Loving myself is one thing. Liking myself… That takes some work.
I’m starting to like myself. Like, holy shit. If you only knew. If you’d spent any time inside my brain, you’d have not thought it possible. I mean, the things i’ve said to myself, about myself. I wouldn’t even say those things to the ones responsible for me being this screwed up. I don’t want to bring down the tone of this piece by being specific. Pretty sure i don’t need to anyway. You already know, because you’ve probably said terrible things to yourself, about yourself too.
I was asked what my greatest fear is. It was during one of those courses that seekers like me are wont to take. It was a deep, intellectual course that asked you questions like, “What are you pretending not to know?” (If you inferred a sarcastic tone in that last sentence, you’re correct. Feel free to carry it through to the end of the paragraph.) In the third level of the course we did a fire walk and went on a zip line (not at the same time, but hey, that might’ve been more fun) and then we were declared an intellectual giant and given leave to talk down to all the unfortunate peons who hadn’t taken the course, henceforth.
My greatest fear was, and is, death. Thanks to how deeply and completely i was indoctrinated in my family’s religion, i still wrestle with that fear. I got some much-needed relief the day i realised that, if the god i was raised to worship is indeed real (for which i see no evidence), i wouldn’t worship him anyway. Still, the vein of acquiescing to religious authority without question, and acceptance of dogma without investigation, runs through me. If i were a tapestry and religion a thread, the pattern of my life would be shot through with it. If i started pulling out those threads, the fabric would fall apart.
To return to the occasion of me being asked to name my fears. We were partnered up and sat on chairs facing each other and were instructed to name everything we were afraid of, stream-of-consciousness style, with no editing. Well, all of this fear flew out of my face like projectile vomit, like acid. Those who ran the course were right to focus on our fears, but i was a long way from being able to do any serious work on its origins, costs, and consequences. Being terrified of death wasn’t news to me, but something else was. I birthed it like a premature foetus.
I suppose that’s enough build up. Heh.
My second greatest fear is the one where, if i let anyone in to really get to know me, they’ll find out that i’m an awful person and leave.
I was raised with secrets. It started with the real reason i was born, and just continued. I was like one of those cartoon kids getting caught in a snowball rolling downhill, except it wasn’t snow, it was shit. And that shitball kept getting bigger and more destructive. I was taught that we were different than other people. They said we were so intelligent, so evolved. We were part of a privileged circle of spiritual elites that had to practise what we believed in private, behind closed doors. Not because our holy book told us to, but because other people couldn’t understand.
So i grew up inside this terrible dichotomy: being one thing during the day, and something else entirely at night. I knew it was wrong, because it felt terrifically bad. I don’t mean physically, although that part hurt a great deal – i mean it was like carrying a cannonball around in my belly. But these people that i loved, that were entrusted with my care and upbringing, told me it was good. So i learned to subjugate and compartmentalise my thoughts and feelings from a very young age, and the worst thing of all is that i learned i couldn’t trust myself. My thoughts and feelings and perceptions were different than what they were supposed to be, so i did what most abused children do – i internalised the blame. I was the problem. I was wrong. I was bad.
I wondered how they tolerated me at all; i was so grateful for their love.
I always knew there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t born with the knowledge, it was put inside me without my consent. It was the psychological rape that impregnated me with the twisted, misshapen blob of cells that i spat out that day, confessing my fears to a stranger. I wasn’t ready to let it go then. That was over 30yrs ago and here i am finally putting her to rest. I buried my beautiful little hate-baby and i feel so much better. I’m slowly leaving my paranoia behind, like flowers at her graveside. I’m interrupting my inner dialogue that projects how i feel about myself onto the people around me, ascribing meaning to their eyes and putting whispered words into their mouths that are not theirs. And even if i’m right sometimes, does it really matter?
I remind myself of the times in my life when i had friends who welcomed me with smiles and warm salutations. Inside, i was dying. I felt like a fraud, and i was one. I just didn’t know it yet. I had no intimate relationships besides my husband and children, and even those were difficult and strained for me. I was terrified that someone would get close enough to figure out how repulsive i was inside. Bad. Spoiled goods. Completely gone off.
Now i’m starting over and i’m not close to anyone. I’m fortunate to have a situation where i can make short forays into the world around me and practise being me. If i become drained or overwhelmed i can retreat to my Little Crooked House and hermit away for as long as i wish. I’m no longer trying to charm everyone i meet. I don’t need you to be liked. The ones who genuinely haven’t liked me, haven’t hurt me by doing so. The ones that claimed to like me, have often done far worse than even i have done.
My goal is to like myself. To enjoy my own company. To admire and respect my deportment. To please myself.
I am a beautiful bag of mostly water, to riff on a Star Trek quote.
IMAGE: Tim B. Motivv