Tag Archives: Acceptance

Life Sentence : Life After Sexual Trauma

Life Sentence Life After Sexual Trauma headerI usually try to limit my exposure to things about sexual trauma and assault because it just makes me relive my own. But trying to avoid rape culture is like trying to avoid the wind– it’s impossible. Articles, even when they are trying to be empathetic to the survivor, generally frame everything around the aggressor. Their narrative is the narrative because they haven’t been shamed into silence. Funny how that works.

I tried to avoid reading too much about the Stanford case. It didn’t stray far from the usual:  man rapes woman, woman is revictimized in court, he might get convicted but probably not justly, we forget about it until another case comes up by the end of the year, rinse, and repeat.  But when I saw that she wrote something in HER words I knew I had to read it. It was hard not to cry, hard not to want to go and hold her and tell her she was not alone, hard to reconcile the flood of emotions about my own experience but it was worth reading. It made me realize that in most of our conversations about rape, it’s on the act itself. We talk about the 20 minutes, but what about the 20 years after it? What about the life sentences we are resigned to? Where is our justice?

I was sexually assaulted by another student in elementary school. I was ten. I didn’t tell anyone until I was 21. I remember sitting my dad down to tell him first. I waited for him to yell at me, that’s how scared I was, but he just listened. He asked me what I needed. I needed the nightmares and flashbacks to stop. I needed the cramps I’d get after a flashback in my thighs and lower abdomen to go away .  I needed my desire to end it to stop. I needed to want to live. I needed to heal.

I’ve made great strides but even still there’s a lot to unpack in the fifteen years since it happened. It changed everything.

  • The way I automatically distrust men until they prove otherwise. Even my own father was put under the same scrutiny. I don’t just look at a man and see a man, I see someone who could do me harm.
  • The anxiety I have not just about being seen but about people seeing the shame of victimhood. It’s not the fear of others’ knowing I was molested, it’s the fear of the look of pity they’ll give me when they do. That look has killed parts of me, knocked the wind right out of my lungs, and made curl up in bed for days.
  • The constant blame I carried for not wondering why at 10 years-old I didn’t realize he was grooming me, didn’t tell someone I felt uncomfortable, and wasn’t strong enough to defend myself.
  • The hate I feel for him because I even had to struggle with the mental acrobatics of believing any of it was my fault.
  • The fear I have of being in a functional relationship because at some point I’ll have to sit him down and tell him why I’m not ready, why it doesn’t just hurt it terrifies me, why I cried, why I need the lights on so I can clearly see his face, why I need him to tell me what he’s doing so I can mentally prepare for it. The fear that he’ll leave when he realizes he was to work to show me he won’t hurt me like I expect him to.
  • The quiet rage that sits just below the surface, waiting to erupt because I will never forget him , his face, or his hands, while he probably doesn’t even remember my name. He was an indelible experience I never elected to have.
  • The resentment of living with undeserved shame. Knowing that you did nothing wrong but knowing that no matter my age, disposition, or honesty, as a woman someone will always see me at fault.
  • The sadness I feel when I still flinch at hugs from loved ones not because I don’t love them but because sometimes being touched literally hurts.
  • The uncontrollable emotion I feel when suddenly my amazing day is interrupted by the memory of what happened to me. My mind doesn’t just relive it, my entire body does as well.
  • The exhaustion that comes from trying to just get to the end of the day while forcing smiles, conversations, and tasks all while knowing NONE of it can make you who you were the moment before it happened.
  • The downward spiral you can take at any point in time when depression, anxiety, and flashbacks overwhelm you.
  • The fatigue of fighting all of them while clawing your way back to the light.
  • The isolation of suffering silently so you don’t disrupt the lives of the people you care about most.
  • The desperation to cling to anything that can take you away: church, alcohol, sex, drugs, cutting, anything for those few seconds that you are not constantly bombarded with the mental image of you being helpless.
  • The times I feel the urge to run out into the street and scream because it’s just too much. Because I just want the scared little girl inside of me to feel safe and the 25-year-old woman to believe that can ever be an option again.
  • The constant terror I carry that it might happen again.

It isn’t something I get to forget so it’s not something I will ever be silent about again. I know not everyone is at the place or will ever be at the place where they can speak about their own sexual trauma. Many of our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers never did. They never thought they had the option to but we do. We don’t just have to survive trauma, we can live again. You WILL live again.

I’m always here if you need to talk lovelies.

Life Sentence Sincerely Miss

Sabotage Rehab: Unlearning Self-Doubt

Sabotage Rehab

Sabotage’s Sweet Relief

I remember the first day I decided to fail. I just stopped. The anxiety and pressure that nearly sent me spiraling into a panic attack just…went away. I didn’t have to be stretched and find new muscles. I didn’t have to develop or be embarrassed. I could just be. It was comforting at first. But then I began to get restless. Not growing is dying. It’s slow asphyxiation. It’s creative immolation disguised as comfort. I felt like I was being left behind because I was. But the comfort of doing something where I never could possibly make a mistake was too inviting. That’s sabotage’s allure. You feel safe if you never step outside of the small box you lock yourself in. Sabotage is comfort and fear whispering in your ear. It is the enemy of effort. Sabotage is something we learn as children and carry as adults. But with some effort, anything can be unlearned.

Your Anti 

How did I get there? I listened to my anti. My anti-me, hates myself. My anti-me will always tell me that I look worthless. That I’m ugly. My anti-me will remind me that no one wants me. My anti-me will tell me that I need give up and die.

We all have one unfortunately. It usually takes on the voices of the people who were most critical of us at some point in our lives. These can be parents, church figures, teachers, bullies, you name it. We start confusing their voices for our own and start believing the shit that they tell us. An unchecked anti is deadly. It means you very often feel inadequate, incapable, and unchangeable. You begin to sink into a pit of your own self-doubt.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

As a preacher’s kid I became obsessed with perfection at a very early age. If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t anything. I had to be on because it wasn’t just my reputation at stake. I hid in that. Eventually though, I would have to be my own person. How can you go through the growing pains of developing as a person when you’re too afraid to even make a mistake? Anxiety interpreted criticism as a death wish. I was paralyzed by my fear to succeed and crippled by my ability to constantly feel the need to sabotage everything. I could hide in that too. When you’re not known, people won’t bother you, and they definitely won’t criticize you.

According to Dr. Carol Dweck there are two mindsets. A growth mindset is that of a person who knows failure is just a learning opportunity. A fixed mindset is when they believe you have a fixed amount of talent and that’s it. Nothing can be acquired or learned. That’s me. Or at least it has been. I’ve made talent the ultimate metric when it means very little in reality.

When I first came to college I was used to being the big fish in a small pond. But my school was huge and I started to feel average. I never felt less capable in my life an often times I would give up before ever beginning. When you’re praised to often, it can feel like pressure. I didn’t have a working knowledge of what failure actually meant. I just knew how to keep up airs and play the part. I pretended until the pretending got exhausting. I would have panic attacks in parking lots, two minutes into my walk to class, late at night in my room. I thought that is was a sign that I couldn’t be better, I just was what I was. If my mind was fertile soil I had just added poison to it. I started to believe that there was nothing more that I could be, not without ridicule, not with criticism. I would rather go on silently, isolated from others than try, fail, and learn. I completely quit on myself.

Are You Addicted?

Have you ever “gotten sick” before an event that could help you in order to not be seen? Ever not entered a contest because you didn’t believe you could win? Procrastinate so badly on something for fear of producing something terrible? Been there, living it. In fact, last month I waited until the very last minute to apply to a venture challenge contest. I mean that too. I submitted it at 11:59 pm. It got accepted. Then I found out about the challenges we had a month to submit. So much of the terminology went far over my head. I felt uneasy, inadequate, and embarrassed in the company of my competitors. I had no fucking clue what I was doing. My brain went straight to panic. I told myself that my idea was silly. I told myself that I just didn’t have what it took this year. Let’s try next year (which means never again). My insecurities kicked into hyper-drive. I looked at what my other competitors were doing. I felt stupid,  foolish even. I started at the last possible minute because I needed an excuse for not finishing…because I couldn’t live with the idea that I wasn’t enough or didn’t have what it takes.

Then the deadline got extended.

I had to turn it in now. So again I waited til the last minute, hoping I could bank on not finishing as an excuse for not trying. But no, I got it in exactly at midnight. Damnit. Then came the announcement of the finalists. I was in. The joy came first. I hadn’t given my best effort but still exceeded their expectations. It made me feel good. Then the sinking realization came to mind. I couldn’t just give up. I had told people. I had to go in front of an audience. I needed to actually prepare. Wtf. WTF? WTF?!

For years I’ve allowed that saboteur to raid my brain and spirit. I even had a professor tell me that he couldn’t understand how someone so talented could be so afraid of themselves. “Don’t let this immobilize you.” I always hear him say that right before something does. I’ve convinced myself that I’m ok with living in this tension of knowing what I can be and being unhappy with who I am now but I know better. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

So What Now? 

How do you reconcile yourself? How do you usurp the narrative in your brain with a new one? It’s not easy. It took 15 years for these ideas to get cemented in my brain. It’s going to take some time to chisel them out. I try to remind myself everyday that I’m making steps. Even the smallest one counts for something. Here are the two  things that have helped me the most:

Journaling

I’m sure you hear it all the time but trust me it works. It’s a mind dump. All the little unconscious things I tried to hide come to light. All the small moments of my day that I thought meant nothing start to mean a lot more. I’m able to express myself fully without fear of judgment and look at my life objectively at the same time. It gets my emotions out in a healthy way and let’s me let go of them.  I really like writing at the end of the day. It helps me sleep so much better. Seriously grab one. This is the one I use. 

Meditation

If you know anything about me, you know my ass is loud as hell. GIRL. I’m always talking, always thinking, and if you think it’s exhausting to hear me, it’s worse to have a constant flood of words come out ALL.THE.TIME. Meditating is not fun for me. I fidget. My mind flies to one thing and then the next. It’s difficult.  I never realized just how much. But each day I try to get in just five minutes of listening to my breath. If a thought comes up (and it does), I let it go. I just focus on my breathing. The days where I can do this are usually the most productive and calm days of the month. When I don’t…eh.

These are stupid simple steps that are feasible for anyone. Life change doesn’t require a $200 purchase of a book or course (although I’m sure one day I might be asking y’all to check mine out lol), it ends and begins with you. You don’t have to be held hostage to your shadow. You control it, not the other way around.

So how do you handle your saboteurs? Leave your comment and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Preacher’s Kid to CME Christian

Preacher's Kid Title

 Trouble in the Water

    As a preacher’s kid I remember my baptism fondly. I was wearing this floral print dress, shower cap, and long white choir robe. I saw my father in the water speaking to the church on the symbolism of baptism. The opportunity for possibility. The promise of not being alone ever again. There were a few people who went before me who were much older. I thought about what made them take so long to come to such an obvious conclusion. What made them wait? I never asked myself why I was rushing. Maybe it was because I wanted to make my parents proud. My older sisters had been baptized around this age. Maybe it was for the attention. Maybe it was for the bright and shining “possibility.” Maybe it was because it was easier to believe in God when I hadn’t been introduced to the circumstances of sin. Maybe it was because the order it offered looked better than the chaos of life.

I dipped my foot in the water. My mom held on to me as stepped down into the pool. My dad was happy. She was happy. I was happy. But happiness is fleeting. Many things that are terrible for me make me happy. That shouldn’t be the sole reason a decision is made. But as a child, I had not yet learned to put away childish things. Jesus was the cute cartoon in all of my Sunday school booklets, he was the good guy. I understood him in theory but not in practice. I confused an emotional impulse as rationale to make this decision. As I held on to my dad’s forearm and listened to him speak I couldn’t have realized that what I was really doing was choosing God’s promises, not God. He dipped me and I faltered for a bit. I remember wondering if I could even come back up. Surfacing was painful. I gasped and flailed but my dad helped me up and onto the other side.

Learning Church

Those were good times. But after formally passing on church in 2012, my experience was fraught with more pain than happiness. As a preacher’s child you are looked to as an example. But how can you expect a child to be an example without experience? I struggled with that identity. A part of me liked the attention but not the isolation the position came with. In the very place I was supposed to be vulnerable and transparent, I never could be. Everything was a reflection of the family, not of my own personal walk. I didn’t learn how to be a congregant until college. My religion was religion.

My whole family was left with the burns that only a toxic church can leave. People didn’t want to change. Many of them showed up to serve themselves, to serve some dilapidated ego, but rarely was the occasion for God. It was a broken place filled with broken people pretending that they weren’t. Truth did not live in the pews. It was a living graveyard. In my own journey I wanted something that felt alive and vibrant, I wanted that possibility again. Like a junkie looking for a fix I wanted that spiritual high again. I visited several churches with my best friend before finding one I liked. But still, I felt the isolation. It was predominantly college students and predominantly white. It was advertised as non-denominational but had very deep Southern Baptist roots. Questions about the dearth of female leadership got dodged somehow. Questions in general got treated as hostilities. I made friends but something about it felt inauthentic. Something about me in that church felt inauthentic.

I was still putting on the show I learned as preacher’s child. Smile, nod, repeat verses, smile again. When I was younger I wasn’t myself because no one asked me to be Jordan, they expected the pastor’s daughter. Here I was doing it again, unwilling to fully participate and unable to fully connect. I was observing church, not participating in it. There was one place that I loved that I found a few years later. One place that had the love and light I was looking for. It felt real, I could tell that it was real and something beautiful was happening there but the problem wasn’t the church. It had everything I said I wanted. The problem was me.

I was unwilling to connect with a church and I was unwilling to connect with God. The burns I have run deep and are still healing. I could have chose to do that while in church but I didn’t want to go through the motions. I didn’t want to pretend. I had an anger in me, a resentment that I thought was completely uncommon and found out wasn’t. As a Christian woman I was expected to be demure, delicate. There was little written about women being human, being able to feel things other than joy, being able to do more than building a happy home. The conversations I needed to have about surviving sex abuse, about shame, about guilt, about dead things, I had to find those things outside of church. Those topics made people uncomfortable. Those topics made the same people who told me about the beauty of confession and openness hush me and advise me to seek God’s face on my own. I needed a community but I couldn’t find it inside the community I’d grown up in.

Communion, Elsewhere

I remember the female pastor of one church taking a group of the women to drop off toiletries and cookies to the local strip club. As awkward as you might think it’d be it was actually nice just to talk with the ladies there. We were in the front when a man burst through the door. He was well dressed but his eyes had a certain glaze to them. He seemed sad inside. It was only noon so I definitely had my judgments. How dare he? Doesn’t he have a job? What about his family? Abby, the pastor told me gently, “A lot of the people who come here are looking for community. Sure, it’s sexy, it’s racy. But these men eat dinner here, these men find friends here. They’re getting something here that they couldn’t find in a church.”

That always stuck with me. By no fault of our own some churches fail us miserably. Some churches forget about things as simple as making people feel comfortable. Some churches forget about people. I’ve visited plenty so I know them all too well.

  • The “radical” church that markets itself as the place for outcasts while simultaneously excluding everyone else.
  • The “cool” church that had more apple products on display than actual scripture.
  • The “real” church where ministers never studied themselves to be approved and assumed their experience with and their enthusiasm for God was the same as education.
  • The “we don’t pick and choose” church that picked and chose what scriptures to pay attention to and what scriptures to ignore all the time (psst we all do this).
  • The “traditional” church that confused reason with insubordination.
  • The “social” church that was just a meetup for people who didn’t want to get their hands dirty.
  • The “intellectual” church that was desperate to prove the connection between the mind and faith but lacked heart.

     I sat in many pews convincing myself that I had to put up with a lot of bullshit in order to find God. We all can joke about the horrendous choir selections, bad sermons, and dreadful fashions we’ve witnessed in church. It’s almost a rallying cry for people who’ve “survived.” But where we’re quick to talk about what was funny, we’re all but mum to speak on the things that really messed with us. Teenagers made to stand and admit their sexual activity, preacher’s searching for congregants to open their bibles and their legs, church leadership justifying their own sordid agendas with the word, children being abused, women being sexualized and then demonized, funds turning up missing, the list could go on. Many people’s resistance or hesitation to church has very little to do with God and everything to do with God’s people. Yet the church does very little to remedy that fact. I can’t tell you how many times my Christian brothers and sisters thought I should just suck it up and come to church anyway. They couldn’t imagine a legitimate excuse for being angry at God or being pissed at the church and maybe that’s the problem. When people have to form a support group because of the things they endured at church, something is wrong.

Breaking Away

     So how does a preacher’s kid who loved church end up leaving it and why did this one? Incompetent pastors. Women’s ministries that emphasized my uselessness without a man. Church leadership that loved female congregants to work but never let them lead. Sexuality being treated as shame and as a sexual assault survivor, more shame was not what I needed. Churches using words but never taking action. Notions about having “hearts for Africa,” while being heartless to their own damn communities. Lukewarm messages about God dying for “all of us” but only seeing unicultural congregations.  Churches obsessed with production quality instead of the quality of their own hearts.

Naturally it’s easier to say what’s wrong than to try and fix it. But how can I shoulder the burden of change if a congregation doesn’t want to or flat out refuses to acknowledge they have problems?  I tried finding a congregation that cares about and appreciates women. I tried finding a church that’s ethnically and racially inclusive. I tried finding a congregation that realizes the same laws banning homosexuality banned tattoos and how the pathology of our inconsistencies is more important than laws we no longer follow. I tried finding a church that engages its community instead of raising thousands to send people across the globe. I tried finding a church where people see people and meet people where they are. I tried finding a church that admits when it’s fucked up. I tried finding a church that’s honest in its examination of the word and in its examination of itself. I tried finding a church that understands holding women accountable for men’s inability to control themselves is bullshit. I tried finding a church that doesn’t have to be marketed as something because it simply is. I exhausted myself from searching. Maybe the task was impossible. Maybe you’re thinking that I was looking for a perfect church. Nope. God might be looking for a church without spots or blemishes but I’m not. I just want one that’s brave enough to admit that it has any. I’m asking for a church to be safe. Safe for my female body, safe for my black skin, safe for my mind, and safe for my heart. I hate that my quest for God required me to go outside of the very place I should have been able to find Him.

MM-Sincerely

If you’re burnt-out or angry I would highly suggest, “Angry Conversations With God.” It’s a refreshing read. 

Super Tuesday with Neighbors

MM-Super Tuesday with NeighborsI was surprised by the turnout. The Super Tuesday voting line was extending down the street. I knew I had to get out of my car but I didn’t want to. I was scared. The small town I live in is majority conservative and majority white. It’s not like I was advertising who I was voting for but if the last few years have been testimony enough I know by  simply existing I could incite that crowd to violence. But I had to vote. Too many people paid for that right with their blood, sweat, and tears. I had to go.

I walked cautiously towards the end of the line and kept to myself. There was a black woman in front of me and a black man behind me. For a while we were the only ones there. The line slowly started to grow and I kept checking on my car…just in case I had to make a run for it. The strangest thing happened though. I watched as this elderly black couple left the building to get to their car and as they tried to back out, an older white man helped guide them out of the parking spot. Now you might not think this is a monumental deal but they had a Hillary sticker on the back of their van and I had overheard him talking about his admiration of Ted Cruz. He was helpful and the two parties exchanged a wave and a smile as the van sped off. He didn’t return to the line and start spewing hateful grumbles to the other similarly aged white men standing with him. They just talked about their grandkids as the line moved.

The couple two people in front of me took turns holding their newborn and talking about car payments. The dad in front of the woman in front of me was playing with his son. All of the vitriol and hate I had seen on television and social media wasn’t present. These were neighbors who I’m sure I didn’t agree with on everything but neighbors nontheless. I got stopped and complimented on my outfit by older white women who thought I was the cutest thing. One woman asked me to come to her Mary Kay party. A few highschoolers showed up in the lettermen jackets trying to pretend that they were cool, calm, and collected but were obviously excited that they had a chance to vote. I became less concerned with who the people standing around me were voting for and more interested in who they were.

We talked about shows, our families, our vocations, our travels, and more. We all shared and we all laughed. When the volunteers announced that they were doing a periodic count we collectively grumbled to ourselves but the weather was nice and we could feel the air conditioning. All the anxiety I had felt in the beginning had all but dissipated. But that changed as soon as we got inside the building. It was a meeting room used for small functions and baby showers. The little boy in front with his dad was asking him about dinner and going home.

“Why are we here? Are you going to vote for Barack Nobama?”

The energy dimmed and the father quickly shushed his son. He never turned around  to talk to anyone after that. The couple with the baby couldn’t stand in line because she was getting antsy.  When it was the mother’s turn,  one of the volunteers asked her what party she was voting for and she tried to whisper but was too far away.

“Republican,” she said audibly but she turned her back almost as soon as she said it. The woman in front of me went next and had the same reaction when she answered, “Democrat.” It was such an odd thing to witness, minutes beforehand we were all laughing with one another. As judgmental as it seems we could all tell who was voting for who but it didn’t seem to matter when we were sharing our lives. We stood, quite literally, as a community but we left scattered and divided.

It was my turn. When asked, I answered. I didn’t turn to see a response or reaction. My feet were too tired from standing in heels for over an hour. I didn’t feel fear the way I did when I got in line but this weird sense of disappointment. I went off to cast my ballot and then I walked out. The line was longer but people were still doing the same thing. They were talking to one another and they were listening. They were laughing. The were sharing. They were opening themselves up.  They were coexisting.

I walked across the street so I could discretely slip into my flats but an older couple saw me anyways. “Smart girls always have a plan b!” The sweet woman who said this was helped into the Ford-150 by her husband, a stern looking man with a Vietnam Vet cap on his head. He tilted his cap and went to the other side. As they pulled off she waved at me. It wasn’t til they turned the corner that I saw the Carson bumper sticker.

I went home with that still odd feeling. I let it sit overnight but I think I know what it was that I felt yesterday. It was optimism. Brilliant, unrelenting optimism. I don’t for a second think that Donald Trump is some benign force that we can laugh off or that his followers are to be taken lightly. We are living in dangerous and terrifying times. But so did our parents and our grandparents and their grandparents. They laid the foundation for the steps we are on now and it’s every generation’s duty to do the same. Go a little further and push a little harder in hopes that our future children and their children can look back in relief that they don’t have to live what we lived.

There have been many pieces written by much better writers than me with much better insight than me on the problems we face as a nation. We are approaching a time that was some of our ancestors’ dream and others’ a nightmare. We are all scared but for different reasons. For people of color, for the lgbt community, for immigrants, for the poor, we are in fear of our lives. We are in fear of our rights being stripped away. We are in fear of being further erased and silenced. I think the conservative white base would like to think they’re afraid of the same thing but without admitting one fatal thing. Their intangible fear is based on the very tangible actions their parents, grandparents, and millenia of ancestry profited from.  They’re afraid of receiving instead of delegating. They’re afraid of being us; of having to reap what generations have sowed. They’re afraid of being erased, of their privileges being stripped away, of their bigoted voices being silenced, without realizing there’s a good reason for those things to be left behind.

We are in a deep shift. Possibly the biggest our young country has ever experienced. The headlines that have come up in the news, the hashtags, the discussion of the history of racism in this country, these are not new things. These are all conversations that we overheard in our kitchens or at church. These sentiments aren’t new but our ability to publicly speak about them without getting dragged off and lynched is. So our voices are much louder but the very people who should be listening only seem to plunge their fingers farther into their ears. How can we change people’s minds if they aren’t willing to listen to ours?

It may be naive, hell I know it’s naive but I don’t believe you change a person’s mind without first changing their heart. People are hardly moved by data or facts, they’re moved by feelings. Effect always follows affect.  There are always going to be opportunists and hate-mongers. They are usually too far gone for anyone to effectively reach them. But the large majority of this country does not live in that world. Prejudice is inherited, it is taught but the only way it’s allowed to grow is with ignorance. The only solution is interaction. Every terribly ignorant thing I got taught in rigidly southern baptist bible studies got dismantled by my interactions with people. It starts with a question that needs answering, a question that sits in opposition to your idea, a question that will not move until you sit with and confront it. Truth always requires confrontation because along with being obvious, it’s also extremely difficult to accept. It’s a challenge but it’s always worth taking.

We are at that confrontation stage now. We’ve watched on in horror at people’s attempts to suppress it, to even kill it. But the truth always prevails. The truth always wins. Change is inevitable. The only option is to navigate how we get there.

We are a nation at war with ourselves because we are a nation in fear of one another. We are paranoid (some of us not without reason). We are reclusive and now more than ever we need to reach out. We can’t wait for it to be right, for someone to say what we want to hear, even for others to listen. We have to reach now, without inhibition and with love, simply because we must. Is it annoying to have to carry the burden of righting a wrong you didn’t create? Of course it is. Is it fair? Hell no. But if not us, who? If not now, when? 

MM-JonStewartQuote

 

Girl in the Mirror: Battling Self-Loathing

Girl in the Mirror: Self-Loathing I traced the long pink trail down my arms with my finger. The welted skin etched it’s way down my arm. It was about an inch long. I thought it was a curse for being fat. I thought it was penance for imperfection. Never mind that I saw my tall, lanky friends with them. Mine was a mark, a brand that something was wrong with me.  I always wore sweaters after that.


We take the messages that we hear and we carry them on our backs and shoulders, in our purses, on our minds, and in our dreams. We let them permeate every aspect of ourselves and never question why we welcomed them in the first place. Why? Why have we been conditioned to believe that any and all critiques should be accepted? Why have we been raised to believe that how we know ourselves is not the truth at all, that it has no permanence compared to the words of a passing stranger? If our bodies are temples why are the words of those who don’t know us treated as sacrosanct before our own?

I’ve always had this eerie sense of self.  A comfortable understanding of who I was. Some call it being an old soul. Maybe it is. But the fact remained that growing up I never quite felt like this old soul had a place to rest. I was the odd kid who had too much against her. I was chubby, I was curly haired, I was too light for some and simultaneously too dark for others, I read too much, I spoke too much, the list goes on. I began to understand that I was too much and yet, still not enough. I figured that if I couldn’t get people’s acceptance I for damn sure could get their attention. I learned how to make people laugh and how to get them to notice me. Their attention replaced the affection I was actually looking for. But because I fed off the validation of others, I left myself vulnerable to their disdain.

Have you ever played those games that ask you what doesn’t fit or what is out of place? My whole life I felt like that was me.  I so wanted to fit. I wanted to blend. I hated sticking out. I so desperately wanted to be the blonde white girl who fit. Who just made sense in her environment. In fourth grade my skin started to change. My lips were covered in black, crusted over blisters for an entire summer. I could barely open my mouth. Doctors looked at me with wonder and people looked at me like a sideshow. Stares and reactions ran the spectrum from sympathetic to disgusted. I didn’t like going out. The cocktail of medications made me stick out more as I ballooned in weight and the pigment in my skin blanched. I stuck out. No matter where I went, I stuck out. As I got older and the condition all but vanished I still carried that anxiety of standing out. I always saw that little girl in the mirror and knew others saw her too. I criticized everything about myself and continued what my bullies had started. I became my own bully. In high school, there were plenty of kids entering into a period of sexual development but I felt stunted in my own growth. I still feel that way to this day. I always feel like I’m alone and behind. Alone and behind. Purposefully separated and abandoned. It’s a hard cycle to break when you’ve become accustomed to only making yourself accessible to yourself. I give people slivers and glimpses into who I am but I never let them see the core. I never let them see me. I find it difficult to connect to people. I have friends, dear friends, but even from them I hide. My family jokes about my inconsistent communication and I laugh around them.  They don’t know that I am that way because that little girl finds it difficult for anyone to find her life worth communicating about. She’s still battling her sense of inferiority. She’s still trying to unlearn hating herself.


Self- loathing isn’t something that we’re born with but something we’ll likely deal with for the majority of our lives. Hate exists in the spaces that we do because we allow it to. It breeds in those dark places that we are unwilling to confront and slowly starts to take over our minds. It captivates us in the worse way. We submit to something we’ve created. The irony is almost too much. How does it begin? Usually with a question. Most of our agony and torment happens to us within our childhoods. It’s the proverbial toolbox of pain. Unformed, unshaped, undeveloped, we aren’t usually confronted with the idea of self. We’re not worried about who we are but what’s around us. So when people insult us, we absorb it.

“You’re fat!”

Well I never considered it before.

“You’re fat!”

Hmmm…that person seems to think the same thing.

“You’re fat!”

Well they can’t all be wrong. Maybe I am…Am I fat?

The question begs for an answer and the answer is usually supplied with the insults that were already provided. The scenario works the same for any situation, being weird, being gay, being a nerd, being anything that’s deemed different. It doesn’t have to be true because it’s not the words themselves that hurt — it’s what they carry. We go on to carry them for the rest of our lives.

I wore fat and weird as reminders that I was less than. I crowded my mind with the opinions of others and it completely covered what I knew to be true. I was different, yes, but I was not inferior. It can take a long time to untangle those wires. I’m still trying to untangle mine.

When I get dressed it takes me about an hour to find an outfit I feel comfortable in. It’s not my criteria I’m using to judge said comfort. I hear my mother’s innocently-intended comment about my dark skinned knees and pull down my dress. I’m reminded of my chubby  thighs and reconsider lengths and hems of skirts. I worry that a cut may reveal too much of my chest. I search for a coordinated cardigan to cover the stretchmarks on by arms. I do all this for who exactly? I do it to put people at ease. I do it because that same little girl is trying to protect herself from being another target of another round of insults and taunts. I do it because deep down I still believe that others know what’s best for me better than myself.

This mentality obviously extends beyond the superficial. It can’t take root in anywhere but your mind so of course it affects other parts of your self-image. I’ve questioned my abilities more than a few times even when all I’ve received are compliments. I’ve been called brilliant, funny, a great writer, a good singer, and so on and so forth. For whatever reason my brain is only ever able to absorb the bad and completely disregard the good.

But there are also things you can’t blur the line on either. You very well may be fat, but that doesn’t make you worthless. You may be a nerd, but that doesn’t make you less than. You may be weird, but that doesn’t make you inferior. I’ve adopted the voices of my bullies for myself. I let that voice stop me from writing, from singing, from moving, from living really. I tell myself that this box is safe for me, to step outside of it would be suicide. To be unafraid would be suicide. I convince myself that I need this box and the voices that tell me stay within it. I convince myself that somehow not breathing is a better alternative to letting in the air. I convince myself that being miserable is the best option for me. It’s safe but it sure ain’t the best.

So how do you change it? If this way has become as insufferable as it’s become for me, how do you change your mind? It’s not easy and to be perfectly honest it’s not something I’m sure of yet. I just know that with every, “You’re going to wear that?!” I hear in my head, I counter with a “I sure the fuck am.” For every, “You’re worthless and your work is worthless,” I counter with a ”I am not and neither is my work.” For every, “you can’t” I tell myself that I can and I will.

So what about you loves? I know this is a heavy topic but a necessary one for all of us to talk about. How do you deal with self-loathing?

Remember, feel better, do better, and be better!

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Special thanks to Doyin for inspiring me with her Bustle article, “17 Women Discuss The Physical Traits They’ve Grown to Embrace.”  Follow her on twitter and check out her and Evelyn’s  amazing project Austin While Black