I believe that the seeds for my emotional problems started to grow long before I ever experienced depression or the sense of hopelessness that I had lived with for years before coming into Emotional Health Anonymous. In my early teenage years a number of things started to happen that left me ripe for the downward spiral that was to come much later. During this time I became hooked on securing the praise of others. I started to do well in school and I craved the attention I got for it. I began to think very highly of myself, and this overriding thought was the thing that gave me confidence in nearly all social situations, particularly those where I otherwise felt very awkward or insecure. Without my achievements in school, I was nothing or worse than nothing: I was a big phony. During this time I became quite a people pleaser. I desperately wanted people to like me. I realize now that I never learned how to be my own person. Whether I liked it or not, I felt like I was beholden to other people’s opinion of me. I had a constant need for approval from nearly everyone around me. This meant that I rarely thought for myself when it came to how I dealt with people in my life. But oh, how I fooled people into thinking I was on top of things. This was the most important task in life, it seemed (for me, at least-I didn’t like it when other people tried to do this with me).
I survived in this state of inward smugness and superiority but outwardly painful niceness until my junior year in college. It was during this time that I began to have feelings of emptiness. My facade of altruism was becoming a chore. Nothing about life seemed to come naturally to me. It was draining work to keep up the various masks I was wearing in order to maintain my desired image. I didn’t feel right-whatever right was supposed to be. People thought I was humble (that is, when my conceit didn’t accidentally show through), but I knew I wasn’t. Yet I couldn’t bear to “disappoint” everyone and let them see that I wasn’t the person they thought I was. Inside I felt very jaded, like I could never turn off my extreme pridefulness and secret arrogance, and when I was honest with myself I knew I didn’t want to. I was jealous of people around me because I felt like they were able to honestly face life and didn’t need to project an image everywhere they went. And yet I thought I was enjoying success and I didn’t want to trade that just yet for anything different.
When I was a junior in college, I felt like any sense of direction I had in life was slipping. I started losing motivation and energy to do the things I was doing. Within a period of three months I was in a deep depression. An incredible fog in my thinking and emotions settled in. I had always been cautious with people, but it was nothing like now. Now there was true fear. The sense of despair overwhelmed me. I could not objectively “assess” my own situation or deal with it in any sane way because I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I couldn’t get past the idea that I couldn’t let people know that I was struggling; that I didn’t know what I was doing and that I felt lost. I had a reputation for being so rational, and I did not want to lose that reputation. I literally felt frozen by my fears, like I could not move in any direction. What I didn’t know then, and wouldn’t have been able to accept anyway, was that my pride in not wanting my emotional problems to show meant that I would have years ahead of me living under this cloud of depression until I found Emotional Health Anonymous! I had no idea that years later the path to recovery would start with surrender and not with fighting my emotional problems and trying desperately to look normal.
What I was given in EHA was hope. I was amazed at the honesty people had in talking about themselves. I felt safe there, like I had never felt before. I felt like the mask of always pretending to be happy and in control was no longer needed, in fact it would only set me back in my recovery. People talked about a new way of living and simple tools of action that kept them on the right track of recovery. I resisted these tools in the beginning. My convoluted thinking still being with me, I figured it wouldn’t be sincere if I simply forced myself to do these things without really wanting to. I gradually realized that I didn’t have any choice but to follow the program that was laid out before me, if I was to get well. I had proven to myself beyond a doubt that I didn’t have it within myself to get well. So why was I resisting? Just good old-fashioned fear and pride. These were no strangers to me, only now they had followed me into EHA. Hearing other people admit that they hadn’t done things perfectly after coming into EHA was a huge relief to me. What it meant was that I never had to fear the kind of judgment that says you screwed up, you can never start over.
When I came into EHA the unexpected happened. I found people who were just like me. But not only that, they had a solution! Today, by the grace of God, I have a new way to live. I can’t pretend to say that this way of life comes naturally for me, or that I always feel comfortable. Quite the contrary, in fact-but that’s exactly why I need it, because I don’t naturally feel comfortable doing the things I need to do to survive. What I can say is that I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything in the world. After all of the years I spent floundering and hiding by myself in mental and emotional agony, I have moments of peace like I’ve never had before. I feel like the future is not something to be dreaded and the past really is something that I can’t change. I have friendships now that have some sanity and finally (thank you, God) some honesty on my part. In short, I feel like I’m growing up, a feeling that I have never had before.