I’m not sure how it started, or when. I know it was sometime between my late childhood and prepubescent years. Mostly, it happened slowly, over the course of many years. I wish I could say where I learned it. Was it from my friends? My family? At school? At church? Was it societal? Global? Did it only affect middleclass American white girls? Or were all classes, cultures, races, and genders susceptible to it? I’ve learned over the years that it’s not just me. All of us have struggled under the weight of self-hatred. I would like to claim that mine has been particularly bad – you should hear the conversations that have taken place in my head and out loud over the years – but I know it’s not fair to compare my level of self-hatred with that of others. Comparison is exactly one of the things that got me into this mess to begin with.
Like I said, I can’t tell you when it started, but I can tell you when it started to end. It’s still ending to this day – though, the impetus of the ending happened on a cold Autumnal evening, in a dark bedroom, shortly after my second child’s first birthday.
It was becoming a routine: me crying in the bedroom while I left my husband to fend for himself with a toddler and baby. It would often happen just after sundown, when it was dark outside but not nearly close to bedtime. I cried for just about everything. I cried to make up for all the crying I never did as a child. I cried because I had turned my parental relationships upside down. I cried because my husband was out of work. I cried because we couldn’t make ends meet. I cried because I was married too young. I cried because I had two little kids that were completely exhausting. I cried because I was born a sinner. I cried because of the fear. The constant fear. I cried because I was fat. I cried because I was ugly. I cried because no one loved me. I cried because I felt completely and utterly and endlessly alone. I cried because no one loved me the way I wanted them to. I cried because I had so few friends. I cried because I was socially awkward. I cried because I had overspent on the credit card. I cried because of the dozen cookies I ate earlier that day without batting an eyelash. I cried because I sucked.
Night after night my children would wander past my door and ask daddy what was wrong with me. Night after night they would lay their little sticky hands on my face and say “I wuv you mommy,” then they would kiss me goodnight as daddy ushered them away, whispering to leave me alone, then closing the door on my sobs.
There were times when I wanted to die, but not out of martyrdom. I was very passive-aggressive in my fantasies about my own death. I had entertained the idea of death by tragic accident ever since my early teens. I thought that if I died suddenly, and with great tragedy, my loved ones would regret being such assholes to me. My parents would regret their harsh words and strict rules. My husband would regret not loving me like someone in a Nicolas Sparks novel. More than anything I wanted to die because I wanted to make others pay for not giving me what I wanted: Love.
The night of the impetus was like every other – the same tapes playing over and over in my head. The pointlessness and pain of it all. Then it hit me: a tsunami of exhaustion. The force of it left me disoriented. I couldn’t cry or think or speak. I lay there, lifeless, unable to carry on in my sorrows. I had crossed a line, entered a void. The air was completely still, like the pause after an inhale. The sounds coming from my family in the other room were so foreign they might as well have been nonexistent. It was in the midst of that stillness – that pause – that a thought arrived, carried on the breeze of my inner voice: I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep hating myself. (Silence). (Silence). (Silence). And then:
I am going to love myself.
The world started spinning again. The sounds from the other room grew closer and more familiar. I could feel the weight of my body on the bed. My thoughts became clear. I was stunned. Only one thought kept running through my mind: I love you. I love you. I love you.
That was six years ago. Since then I have slowly and very gently put myself back together. Before that night, I was like Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall, shattered in a million pieces. I am still picking up the pieces, fragment by fragment. You can see all the cracks. I’m not fresh and new and innocent like I was when I first entered this world. After shattering so fully you can see all my imperfections. But I like to say, that if not for all the cracks, my light would never shine through. I am better for being broken.