I get anxious about the most absurd things.
Lately, I’ll wake up in the morning and have high ambition and the best intentions to “be productive.” Specifically, I’ll want to write pages and pages of profound and clever words. I have a blog to maintain and a novel to finish. I hope to finish. I would really like to finish.
The blog is my outlet for having all the meaningful conversations I want to have about the church and sexuality and addiction and trauma.
The story is the culmination of all my life experiences and literature loves and hopes for an ideological revolution bound up in my favorite art form.
Most mornings I wake up hoping to make significant strides in one or other of these projects. Most evenings I curl under my covers feeling something ranging from disappointment to brutal shame for not accomplishing as much as I had hoped…if I accomplished anything at all.
To further heighten the sting, I have high performance friends.
No less than three people who were class mates in college have now published books or scores of articles or major Christian magazines. A handful of others became full-time photographers. A couple of them released records. And let’s not even count the scores of them that went off to start churches or businesses or found a way to live abroad.
My journey through the Christ Year has led me to look uncomfortably closely at how I regard people. Particularly people I regard as more productive than me. Particularly those who I perceive as happier than me.
When I look at the high performers around me, I feel worthless and inadequate. Even when I factor in my own accomplishments, I feel worthless and inadequate. And, let’s be honest, I’ve accomplished great things! I’m highly educated, fairly insightful, I have a counseling license, a decent counseling career, a good reputation in my local career community, friends from a handful of churches, other friends from a handful of other non-church circles, one published article that was quite popular the year it was published, a wife and kid who love me, a bunch of friends who love me, I’m physically fit, and mostly good looking…
I still feel worthless and inadequate. The feeling doesn’t actually have anything to do with accomplishments. I think it’s more a belief that I chose to embrace a long time ago.
The truth might actually be that I am just not content. I wanted life to be a certain way and it’s not. I thought I would be a certain way and I’m not.
So I push myself relentlessly hard to do more and better and more and better. And when I’ve pushed myself as hard as I can go, I push harder. And when I can’t push anymore, I beat myself up for not being able to push harder and do more.
Inside, I punish myself for not being my high performance friends.
Maybe I’m discontent and can’t stand the thought of being ordinary.
Maybe I’m afraid of being ordinary because I’m afraid of being forgotten and abandoned.
And instead of medicating with something destructive, my instinct is to just try harder to reach impossible standards that are only important to me.
Thus are the effects of perceived worthlessness in my life. I daresay this is a risk factor, partly for how it prevents me from truly experiencing life, but also for how it affects my recovery process.
A feeling of worthlessness is a significant and dangerous trigger for relapse.
Worthless. Useless. Broken. Damaged. In the way. Inadequate. Boring. All variations of the same poison.
This is the feeling that comes from thinking, “I am not enough and can’t keep up.”
I feel it when I don’t publish a best-seller. I feel it when I don’t do exciting and trendy projects with famous people. I feel it when I compare salaries and the interesting-ness of jobs. I feel it when I’m sick at home and not at work. I feel it when I feel chubby. I feel it when I’m home alone instead of being invited to be with people. I feel it when people have more kids than me. I feel it when couples look happier than me. I feel it when I lose at a game. I feel it when I am weak. When I don’t have enough. When I need help. When I make a mistake.
Essentially, when I am Human.
What makes this a trigger.
Deep down, I know, or at least suspect some things.
Optimistically, I know that I have worth. Perhaps I know this because I am slightly Humanist and being optimistic is just what I do. Perhaps someone once upon a time told me I was worthwhile and a part of me never stopped fighting to believe this.
Perhaps I get the Gospel, at least a little, and the truth that Jesus loved me at my worst and grafted me into His family.
On some level, I know I’m not worthless. So then when I feel like I am, for whatever reason, that feeling creates dissonance. Inner conflict that causes pain until resolved.
Where there is pain, there is medication, and not all methods of medicating are helpful.
More commonly though, worthlessness gets such a grip on me because we do not know our worth. This is the darker reality.
This is when I don’t get the Gospel. No one told us me I had value, or those who did lacked credibility. Or just a few people said or maybe even implied that I was lacking and enactd some form of rejection. They because the ones I believed.
Later, I got exhausted from trying to maintain optimism in the face of brutal absurdity and rampant corruption amidst humanity.
Instinctively, I see my lack.
This is terrifying in a culture built on strength and productivity. The science of the day says, “Survival of the Fittest,” and if I am not the most fit, the most strong, the most beautiful, the most rich, the most clever, the most popular or the most something, I get cast aside, forgotten and rejected.
Worth is tied to performance.
If performance fails, then so does worth.
Worthlessness means rejection.
Could be that rejection is the thing I fear above all else. At least most else.
Giant spiders could still be pretty up there.
So then, when faced with the feeling of worthlessness, I’m really facing one of my deepest fears, that of being rejected and ending up alone.
Worthlessness is a strong feeling, so strong it can feel real.
Faced with the perceived reality of being in danger of being rejected, I have two choices. Perform more, or ignore the feeling.
The correct thing to say is that I’m done performing and no one can tell me I’m worthless and I have a good life and I should just be grateful and content.
I should be grateful and content.
But even as I write this, I’m thinking about the novel I still want to finish, and still hope to finish.
What would it be like to not write it out of fear or out of need or out of desperation to prove myself to people who aren’t even watching? What would it be like to write a book because I really truly love the art of writing narrative?
What if I work hard to do all the things I do because I love them and am excited about life, not because I am continually trying to prove myself?
Maybe it all starts with a simple declaration.
I am not okay.
I am not enough.
I am weak and inadequate and have pretty fragile limits.
And that is okay.