I’ve spent the majority of my life being a real bitch to myself.
I don’t remember once thinking, “Hey kid, you’re pretty awesome.” Well maybe for a split second, after I wrote a poem about a daffodil or something, but that was when I was around six. By the time I was seven, it was an endless You-Suck Fest.
Why? I don’t know. Looking back, I was normal. Taller than most, chunkier than the rest, sure, but normal. I lived in a middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of Boston with a raspberry bush in the backyard. My parents didn’t get along very well, but whose did? I had a dog, a lot of toys, dinner on the table every night and clean sheets on my bed.
But when I looked in the mirror, it was black.
Intensely disliking myself led to weird behavior—behavior which, when I see other people doing similar things—I’ve learned to recognize as the language of self hatred.
First, I became a liar. If reality wasn’t to my liking, and it invariably wasn’t, I just re-wrote the story. I lied about my grades, my family’s income, my weight, even the origin of my dog—you name it, I lied about it. I thought I was slick— who knows? Maybe everyone just felt too bad for me to call me a liar. (The upside was, it gave me great story telling skills which I use to this day.)
Next, I became depressed. By grade school I was either nauseous with anxiety or sleeping to avoid my feelings 24 hours a day. I didn’t have any energy for school work or extracurricular things, my grades dropped, and whatever glimmer of self esteem I’d had evaporated. I schlepped around wondering what the point of existence even was, and how I could make my parents leave me alone once and for all.
By high school I figured out that when guys paid attention to me, I hated myself less—or at least I didn’t experience it as directly. I glommed on to all sorts of boys, hoping to define myself by their shadow. I continued with that strategy way past college, until it led me to the kind of guy who preys on girls like me.
We were a perfect fit: I wanted to change, and he wanted to change me.
Of course, that wasn’t how he approached me at first. First he told me all the things I wanted to hear, things that were actually true, but which I didn’t truly believe. “You are beautiful.” “You are larger than life.” “You are a blue chip stock.”
He made me feel admired and protected, as if he was the only person who could ever appreciate me. My need for his admiration eclipsed everything else about me. Soon we were embroiled in a life I could never have imagined, a life filled with cocaine, scams, drug dealers, homelessness. Classic story of a “good” girl gone bad, except I never thought I was all that good in the first place.
Maybe I was addicted to hating myself, because like any addiction, when I finally hit rock bottom, there was nowhere to go but up—or six feet under.
Piece by piece, I strung something back together that resembled a woman. I was too focused on surviving to hate myself anymore—for the most part.
Years passed. I became a mom, I wrote things—big things…a book, I learned about yoga and how to teach it, I learned about food and how to cook it. But I was always afraid to look in the mirror.
If the light was bad, I knew it would still look black.
Then one day, an ordinary day, I woke up and wondered, what if I just decided I was okay—who would I be? What would that be like? Without the punishing voice in my head, would I go off the rails? Would I eat a stack of pizzas, get drunk and run naked down the street while my husband and kids watched, their pale oval faces pressed up against the window as they dialed 911?
Or would I just be able to smile, gratefully and from the inside as I finally said (and meant), “Hey kid, you’re pretty awesome.” Not perfect, but awesome.
What if I walked around every day, having my feelings, doing my things, and every now and then gave myself a little thumbs up? “Hey kid, good job on that yoga class you just taught. Well done!” “Hey kid, you put together a nice dinner tonight, seriously…it was tasty!”
Why not? Why not say these things? Why not decide, in fact, to treat myself the same way I treat the other people that I love? That would be amazing! I could say, do and think all sorts of wonderful things!
Honestly, it feels kind of dumb. I’m not used to “nice”, “sweet”, “gentle” or “loving” words regarding me, authored by me, ringing around my brain. But the nicer I am to myself, the nicer I seem to be to others and if for no other reason, I’m going to keep trying.
If you see me wandering around the block mumbling to myself with a strange expression on my face, don’t worry. I’m not crazy. I’m just practicing this nice-to-me thing. And if I do happen to run naked down the street, maybe I’ll be able to be nice-to-me even then.
“Hey kid,” I’ll say, “You only ran naked down the street once! It’s not so bad. No one even saw you, and by the way, you looked hot! Now go put some pants on and maybe we’ll grab a slice of that pizza.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: zsófi B