Week Two: Self-Esteem

I have long argued that a healthy “self-esteem” is really grounded in a healthy “self-estimate”. We tend (I do) to place overlays on top of a correct estimate of ourselves. These overlays may be grandiose, or they may be darkening and self-condemning. Ironically, these overlays (think of clear acetate sheets) can easily co-exist along with many others. But it is usually safe, with humans, to assume that some will be pure wishful thinking and others will be shame and blame-based.

Now there is nothing like Homelessness or a severe illness to possibly strip away these overlays and get us to a more correct self-estimate. These overlays may end up being replaced with known overlays which involve faith, hope, repentance (to use an old word); the making of amends…even, dare I say it, humility.

But what they do is strip away our normal ways of bolstering ourselves. Suddenly we have no money, prestige, or even normal items like a car or a house. We also, in many cases, are stripped of our usual diversions. Pascal’s chilling reflection that “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Surely applies because you have a LOT of time alone. To be sure, not always alone, but with people who are strangers.

Of course I never have to face this as I have 25 top movies on my Hard Drive and 30 episodes of favorite shows (I watched The Green Zone last night).

Then there is the physical, which to some extent is determined long-term. I have been, in recent years, as light as 260, and as high as 340. I also (I am not complaining) have a very large crop of hair that grows rapidly. So as I looked in the mirror this a.m. I saw Nick Nolte staring back at me, or an overlaid version. While not puffy and beat-down, I still had the hair….thick bushes of gray hair sprouted in every direction. I doubt a hat will help much.


I was talking with a young 25 year old kid last night. He had been “kicked” for the night for staying over and partying with a woman in San Francisco. I called my friend Larryboy and got him a place to stay in one of his vans around town. His previous plan (he told me) was to go to a bar and get picked up by a “Cougar so long as she was not morally objectionable” so he would have a place to stay.

By “morally objectionable” I assumed he meant not skanky.

Then he proceeded to tell me how to best satisfy a woman. I listened because it is a discipline and I was concerned about his safety overnight (he has a court date this a.m. which he really should make).

I told him I did not envy him with all that testosterone ramming through his system and that I preferred that I had to really be deeply effected by a woman, even in love, to even think that way, not to mention perform. It has been a long time since I have been intimate with anyone and I do not see that changing anytime soon.

[I mean if I id meet someone what would I say anyway? “Hey wanna come back to my place and hang ith me and my 48 roommates?”]

A Homeless Shelter is like a monastery that way. Abstinence in all things is the rule. The unfortunate thing is they try and treat the retreatants” like children.

They do not do this with me. Apparently one of my overt overlays is visible to all.

Which leads me to my last reflection: We are SO MUCH MORE than the overlays we place on ourselves, or allow others to place upon us.

They say that alcoholism is a “family disease” by which they mean that it is part of a larger family dynamic where various roles are placed, assumed, imposed, accepted etc.

Well, the fact is I am so much MORE than a Recovering Alcoholic; yet so many would see me through that single lens. That’s their deal, not mine. In fact, I patently reject it as thoroughly as I did when I was the “religious one” many years ago.

Which is why people hide their addictions and “issues”. They are afraid of being branded as just that.  I am not immune, I just hear the words of St. Paul (that few take seriously) “I shall glory in my weakness”.

How do we know what is real in us and what is not? My best answer is from Martin Luther, who said “Who a man is on his knees before God is who he is, and no more.”


Today I have no money, no status, no possessions except a double-bag of clothes and my digital arsenal. My “stuff” (see Carlin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac) does not define me. If it did I would live in five places and two states.

So my self-estimate cannot come from externals. Nor from labels. I mean it has also become, in some circles, quite popular to be in “Recovery”. It’s sort of becoming hip with the likes of Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Robin Williams and out of rehab like a revolving door.

But they still have the overlays of fame, money and prestige (oh, and talent…let’s be fair).

I still have overlays I take comfort in. I am tall, highly articulate, educated and have some very deeply rooted disciplines. Few could handle some of the human situations I have negotiated peacefully for others.

Is that an overlay, or is it actually a part of who I am? If being a recovering alcoholic is a part of what and who I am (and Lord my eyes glaze over with those addicted to AA)?

As you read about my situation, do you find yourself laying down your own overlays on top of me?


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