My finger kept running across the label.
Valium. For Panic Attacks and Anxiety.
On my left was a bottle of wine. The bridge between the two sat with me for a little too long. Sure it wasn’t new. I’d entertained the idea for years. But this time I was considering dancing with it. I could hear my family laughing downstairs, gathered around a Christmas movie, enjoying each other’s company. The haphazard note I’d written wouldn’t help. Somewhere inside me I knew I didn’t want to die but I didn’t want to live either.
I don’t know the exact moment it happened but I learned to hate myself at a very young age. At seven, I took a brillopad to my leg to get off the “dirt” because I wanted to look like all of my white friends. As a teenager I underwent radical diets to look like the thin girls who got asked out. In college, I struggled with suicide ideation. All different expressions but they all came from the same place of a deeply rooted and internalized hate. I was never one of the pretty, popular girls with straight hair and boyfriends. I wasn’t tall and gorgeous like my sisters. I was sick for a good portion of my childhood and it showed in scabs, scars, rashes, and other unsightly skin reactions. I was a walking freakshow as I was told numerous times. That made me an easy target for bullies. I can still remember in vivid detail the laughs of my tormentors. The happiness in their faces when they could call me fat or ugly, pull my hair, kick me, or find some new form of torture. Each time I absorbed the shock of the blow and let it sink below the surface. Each day the pain grew. Each day the message got louder and clearer, “You’re not wanted.”
I began to hate myself intensely. I told myself I didn’t deserve to take up the space that I did. I didn’t deserve to breathe the air everyone else did. The hate morphed into impossible standards. If I didn’t get an A, I was even more worthless. If I didn’t lose the weight, no one would ever want me. If I stopped reading and thinking so much, I’d get a boyfriend. If everything that made me unique was destroyed, I’d be accepted…acceptable.
I would sit on the floor of my closet in the dark and hug my knees. I felt safe there. Unlike most children, I wasn’t afraid of the monsters that lurked just beyond my clothes and underneath my shoes. I was afraid of the ones on the outside getting in.
But it was too late, they were already running rampant in my head.
When I started dating I was indoctrinated by the belief that I was so unloveable that any consideration from a man was met with my undying love and affection. I hated myself so much that I really believed anyone who could look past my reprehensible “faults” and at least like me was as close to love as I could get. I enthusiastically took emotional and mental abuse because I thought that was the best I could do.
When people complimented me, it never registered. Call me smart and I’d counter with, “Not enough.” Call me pretty and I’d counter with, “Not enough.” I kept praying and hoping that I would find “the enough” on the other side of some condition being met. It never was in reach and so long as I judged myself in the mirror of perfection I would always find something more to fix and less to love.
I hated myself for so long that I wanted to die. That’s all hate grants you. It exhausts you nearly to the point of no return. It infects everything good and beautiful in your life and kills it slowly. I sat in my room while my family celebrated and I wondered if it would be better without me. Then I saw their faces once they found me. Maybe they’d think I was sleeping. Maybe they’d try and shake me awake. But it wouldn’t last long and then they’d know. How could I let them feel that kind of horror? They would feel guilty for something that wasn’t their fault for years. I didn’t want to trade in my pain for theirs and I truly didn’t want to end my life. I put the orange bottle out of sight and folded up the note. I told myself that I was either going to let my hate kill me or I was going to find a way to live and find happiness.
I used to be terrified of being this vulnerable, of opening myself up to this degree. But the more I look around, the more I see it’s necessary. I hear the little cues in conversation, “If I could just,” “When I…” “I need to do this so I can be…” and I know the little seeds of self-hate live in others. When I read the comments about Tess Holliday getting signed to a major modeling agency, I saw those little seeds come out in words. When I watched the division and negativity after the Dark Girls and Light Girls documentaries last week, I saw those little seeds come out in tweets. When I watch friends deflate because some anonymous man swiped left instead of right, I see those seeds burst and take root. We need to stop treating happiness as some carrot we dangle in front of people. No one person deserves it over another. It’s not a race. You can try and chase it the world over without realizing it starts with you.
Dark-skinned, curly-haired, wide-hipped, flat-chested, whatever you are, you’re golden. Love your rolls, love your curves, love your lines, love your shape, no matter what state it’s in because it’s yours. There’s no use in measuring ourselves against perfection because it’s just as unbelievable as it is unattainable. Why should you wait to be happy when your life isn’t a rehearsal? This is it. If you can’t be comfortable in the skin you’re in now, what makes you think the second you reach a goal, it’ll suddenly find you? You can’t fight insecurity with another insecurity. You’ll never win so chuck it in the trash. Perfection doesn’t allow you to see yourself as the beautiful person you are. It tells you you’re too much or not enough. You’re enough. I promise you, you’re more than enough.
When I stopped hating myself, I started breaking “rules” I was told to live by. I stopped relaxing my hair and let me curls show and I felt beautiful. I wore dresses that showed my dark knees and chubby thighs. The world didn’t collapse, no one was blinded by the sight of it, and I felt beautiful. I started finding joy in what I’d considered imperfections. I started finding joy in myself. Some people don’t like to see that. Let’s be honest, most people don’t like to see that. When we think of happiness as something bestowed instead of something obtained, we get envious of those around us who have it. Hurting people hurt people, doesn’t mean you have to receive it or pass it on. Let that be someone else’s fight. They have to learn, just like you will, just like I did, that the love you’re chasing isn’t somewhere over the rainbow, it’s right in the palm of your hand. Grab that happiness. Embrace that love. Reject the hate.
I wake up every morning and I write this in my journal:
It’s a reminder to myself that what the world may call faults, I call beauty. What the world may say doesn’t deserve love, will garner all the love it needs right from me.
You deserve to feel that way too. Remember that as we all aspire to feel better, do better, and be better.