands of miles away instead of called me up to see how I was doing. Followed by one shitty step-father after another, and the the struggles my brother and I faced, and continue to face, from not having a consistent positive male role model in our lives, and I realize that I need to quit sulking and step up to the plate to be the dad that I wish I had.