My daughter was two years old when I realized I didn’t love myself.
In fact, I realized that I didn’t even like myself.
Actually, when I looked a little deeper I saw that I hated myself.
This revelation didn’t come to me on my own. It was a more spiritually-advanced friend—who cared about my well-being—who pointed it out to me. She told me that the way I was talking to myself was a form of abuse—self-abuse.
She told me that I would never let somebody talk to my children the way I talked to myself. She told me that if somebody tried to talk to my children the way I was talking to myself that I would tell them to stop and that this is what I had to do with myself: tell myself to stop abusing myself.
Before that conversation, this had never occurred to me. I just thought it was true. I just thought that my being ugly, being fat, being a royal fuck-up all around, was just the way I was. I believed my thoughts were true, and what I thought about myself, therefore, was also true.
I don’t anymore.
My daughter is seven years old now, making it five years since I had this revelation. And this week I’ve been playing a game with myself where I search for the self-hate. I try to find even a kernel of shame inside me that tells me I’m horrible and bad.
And you know what? I can’t find it. Not anywhere. For now it seems to be gone.
And this is amazing to me because I didn’t even have to look for it in the past. It came and found me. The hurt, the shame, the knowledge that I was horrible and bad and always would be was right in front of my nose every which way I moved.
And now, even when I search hard, I can’t find even a drop.
It was not easy to get to this point, though. It didn’t happen on its own. In fact it was really hard and extremely painful, and sometimes I didn’t think I would make it.
But what choice did I have? Was I going to keep on abusing myself? It didn’t really seem like a viable option. So, I kept going and right at this juncture I’m feeling pretty glad I did.
Everyone’s path is unique, but here are some of the things I did to help get rid of the self-hate:
If I told you how much I cried in the last five years, you would think I was exaggerating. But really, a lot of the time over the last five years, it seemed like I cried all the time.
Even my daughter told me last year that she could hear me crying in the night.
My home is 25 minutes from the nearest town and many days I cried on the drive all the way to town and all the way back home. I cried before bed and all through the night and then sometimes I cried more in the morning.
Why did I cry so much? Because I was committed to being mindful of how I felt and if how I felt was hurting and painful, and those feelings brought up tears, then I just went with it and cried until there were no tears left.
I became a hater of repression and a lover of free expression and so the tears flowed.
I used the crying as a measuring stick. If I had a thought that brought up tears, I knew I hadn’t processed it fully yet, so I kept crying. But usually after a week (or for the really painful realizations, three weeks or more), an insight would arise and I would have an understanding of the event or situation that had caused that painful belief system (which in turn was causing the tears).
Then, soon after, I would notice that I could have the once-painful thought and no pain would arise, no tears would want to fall and I would know that I had healed that wound, or at least part of it.
And then—ready or not—the next painful thought would come and greet me, sometimes a week later, sometimes immediately. This would be another place that a hurt became obvious to me and I would start to cry about it. And on and on for the last five years it has gone. Tear-drop-by-tear-drop, I released the pain.
After the first nine months of crying, I realized that perhaps this was too much to do alone. But I didn’t head to my local conventional doctor for anti-depressants. Instead, I looked to a variety of alternative healers and counselors.
We live in an amazing time where the selection of therapies is diverse and exciting. Overwhelmingly so? Possibly.
But I’m fortunate to live in a small town where word-of-mouth about which practitioners are good is strong. I recommend asking friends and family who has helped them. In my opinion, the skill and empathy of the individual practitioner can be more important than the modality being used. I personally worked with osteopaths, energy healers and counselors who specialized in mindfulness.
I can’t stress enough how much the assistance of an energy healer can help with the healing process. Pain is stored in the energy field in and out of the body. Having assistance cleaning up these congested energy blockages is a big asset to healing self-hate and can really speed up the process.
I have only experienced a little bit of tapping, also known as EFT, but it seemed to be really helpful as well.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read another self-help book but that’s only because I read so many over the past five years. And they were a huge source of support for me. The biggest thing the books showed me was that I wasn’t alone.
Many of the books I read had a Buddhist leaning to them. What I love about reading about Buddhism is that the teachings are over 2,500 years old and they are still so relevant. This indicates to me that my problems aren’t something new or unique and therefore I shouldn’t take them personally. People have been struggling with the same issues for thousands of years. We learn this when we study Buddhism.
Therefore, I’m not weird or strange because of my struggles. I’m just normal. And the Buddha spelled out a path to deal with these problems.The path he pointed to has worked for millions of people. It doesn’t matter if you want to be Buddhist or just want to take the Buddha’s advice. His suggestions for how to deal with human suffering work.
In the last five years, I have meditated for hundreds of hours, both on my own and at retreats. And again, what I learned is that meditation works. If you want to change, if you want to transform your pain into empathy, compassion and caring, then mediation is your ticket.
But it’s hard to do alone and it’s hard to stay motivated. I needed the carrot on the stick to keep me going to my meditation pillow, so I took a course that required me to log many hours of meditation. I knew it was the course and the hope for good marks and a certificate that kept me meditating, but I didn’t care because I knew sitting on the pillow was going to change me and I wanted to change.
Attending meditation retreats is also really helpful. It deepens the practice and helps continue a practice at home. Finding a group to join or just one or two friends to meditate with once a week can be a big help, too.
Letting Go of Outcome
In this process of working with my own self-hate, I had to let go of the idea of being “better.” I saw that my tears and pain weren’t “worse” than other states of being. They were just what was happening.
In fact, the pain and tears were equal to happiness in joy. They were the same for one simple reason: they were what was happening in the present moment.
Did I like them? No. Did I wish I was happy and experiencing joy? Of course I did. But through my meditation practice and attending retreats with skilled teachers, I had come to see that this was only a preference. There was nothing wrong with experiencing pain and letting the tears fall, I just had a preference for the feelings of happiness. And because I was interested in truth more than I was interested in fulfilling my preferences, I was able to stick with it. I was able to cry it out until all the pain was gone for good.
And the truth is, for these past five years I didn’t know if I would reap the benefits. Of course, I hoped I would. I thought there might be a chance I would feel better through experiencing the pain. But there was no way I could be sure, so I didn’t count on it. I just kept going, fully experiencing whatever arose.
But I have to say, freedom from self-hate feels good. It feels easier.
There is a good chance that there’s more pain deep inside me that still needs to be experienced, and cleared away in its own time. And when that arises, I will probably use these five steps again, crying and asking for help and meditating as needed.
But for now I’m going to experience what’s here. And in this moment, what I’m mindful of is an ease and freedom that I haven’t experienced before.
I’m going to enjoy experiencing these sensations for as long as they last.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Hannah Harris/Editor: Travis May