A few months ago, I didn’t hate myself. I wasn’t completely in love with me either, but I was better able to look past my many flaws and focus on the things that I did right. The things that made me who I was and that weren’t so bad. Then, the “derailing” occurred and as I sit here, trying to put together the pieces of my shattered self-image, I find that I don’t love me so much anymore.
I ask myself why, exactly, is it that today’s version of me isn’t as good as the one I saw back in the spring? What is it that makes me avoid looking at my face in the mirror and that has me sobbing into my pillows at night? And I think I’ve come up with a few answers.
For one thing, the derailing involved being bombarded regularly with another’s self-hatred and while I did not agree with this person’s assessment of self, I was pained to see that the characteristics brought into question for being justifiable causes of self-loathing were ones I shared with this individual. So if they were hate-worthy in someone else, they are hate-worthy in me? If I wasn’t allowed to love this person who was so like me, how could I possibly love myself?
Next, I think I had covered up my self-hatred by creating a list of a few traits which I found to be admirable and using them to help me ignore the ones inside, the less admirable traits, the ones of which I was not so proud. Apparently, I had begun to base my self-esteem on what I could do. I could get up at 5am, work out, create food from scratch, unload the dishwasher, plan and execute school lessons, and just plain old nail everything. As long as I was doing these things, these tangible things, I was at least okay and not being some of the qualities I least liked in others (wasteful, slothful, lazy, useless, boring). However, the past few months have left me less able to “do”. Between nursing a broken heart, a shattered self-image, the loss of several relationships with people who may or may not have been my friends, it’s hard to say, and intense physical pain… well, I’ve slowed down. It’s all been a vicious cycle. When I don’t sleep, I am exhausted. When I hurt, I can’t exercise. When I don’t exercise, I deal with stress in my life less efficiently and I become depressed. When I’m depressed I don’t sleep. I’m finally at a place where I can work out somewhat again but it’s been very difficult to get motivated. If I look around and I see only half as much in the accomplishment department as I used to see then, well, I feel like a failure.
Then, of course, there is the pressure to be a better wife than I was for the past 12 years so that my husband doesn’t leave me. Because he could leave me. He should leave me, maybe, even. Other people have left me and my actions had little to nothing to do with them so why shouldn’t he? When I look at myself through his eyes, I have a hard time seeing what is making him love me. Is he just pretending because it’s what he’s supposed to be doing or has he genuinely had a change of heart? How much longer can he keep up this facade before everything slips back to the way it was? And now that I’m not as useful around the house and with the kids, what could he possibly like more about me? I’ve put on a little weight due to lack of mobility. That has to be a deterrent. Eventually he’ll notice that, right? Besides, people don’t change. So, all of the good stuff around here is basically a ticking time bomb. When I see myself, all I see is a chubby, out of shape, emotionally wrecked, mentally challenged, useless drain on him, her children, and all of the people around her. How can he see something so considerably different?
Once upon a time, I had the unconditional love of a mother. She thought I hung the moon and the stars and the entire universe centered around me (not healthy, I know). Still, I knew what it was like to be loved. At least by her. This week, we got the tubs of old pictures belonging to my mother out of the attic. Among the photographs of my childhood memories was a journal she was keeping near her death. In fact, there were several journals she’d started about that time. She never finished one. Never stuck with it. Annoyed the living daylights out of me. As I thumbed through this one journal, though, a gratitude journal, I started to realize that toward the end of her life, her focus on me had shifted. Not one time, in the pages upon pages listing for what she was most grateful did she ever once mention me, my children, or anything related to us. By the time my mother died, she no longer saw me as the entire world. In fact, I’m not sure we even liked one another.
I hold my babies in my arms, day in. Day out. I wrap my arms around them and try to send them all of the love, strength, and positivity I can muster. I imagine being able to somehow, magically, let them know how much they mean to me. Are they my entire world? No. I have other stuff in my life that brings me joy. I’ve made sure of that. And while I know that I will always love them more than life itself, and right now I know we have solid, healthy relationships, I cannot help but fear that one day, in the distant but not-so-distant future, my self-hatred will eventually destroy even that. That one thing I’ve managed to do right.