When I first got into recovery, I was stubborn, obstinate, defiant and downright cocky. I knew everything and nothing. I didn’t want to listen to anybody, but desperately wanted someone to give me the answer to all of my problems. Enter my first sponsor. She was bright, well put-together, comfortable in her own skin and very outgoing. I was drawn to her because of how others reacted to her walk and her talk. She seemed genuine. Then I got to know her and discovered everything I thought about her was true. I also learned that I didn’t like her at all and knew, in that very moment, she was the right one for me.
She told me things I didn’t want to hear as I rolled my eyes. She pointed out little nagging doubts I chewed on in my mind, but never verbalized. She identified fears and beliefs I thought no one could see behind my armor of well-worn masks and bravado. This woman had seen it before in other newbies, in other sponsees, in herself.
One of the biggest issues I faced in early recovery, and probably throughout my life, was the fact that I didn’t like myself very much. Okay, that’s a lie. I hated myself. I hated the way I looked, the way I talked, the thoughts I thought, the things I had done, the abundance of lack I believed I possessed. As a victim, I was so blinded by the giant V on my forehead that I was incapable of seeing the inner and outer beauty of Jen. After one of our first talks, my sponsor picked up on this and suggested an exercise.
“Every time you pass by a mirror, you look at yourself and say, ‘You Go Girl!'”
I glanced over my shoulder. Was she talking to me? Did she actually expect me to do that? She was out of her flipping mind! Wise as she was, she knew exactly what I was thinking even though I didn’t utter a word. Perhaps the look of complete horror that replaced my smug grin tipped her off. Regardless, she held firm. “Just do it. Don’t worry about your reaction. Don’t worry about if you believe it or not. Just do it.”
Yeah, right. Me, the same woman who avoided her reflection in store windows, the same girl who couldn’t stand the sight of herself in pictures, this girl was supposed to stop in front of a mirror, look at the loser on the other side and actually say “You go girl?” Not gonna happen.
My sponsor told me a bunch of other stuff that I didn’t want to hear that day, too. But when I left, the only thing I could remember was the mirror thing and how terrified, how absolutely resistant I was to that idea. I thought about it on the way home, imagining how ridiculous I would look practicing this futile exercise. Fear and embarrassment crept up as I considered my family’s reaction if they caught me doing this. What would they think? They all knew I talked to myself anyhow. But this would be different. This would be me talking to myself like I talk to my girlfriends, like I talk to my daughter, like I talk to people I actually care about.
The first few days were awkward. As I darted by mirrors I would murmur those three words quickly and steal fleeting looks at that girl that I had come to hate. But a funny thing happened. The more I did it, the less painful it became. And then one day, after months of working on the steps, stripping away my pride and gently taming my inner brat, something changed.
I walked out of my bathroom as I did every other day and looked in the mirror. I uttered the words hurriedly as I flipped off the light, hoping to make a quick exit before that girl on the other side stopped me. But something was different about the girl looking back at me. She looked like me, had the same hair, eyes and other physical attributes. And yet she was not me. She wasn’t the me I had seen for 40 plus years. There was something about her that was so foreign, so indescribable, so not-detestable. In fact, as I stood looking in the mirror wondering what was drawing me to her, the only word that came to mind was “okay.”
What I didn’t know then was that she was not alone. God had started to seep through the pores of my crumbling exterior and had begun to reveal Himself to me. He held my hand as I worked the steps and trusted the process. He placed the words on my tongue and helped me say them out loud. He removed the lies from my eyes so that I could see past me, to Him.
The woman I saw, this new, budding Jen was not great, by any means. She wasn’t super, awesome, fantastic, spectacular. But she wasn’t ugly, horrible, fraudulent, disgusting and sickening either. She was, to my complete surprise, okay. I spoke my mantra to her, slowly this time, actually wanting to say it. I wanted to treat this stranger with kindness and love. I wanted to show her gentleness and grace. I was genuinely rooting for her.
And she, this bewildering stranger within me, was rooting for me, too. I know that because when I said the words to her, she said them back to me, at the same exact time. “You Go Girl.”
I left the bathroom that day not really understanding what had just happened. The smile that had been long absent from my face, returned and brought with it a glimmer of hope that maybe someday, even though I might never love her, I might, just might, be able to like that person. And today I do.
You go girl!