by BA Austin, BAAustin.com
Self-esteem. Two simple words. But they can dramatically affect how we feel about ourselves and how they can control our lives.
Having positive self-esteem enables us to live an inward life of security and self-respect.
Having negative self-esteem forces us to live a life of doubt, insecurity, and anxiety about who we are as people and where we fit in society.
Unfortunately, negative self-esteem is what I have had to battle with for much of my life.
From the outside looking in, it is easy to question why someone with my idyllic upbringing would ever have had issues focusing on anxiety, self-doubt, and worthlessness. Born into a prominent and wealthy family in Memphis in 1954, I was a child of privilege. I grew up in a 10,000-square-foot award-winning Japanese-style home and had everything possibly imaginable of material value. I had a wonderful nanny, had the finest clothes, went to the best schools, and went with my family on exotic vacations.
I wanted for nothing.
On the outside, that is.
On the inside, however, I felt a great deal of loneliness, insecurity, sadness, and anxiety. Years later, these feelings would play a role in my downward spiral into the clutches of alcoholism, which culminated in a 30-day stay at the Betty Ford Center in 1997.
My parents played a major role in my upbringing and I loved them dearly. However, there were expectations that they had for their only daughter that, in my mind, I would never be able to fulfill. My dad was a very successful businessman, strong-willed, determined, and tough, and he expected only the best from me. He was focused on my academic performance and demanded top-notch grades. Perhaps that was his focus because in his eyes I would never be pretty “or as pretty as your mom is.” I am sure that he loved me but I never heard the words “I love you” come from him.
Oh how much those words would have meant to me.
Even though I was in fact a good student, an accomplished pianist, a high school cheerleader, editor of the school newspaper, and a member of only the second class to enroll in a formerly all-male prestigious college, I was never quite good enough in his eyes.
My mom, on the other hand, was interested in my physical appearance. Always shopping with me at the most exclusive shops and buying the most stylish clothes, I needed in her eyes to look the part of a proper and beautiful southern woman. Although I dressed to please her, my outward appearance only succeeded to hide the same feelings of insecurity and anxiety that I felt from my dad.
When I returned to Memphis from my first semester in college, my mom was horrified to notice that I had put on the “freshman 15” pounds that many freshman do. When the situation, in her opinion, did not improve when I returned home for the summer, I was put on a plane to a “fat farm” in California. I did not go voluntarily.
I was 36 years old when my mom passed away in 1990. Shortly after that, my husband and I separated and my normal feelings of anxiety and worthlessness multiplied. By a lot. I had the sadness of losing my mom, and I had the pain of a failed marriage as I was trying to raise our two children by myself. I was lonely, sad, lost, and a failure.
So began my gradual seven-year descent into a wine addiction that would move from a simple glass of wine each night to an eventual bottle or even two bottles per evening. Yes, my family history is one littered with alcoholism so this illness was always lying somewhere inside of me. However, it was undoubtedly pushed along by my years of feeling inadequate and embarrassed about who I really was. Wine would quiet my mind and help me forget how far I had fallen.
Thankfully, my then 16-year-old daughter Savannah so concerned about me and wise beyond her years, went to my older brother Will, and a family intervention was arranged. I was then on my way to the Betty Ford Center and although I did not know it at the time, would begin a 30-day stay that would help to lay the groundwork that would allow me to eventually accept myself.
Now, as I am about to complete my twentieth year of sobriety, I often wonder how a person who was broken for so many years can find the strength to rebuild themselves in their own eyes. After all, those are the eyes that matter most.
So much hard work has gone into this. It is not easy going from feeling anxious most of the time to feeling peaceful. It is not easy to go from hating yourself, to liking who you are. It is not easy turning around a life filled with negative self-esteem into a life that now includes positive self-esteem.
With the work that began almost 20 years ago I have discovered that I am a person of worth, that I have a lot to give to myself and to others, that although the path I have led was different from what was expected of me, I have achieved a life that is filled with love, faith, fulfillment, giving, and gratitude.
For those of you who have experienced or are experiencing similar struggles to what I have been through, please know that there is hope. There is a life for you that is worthy and a life for you that includes self-respect and self-love. Please don’t give up on yourself. All of us are blessed with the inner strength to reinvent ourselves in our own minds and to change our view of who we are. As I now can look forward each and every day to my future, wherever it may lead, my hope is that you can as well.
BA Austin’s inspirational journey to a life of self worth “Smell The Raindrops” is available on Amazon.com.
BA Austin is an independent art history lecturer with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowdoin College and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Memphis. She completed in-depth studies in Italy on Florentine Renaissance art. Ms. Austin has worked in the museum and academic fields for thirty years. She lives in southern California near her son, daughter, son-in-law, and three grandsons who are the joys of her life. For further information, please visit: www.baaustin.com.
Praise for Ms. Austin’s book, Smell the Raindrops: One Young Woman’s Journey through Life, Love, and Recovery (https://www.amazon.com/Smell-Raindrops-journey-through-recovery/dp/0989504735):