Steps Six & Seven: Believing Again, so we can Remove the Mask
The sixth step to recovery is learning how to believe in ourselves again. The seventh step to recovery is learning how to be ourselves in the world.
It’s all very well deciding who we want to be, it’s a whole other thing believing we can be it. And then a whole other thing entirely actually being it. These two steps in the Steps to Recovery go hand in hand, and so I am handling them together. Two for the price of one, so to speak.
We might not have had great self-esteem before what happened to us happened to us, but even if we did, the trauma of what happened has worked to erode any that was left, often leaving us plagued by self-doubt, and feeling undeserving and even fearful of the attention that success might bring.
We’ve survived up to now hiding ourselves. We’ve hidden the truth of what happened from many. We put on a mask that belongs to a made-up version of ourselves every day, just to get through the day. I was brilliant at pretending, and maybe you are too. Three panic attacks before leaving the house, and I could still stand up and make that presentation to the executive board after lunch. But, it had its price. I’d get home, and curl up, and zone out. If I wasn’t working at the weekend, pretending to be on top of the workload, then I would take a few pills and just slip into sleep. Pretending was exhausting. Hiding my pain though felt much safer than sharing it.
The previous step, defining the version of ourselves that we want to be, brings with it so many fears because we don’t believe we deserve it. The amount of times I sabotaged myself, and I knew I was doing it too, just so that I didn’t have to be in the so-very-vulnerable place of feeling deserving of getting my life back together.
And that’s the thing, it takes a whole lot of vulnerability to be your full self, especially when your full self is still healing, still getting stronger, still in recovery. You have to be ok with falling. And when falling is equated with the abyss that when you’re in it, you always wonder if you can ever get out, and you’ve fallen already so many times before, it feels like a really dangerous, risky, imprudent and stupid thing to do.
And yet, the other thing is that if we don’t we will stay trapped in a victimhood where we are living less than, always a smaller version of who we want to be, and forever resentful of what was taken from us.
We have to learn how to believe in ourselves, despite all the forces that tell us that it’s a dangerous endeavour.
The beauty is, we can.
Mahatma Ghandi famously said, "Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny."
There is a direct connection between what we believe, and what kind of life we will live.
And it is very possible to over-write our beliefs with new beliefs.
I might have a long-held belief that I always get stuck for words and start stuttering when I’m public speaking but when I stop, and question that belief, and ask myself, really, every time, is that really true? Then, I notice that no, it hasn’t always been true. It might have been true once, which might have been the time I decided that it was a truth, but it is not a truth. Once holes can be put in that belief, then they start to become less like truths, and more like maybes. Which is just a hop, skip and a jump to ‘not true anymore.’ We all have beliefs that we used to believe were absolutely true (like Father Christmas, or the Tooth Fairy) but which we know now were absolutely not true.
If our beliefs become our thoughts, but we exert conscious control over our thoughts, repetitively, and consistently, over time those thoughts will have become new beliefs, embedded in our subconscious. The train track does run both ways. This is why so many self-help gurus suggest mantras and affirmations as useful tools to shift mindset; they aren’t silver bullets, but they are very effective in implanting new beliefs into our subconscious.
Another helpful route to implanting new beliefs is to visualise it happening. In minute detail, using all of your five senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling), imagine yourself, and the life you’re living, when you’re the version of yourself you want to be. This provides cues to your subconscious to help you make it happen. Like a new pair of shoes that aren’t worn in yet, this can feel really uncomfortable at first, but over time, those shoes become like slippers, and so it is with that vision: that version of you, becomes you.
When we have faith that the version of us that we want to be, is a real possibility, then it’s not so frightening to let go of the mask we’ve been wearing. Of course, we don’t literally clamber onto rooftops and scream at the world ‘this is me’ but we do feel more empowered to confide in one person, and then another, ‘this happened to me, it doesn’t define me, this is who I am now, this is who I want to be.’
It is only when we’re no longer wearing the mask that we realise how heavy it was, how it kept us chained to something that had been done to us. When we are being the version of ourselves that is not weighed down by that, we can breathe again, we can start to live for ourselves again.
And that is freedom.