I’m not sure where exactly my self-loathing came from.
They say it comes from all sorts of little bits and pieces of your childhood, usually. It begins when your best friend chooses a new one, a trusted adult picks you up late from school, or the first time someone calls you fat and you look down and know that you are. Those are the things that gather up in the corners of your heart.
They’re all so small, really, and there’s no one to blame.
Or maybe there is a figure that ties it all together for you; one entity who stole the you from you, before you even had a voice. Maybe there is one person who is responsible for closing in the walls of your space until there weren’t any corners left, just a small, round, ping-pong ball.
And then the church starts in with the fact that you’re a sinner.
You need saving, not because you’re drowning, but because you are crooked deep down. You are drowning in your self and selfishness, they say. But Jesus saved you, is saving you, will save you, in all the tenses. There is a cross bridge that will take you over the fiery chasm of yourself to the yellow glowing heaven.
Maybe. If you keep proving that he did and that you really believe.
But regardless, before you hit your first growth spurt, the loathing is inside your bones.
It stretches with you, leaving squiggly white lines on your skin. It sears through your heels when your feet grow too fast and your mama has to buy you new shoes even though the old ones aren’t worn out yet. It marks the back of your hands in twists of raw, scaly rash that they say are probably from the cold rain or the tomatoes you ate for supper last night, but you know it’s from the hate. It settles into your eyes and clouds your vision while you are marking them with too much of your grandma’s old blue eye shadow and wearing thrift store ball gowns to dance around the yard.
It’s so much of you that it becomes you.
You and your self-loathing go everywhere together, even to all of the good places like school and church and summer camp and national championships and college. You coexist and depend, even while you hate each other. It’s like being alive, but mostly dead.
That was my story, or at least most of it. I didn’t like myself. I don’t know where it came from, but it seems like it’s been with me since before my memories were clear.
All I’ve ever wanted was to be someone else.
It didn’t matter how many times people told me I was smart, the men I loved told me I was beautiful, or someone laughed at my jokes. I didn’t believe them. I learned how to pretend I trusted, but those compliments just made me panic inside.
How could anyone love me when I was so dedicated to self-hatred with a minor in religious studies?
That’s why, when I started my spiritual implosion and recovery a few years ago, it felt like surgery all over my body. It was like cutting away the parts of me that believed and soaked in the lies about who I am, but it was like all of that without any anesthesia.
There is much more to say about my healing process (which included a mentor, recovery group, countless books, miles of running on pavement, tacos, doctors and more doctors, prayers, cursing, writing, and so many tears), but right now I want to skip to the end or the middle or wherever I am right now.
Because, for the first time in twenty-something years, I actually like myself.
No, I am freaking in love with myself!
I love and adore and enjoy who I am: my awkward faults and funny quirks and all.
Turns out that I’m smart, funny, beautiful, and so many other good and bad and complicated things. It turns out that I am human after all, and that is a very holy and precious and lovable sort of thing to be.
I never got to holiness by way of self-hatred and shame.
It didn’t make me love God to loathe myself or label myself a sinner. All the love came out together when when I was willing to look at myself, all of my mess and hurt and self-loathing, and hear the words of Jesus over me: You are my beloved Emily and you are hella okay. I’ve got this one, so you can just be you.