Unlearning: Improving Self-Esteem and My Connection With God

Welcome! Each and all of us are born into the world perfect in God’s eyes. His love for us is unbounded and without any definition of limit. Today I’m writing about how I found my own vision clouded by fear and confusion and the path to unlearning, an unlearning that reminds me of my connection with God.

It came to me that self-doubt is at its root a belief that one is broken. I realize that to some degree or another I’ve been working under this assumption all of my life. Today I work to move my life away from that belief that I am broken.

I started to live in a negative ego state prior to my earliest cognitive memories, but I remember feelings of a low self-esteem being firmly in place by 5 or 6. By the time I was 9 or 10 I had an overly-developed inner Critical Parent. I was convinced that I was broken and that there seemed to be very little I could do to avoid fear and pain.

I tried to survive this self-loathing by holding tight to the promise of my religious education — that through good deeds I could earn love and stop the pain. However, the longer I held to this belief the farther it seemed to be from me. I felt isolated and alone most of the time. As I got older I felt abandoned by God.

Over the years I learned to cover my low self-esteem with anger and distraction. I became very angry and would often try to feel better through the use of verbal and physical abuse. I would fight with anyone I could, both with words and with my fists. I trained myself for fighting of any kind.

There were several main factors that lead to my early low self-esteem and escalating violent nature. The following seem to have had the most long-term impact:

  1. The degradation of my father and mother. As a child we derive our self-esteem from our perception of our parents. My parents were both spoken ill of very often. They would talk negatively about each other as well as themselves. I was immersed in negativity about their issues and problems.

  2. Abuse. I was sometimes used by others to provide a sense of relief from their own inner pain. I was abused physically, mentally, and sexually.

  3. I was introduced to the Nazarene Church’s doctrine of Original Sin, Resurrection, Judgement, and Destiny. I believed that God would abandon me to hell if I was not good enough.

  4. I lived with active alcoholics and codependents who were incapable of nurturing a child’s self image.

  5. I believed that God was judging me, and through this fear of judgement I lost connection to my higher self, and through that, my connection to God.

This is how I came to believe that there was no place for me. No place that I could find solitude. My self-esteem was based on my perceptions and projections of the judgements of others, including God’s ultimate judgement of me. This seemed to leave me with only the experience of mental and physical pain and the avoidance of that pain. It was in my attempts to avoid pain that I found myself at my lowest point.

In the fall of 1981 at the age of 12 when I was living in Sandy, Utah, I contemplated and planned the murder of another human being.

I sat in our living room and contemplated the murder of my step father. He was an ex-convict, and because of this, he wasn’t allowed to own modern firearms. However, he was able to purchase black powder weapons. We had several of them mounted on our living room wall. He had taught me how to load, fire, and clean them. I believed that it was within my ability to use these weapons in the act of murder. I remember sitting in the dark living room alone thinking about whether I would do so.

However, by the grace of God, five years earlier when I was in second grade, I had gotten in trouble for helping to damage the side of garage. The police had been called, and a very frightened young David Kester was informed that he had broken the law.

This memory of the confrontation by the police led me to fear the law and the results of lawlessness. This fear turned me from the ultimate violence. I decided not to attempt to kill my step father. I knew I needed to get away from there. I asked to go live with my dad, something I had never wanted to do out of fear that my mother would not be ok. I was at my most desperate hour.

When I left to go live with my dad, he had just stopped drinking and was about six months sober. He introduced me to Alanon and Alateen. There I learned that I needed to find my own belief in God, that only through finding my belief in God could I hope to keep myself sane.

Over the last 33 years I have been to some degree or another on this pursuit.

It started slowly with me abandoning the old beliefs I’d been given as a child by the church. It would take me four years to reconcile those beliefs into something that fit for me, a belief in God that did not negatively affect my self-esteem every time I thought about God.

I remember a moment of clarity.  In the fall of 1985 I had gone to a high school football game. While I was in the game someone stole my bicycle. My bicycle, clothes, and a collection of Dungeons and Dragons books were all the things I owned, the only things that had survived through all the moving to and from Alaska. I reported the theft of the bike and then went on to the school dance. I remember being a bit numb during the entire night.

That night as I walked home along the very dark road to our house, I talked with God. I told him I did not understand why my bike was stolen but that I would turn it over to him. I would let him worry about the bike and what was to happen. As I walked a sense of relief came over me. It was the first time I had fully trusted God in a very long time. The next morning the police called. They had found my bike undamaged in a dumpster near the school. It was returned to me.

Over the next decade I had a lot of experiences with turning things over to God, but I still was unwilling to turn over one thing to him. I wasn’t willing to use his love of me to replace my apprehension, self-doubt, and fear of abandonment.

In 2002, married and with two children I was once again reaching a low point. This time I was running into the final days of my belief that I could earn love. I was feeling lonely and depressed a lot of the time. I had reached a point where I no longer was able to believe that my wife loved me. I was beginning to realize that I could in fact not do enough, care enough, fix enough, or believe enough to earn love. Yet I felt empty inside, and I desperately wanted to feel good.

I needed help.

I decided it was time to make a change. I was feeling desperate. I told my ex-wife I wanted a divorce. After I moved out, we started couples therapy. Couples therapy only lasted three sessions, but I would go on to do my individual and group therapy to work on this issue of feeling loved. I had once again found my way to a place of healing. I spent the next five years in weekly therapy and then went on my first vision quest in 2009. I was improving my self-esteem and feeling connected to God.

In September of 2011 I went on a second vision quest to Sedona, Arizona. My goal on this vision quest was to not expect anything but be open to everything. What I was questing for was to learn more about my connection to God.

I climbed up to the saddle of Cathedral Rock. I was scared of the height. This wasn’t unexpected since I have been afraid of heights since I was 4 when I fell and broke my collar bone. However, I was intrigued by the fear since I was standing on solid ground with no way I could fall, and if I did, no where to fall to. The anxiety of the climb was mismatched from the reality of it. I stood outside the fear. It was as if someone else was feeling it. The reality of safety upon the solid earth in contrast with the fear of falling gave me an insight into my anxiety and my lack of trust in the universal energy. Over the next few days, I dedicated myself to transforming that fear and anxiety in my body into a feeling of safety and love.

Over the last two years I have been in active therapy and on two more vision quests to Sedona. I’ve continued to work on releasing anxiety, living in the moment, and trusting in my future self.  This weekend when I was traveling with my wife I read a tweet. It said, “Stop trying to fix yourself and instead appreciate your gifts.”

That tweet was like a puzzle piece being clicked into a picture, a puzzle I’ve been working on for a long time — the puzzle of my self-esteem. The piece going into place is this:  my imperfections do not affect my connection to God. God is love, love needs nothing. My imperfections have nothing to do with love and being loved. Love is abundant and provided. There is nothing that needs doing to have it.

Through my connection to God I can release fear of judgments of myself and others. I can follow the wisdom Wayne Dyer offers — “There is no failure, only outcomes.” My outcomes do not affect the amount or quality of love in my life. I am love. I am loved.

God bless you and remember that you have a posse of support. I am on your posse.

5 thoughts on “Unlearning: Improving Self-Esteem and My Connection With God

  1. I felt really connected to you as I read through this post, Dave. I struggled with self-image issues for the longest time and can understand what a struggle this must’ve been for you. God bless you!

  2. Thanks for taking us on your journey. Powerful post.

    This winter I read a book titled The Prison Angel.” It is about Mother Antonia. It is one of the most inspirational books I’ve read in a long time, maybe ever. In the book she said “It’s not learning that brings you to perfection, it’s unlearning.” I think that is so true. Your post is a good confirmation of that process!

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