Self-esteem and Building a Better Me

After a bad relationship fails, often we’re left wondering what we did wrong. At least that was how I felt after my horrible first marriage ended.

During a marriage that had lasted less than three years, she had left me three times. She was seven years older than I, but acted like a spoiled child, getting her parents to pack up her stuff and bring her home to them.

Logic should have told me that the issues weren’t me, but having low self-esteem when I entered that relationship was something she had capitalized upon. It took years for me to look at the real issues. I had tried everything I could to make the marriage work. Nothing was ever good enough.

She had convinced her friends how horrible a person I was, and she had even tried to convince the people I had gone to church with for years (before I had met her) the same thing. She painted such a vivid picture that she had almost convinced me. Almost. The good folks I went to church with didn’t buy her lies, and some even spoke with me in private, telling me they had known her reputation before I had met her. A little late for that news, but okay.

She had been married twice before me and had gone through dozens of ‘bad’ relationships, according to how she detailed the stories. A used car salesperson couldn’t have told more convincing lies than she could. She was better at telling lies than ever telling the truth or admitting fault. She was always the victim, and this was how she had wanted to portray me, but the truth emerges … eventually.

One day I had pulled up to a red light in Rainsville, Alabama. I glanced over to the car in the lane beside me. In the backseat was my ex-wife. She was pointing at me and cackling madly. Her three friends in the car held looks of bewilderment as they glanced at her uneasily. It apparently dawned upon them at that moment that the problem wasn’t me, but her. The epiphany was seeing her crazy behavior, and when they looked at me, a bit of fear was in their eyes for having her in the car with them. I simply shook my head and drove on after the light turned green. However, the other three women in that car no longer had anything to do with her. They no longer invited her on their outings. They ceased all contact with her. In fact, one of the three kept in contact with me, trying to help me get custody of my daughter, because she was greatly concerned about my daughter’s safety.

Because my marriage had failed, I felt like a failure. My mental wounds were fresh. The tears in my heart bled. Devastation overshadowed me. I needed to rebuild myself. I needed to become stronger. Looking back, I cannot say why I decided to sign a contract at Brian’s Gym, but I did. Unknowingly, this was a first step in building my self-esteem.

Brian Hudson owned the gym, and I had gone to Plainview High School with him. I had graduated two years earlier than he. Brian was easy-going and we talked a lot. After a few weeks, I began working out with him. He competed in bodybuilding and was much stronger than I. But, he pushed me to do more reps even though I was exhausted. I learned so much from him.

In a couple of months, I noticed big changes in my physique. At the same time, I was making new friends. The gym was a different atmosphere. A lot of people talk about the massive egos bodybuilders have in these gyms, but I never met one person that acted that way. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Most were helpful to explain the proper way to do exercises if you asked. It didn’t matter if they were 250 lbs or a beginner like myself.

I worked at Sunrise Hosiery, and even before my shift ended, I couldn’t wait to get to the gym to work out. My drive was never to become a competitor. I simply wanted to be stronger and healthier. Lifting weights was also an outlet to burn off the mental frustration I suffered. After a few months, people noticed my arms and chest were getting bigger. Some made comments. Others commented with their eyes without saying a word, which was a bigger compliment sometimes. This prompted me to keep going to the gym.

The more I worked out, the better I felt.

However, my biggest obstacle, strangely enough, was my mother. Since my divorce, I had to move in with her. I was trying to maintain a healthy diet to gain lean muscle, and she knew my weakness: sweets.

I have always had a sweet-tooth and each evening before I came home from the gym, she made cookies or brownies or cake. While some might suggest her actions weren’t deliberately aimed at making me fail, you didn’t know my mother. She was a cynical person and did things on a calculated basis to ensure others didn’t succeed at their goals or dreams since she had given up on her own.

In the mid-70s, I watched The Incredible Hulk week after week, idolizing Lou Ferrigno and aspiring one day to be like him. Before my mother and father separated, my father brought home some bodybuilding program books a friend had given him. He gave these to me and then he bought me one of those cheap barbells with the concrete plates covered in plastic, so I could do some exercises at home. I did on a daily basis, but mainly my arms, as I didn’t have a weight bench.

After their separation, my father came to visit on a Saturday. My mother sat at the breakfast table in her housecoat with coffee. She was trying to overcome her hangover from drinking the night before.

My father looked at me. “Looks like you’re still working out.”

I nodded.

My mother said, “Yeah, he’s trying to get bigger so he can beat me up.”

Why she even said such a thing remains a mystery. My father glared at her for the comment, even scolded her, and I didn’t know how to react. I did lessen the amount I was working out, but I don’t even know why I did. I guess the comment hurt because my goals had nothing to do with such a repulsive action. My goals had nothing to do with her at all.

And years later, in the early 90s, she was still trying to keep me from succeeding at my goals. Resisting sweets was difficult, but I managed. I kept working out. I kept growing, both physically and mentally.

I had always been a shy person. Talking to strangers, especially women, had been difficult for me. But the more I worked out, the more confident I became. I’m not entirely sure why that correlation occurred for me, but I became uninhibited at approaching people and talking to them. I asked out attractive women, when I wouldn’t have done so in the past due to my low self-esteem. I had been afraid of rejection. But that was no longer a fear for me. My confidence allowed me to face rejection and know the world didn’t end if she declined.

Even with my upswing in confidence, things at home still hung over me like a black cloud. With my mother trying to tempt me from my healthier lifestyle, the memories of my little brother’s death, and an ex-wife who continued to stalk me, I realized I had no choice but to move away.

I decided to reapply for admission to Berea College for several reasons. One, it was two states away, which made it impossible for my ex-wife to stalk me. Two, since I was back in college, I could live on campus instead of commuting, which saved a lot of time. Three, I had more freedom to be myself or perhaps to discover myself in a new environment. And lastly, it was due to a promise God had said to me seven years earlier. Without going back to Berea, I’d never know if I had heard Him or not. I needed to know.

[Due to circumstances based upon more personal issues, some things I cannot post publicly. The continuation for this blog post is “God’s Time Zone (Part One) & (Part Two)” at my Patreon page. Become a Patreon supporter ($2 per month), to unlock this part of my memoirs and for other writing tips. Cheaper than a lunch combo at any restaurant.]

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