DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: It’s been a year since I joined the military, and looking back, I’m in a much better spot now than I was then. When I joined, I had just withdrawn from college due to drug addiction and was living with my parents, feeling like dirt. I joined because I felt like I needed a kick in the ass, I was tired of feeling like a flunky who blew his chance at a good life, and I wanted to try and start a career in a different direction.
A year later, and I’ve got a much better relationship with my parents, I’ve lost weight, and I’m doing well financially. By all metrics, I feel like life is going better, and that I’ve made immense improvements to myself.
So why can’t I stop feeling like a f
When I was skipping class, doing drugs, ignoring my well-being and relationships, I was getting more dates than ever and felt more confident than I do now, despite my life being in shambles. In my mind, I went from an awkward nerd who had trouble talking to people let alone women, to someone who partied, hung out with friends, and could chat up women easy.
Everything fell apart. And I’ve built myself back up. But I’m not valuing that. And I can’t stop thinking that the me that appears when I’m an addict is more appealing than the me that has my s
I can’t even trust my own mind. I guess that’s why I’m asking you; How can I get myself to start valuing my accomplishments again? I want to have the same confidence I had before but without the same self-destructive habits.
Hyde Wishing He Was Jekyll
DEAR HYDE WISHING HE WAS JEKYL: You said it yourself, HWHEWJ: “in your mind.”
It’s not that being an addict made you a cooler, more confident person: you’re just remembering it that way. I mean, let’s be honest here: if life were that awesome, why’d you stop? By your own admission, you had dropped out of college, your relationships were awful and your life was falling apart.
Fun thing about our brains: they lie to us. We aren’t objective, impartial observers of reality; we lie to ourselves all the time. We distort our own memories, we edit out the unpleasant parts and choose to only focus on the highlights of our past. That’s one of the reasons why, for example, we’re tempted to go back to exes that we know are bad for us. It’s also part of the reason why we’re tempted to go back to lifestyles that we know were ruinous.
That’s before we even factor in mind-altering substances. To quote a wise man, everybody knows you’ll life forever when you’ve done a line or two. It’s really easy to think that you’re hotter, suaver, smoother and more attractive when you’re drunk or high. But the problem is that your ability to judge your own state is severely impaired. You’re not thinking clearly… you just believe you are. In your mind, you’re the second coming of Oscar Wilde, dropping bon mots and holding court to a room full of admirers who’re hanging on your every word. In reality… well, you’re the guy who’s slurring about his philosophy, laughing at his own jokes and missing the increasingly annoyed, uncomfortable and bored looks on the faces of the people around you.
And look, I’m as guilty of that as anyone. I’ve had too much to drink and thought I was the smoothest of the smooth and the coolest of the cool… and in reality, I was being an obnoxious asshole to people. And yet even after hearing about my drunken a
holery after the fact, I still remember things differently.
The parts I remember at all, that is.
Right now you’re at a low point. You’re missing that bullet-proof confidence you used to have. It doesn’t matter that it was all illusory, smoke and mirrors from your own brain; you miss the way it felt, even if the reality doesn’t line up. And that’s totally understandable. But here’s the thing: you still have that confidence. You have the capability within you. At the risk of sounding like an After School Special, you had the confidence in you all along. It’s not that drugs magically imbued you with confidence and the gift of gab, it just turned down the volume on the parts of your brain that were holding you back. It’s less Dumbo’s magic feather and more Dumbo’s magic mushroom.
You felt that way before. You can feel that way again. You can still party, you can still hang out with your friends and you can still talk up women. You can find your confidence again. You’ll have to do it the hard way – not using the drugs as a short-cut – but it can be done. You start by recognizing what you have and learning to be grateful for them. Simply stopping and taking stock of your life is a good way of recognizing that you have more going for you than you realize. And you already have a lot to be proud of; pulling yourself back from the brink and rebuilding your life is pretty goddamn impressive.
The next step is rebuilding your social circle. Part of recovery is having your Team You on your side, the people who love and support you and encourage you. The good news is that you have easy access to that too; you’ve got your brothers and sisters in the military… your literal squad. They may not all be your new best friends, but you’ve already got that bond to build on. Let that be the foundation for finding those important, emotionally fulfilling friendships, especially with other men. You can still hang out with your friends without having to be stoned out of your gourd.
And while you’re at it, find your community. One of the things that helps build us up is feeling like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. Your service in the military is one example. Another may be what you do after you leave the service. Finding – or creating – your community and your purpose will give you direction and fulfillment. You’ll have the feeling of satisfaction, of knowing that you’re doing something that matters will help build that sense of confidence and make you realize just how much you have to offer.
Remember: the past you remember is an illusion, a mirage. It’s a fantasy that obscured the ugly reality of your situation. You’re in a position to rebuild it… for real this time.
You’ve got this.
All will be well.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com