Sunday, January 30, 2011

Self loathing, mirrors, and tomorrow.

I don’t know what percentage of people self-loathe some aspect of themselves, some part that they can’t seem to change, and can’t accept either. But that part used to include about 95% of me. Ironically, it the best, the most empathetic, the most sensitive, the most dependable people who get stuck in a box constructed of themselves. My GP of old told me if I could learn to accept and instead of trying to change who I was to be what others wanted, to change how I saw myself, so I could start looking up, and not always down, or in the twisted mirror I seemed to carry around with me.
So I did. I went to therapy for abuse, and I took medications, and I found an equilibrium which didn’t require that I be busy ALL the time. I was busy so I didn’t have to think and so I could stack up accomplishments which were never, ever going to be good enough for the voice inside my head.

Because the voice was me.

I have been working all day, morn, night and morn again and the day before to write a blog about discrimination within communities. Because there is nothing better and nothing worse than finding some group where you belong. It is great because during the honeymoon period you are connecting to so many people and you have so much in common. And then, over time, you see the cracks, how this person doesn’t talk to that person and how this group thinks they are ‘more’ of whatever than you are, and thus better. It was like with a lesbian group we joined. To be able to dance, or to go to dances in a group and defend each other from attacks, physical attacks was great. But then it turned out there were ‘real’ lesbians, which were the ones who knew they were lesbian from age 4 or 5 or as one declared, from age 2. And then the little comments from the butches about femmes, or lipstick lesbians. And those who had invisible disabilities were excluded and those who had mental illnesses were avoided in case people thought we were like ‘them’.

And so, the more we needed to be together the more things would split apart and then people would put on ‘the face’ and pretend they weren’t hurt or angry or excluded. And this is what I came out for? To lie? And I ended up feeling more isolated than before.
I go on, but not just pretending not to see. So not lying often means that writing what I see, or even when I talk about myself, that seems enough of a mirror for people to get bothered. And people say, “That isn’t me.” Really? Because it has always been me: the person deliberately not looking at myself as I work to make sure I was in the ‘right’ group, the subgroup which wasn’t thrown out, or excluded. And it made me insane. So I stopped. But the truth is that I am probably a bigot in some way, and so are you.

I find that some people, when they look into a mirror, and don’t like what they see, they avoid that place. I know all about that, as I didn’t have any mirrors in my apartment for over 15 years - that's not a metaphor (You see, I was fat, fat, fat, disgustingly fat!). Then there are those who smash the mirror and the person holding it. That is easy, because often it is easier to make people run away than to change. Because that is the third option – to change what you and I see. And what is the point of driving people away? To prove to yourself that you are unloveable? I know that feeling too. ‘No one can love me, and so I will show this people the REAL me, and they will leave.’

Well, except that I have always seen the real you. Did you think those distractions worked? No. And I’m still here.

And I’m still going to hold up mirrors. And I still get emails that emotionally hurt me every day. EVERY DAY. Because people don't like change. I don't like change. And yet I must change.

Change is terrible, change is wonderful, change is unavoidable.
My father told me a story: how at a party people kept saying to the piano player, “Oh, I’d give anything to be able to play like you.”

And the piano player said, “You can. You just practice eight hours a day.”

My father wanted me to understand that I needed to dedicate myself to perfection, to being ‘godly’, to being a perfect human being. Of course, the more I looked, the more I found I was not a perfect human being at all but full of flaws in action and emotion.

So I amended the story and I tell people the secret to playing like that: it is to get a piano lesson. If you want to play the piano, if you want to change, if you want to accept yourself, if you want to learn a language, if you want to do anything, the thing that stops it is….you. Tomorrow start with day one of playing the piano. And in a year, you will have played the piano for a year. And in five years, you will have played the piano for five years. All it takes is a day where you start.

So tomorrow I will have my post done. Because I work on it day by day. And because it is the things which are NOT said which are the very things that need to BE said. Like how there are no ‘muggles’ in the world of Harry Potter, and there are no ‘Neurotypicals’ in this world. Because if relationships have taught us anything it is that we all think differently and there is no way to know what another person feels or thinks without them letting us know. Six billion brains and no ‘typical’ among them. And that is tomorrow.

Oh, the self loathing, there is no one else with the potential you have, the contributions you have to share. If we could only put as much energy and focus into that as we do building our cages of the mind, we might feel that all so elusive and unique emotions: contentment, happiness.


Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

As always, Beth, a revealing, thought-provoking post.

Thanks, and hugs.

Sherry in Ohio said...

I so related to this post, and thank you for putting into words what is often so difficult for me to admit, even to myself - that sometimes "support groups" are anything but, after the pink-cloud honeymoon is over - that while these groups and the "program" they are based on (for example, 12-step groups) may be pure, always well-intentioned, all-inclusive, and without prejudice toward or blatant exclusion of any individual members or sub-group of members - because all are equal in this support group who share the same obstacle, physical or mental disability, health challenge, etc. - the cold, hard reality is this: everyone is equal under the pure, sacred mission statement and prime purpose of the support group - but - some of us are more equal than others.

Support groups are not immune from the same human flaws and foibles that hamper any other major social group or organization. There will always be a social pecking order, petty, mean little cliques, ugly power struggles, and competition between members, with a Darwinian herd mentality prevailing which discourages "less equal" members of the group from participating or feeling "a part of..." - as in an elite, snobby college sorority.

It's sad and depressing when the group of people where you once received the most support, comfort, and understanding, where you felt most free to be yourself and express your true opinions, becomes just one more oppressive, exclusive, negative, watch-your-back little exercise in attempting to put on a false front of perfection, feeling angry, betrayed, and disillusioned as you pretend to be who you are not, and feel the necessity to outwardly appear to embrace the party line, get with the program, and squash down that little voice inside your head that tells you "this is all a big lie...and I am a part of it..."

I'm at a point where I am avoiding organized social and support groups - espcially those which are for women only- whenever possible, at least on any regular basis, because I'm guilty of the type of thinking, emotional conflict and behavior you describe in this blog. I am vulnerable now with my health issues and just don't need the aggravation. It was a test even when I was at the top of my game to stay on track and not veer off into the co-dependent posturing that I all too easily slip into when in a clan of strong, smart women in a support group of any kind, followed by self-loathing and a chronic, punitive sense of inadequacy at not making the grade or measuring up.

I've developed a wall of tentative, hesitant, wary distrust, and a detached air of suspicion around these groups.
I hate living this way, yet I have to give myself a break for hanging in there as well as I have, all things considered. One thing that I no longer do is to beat myself over the head for not "trying harder" to fit in with a group that has cut me out of its core, berated, belittled, badgered, or in any way betrayed or humiliated me - I do not "OWE" them, either the group, or the program, or the individuals who sit in judgment of my "wrong" anything! My emotional serenity and well-being and my physical health concerns are much more important than trying to please and placate those who would exclude me and insist that I "kiss up" to their leaders or the "in" clique in order to atone for my previous *shortcomings* and *lapses in judgment* where I was too honest, and have "said way too much...."

I've found that it's best to always try to "take what you need and leave the rest," when dealing with these groups, and that is the challenge for most of us. It's unlikely that I can change these groups, nor alter their attitudes, behavior and beliefs, but I no longer feel the need to internalize their cruel words, or heap mental abuse and obsessive thoughts of self-loathing upon myself for not giving in to their demands to think, act, and be a certain way in order to earn their approval.

cheryl g said...

Oh I am intimately familiar with that voice whispering in my head. It whispers and yet it is so loud it drowns out everything. Everything, including the voices of those who I trust and who love me as they tell me I am good and worthwhile and someone who deserves love.

It is very hard to ignore that voice and harder yet to silence it. I do find that it will be silent for longer and longer periods of time.

As for self-loathing... there was a time in my past where I truly hated myself. Then I learned to forgive myself because it wasn't my fault what had happened.

I know what you mean about those communities. That feeling of safety and belonging makes one feel so good. Then the luster wears off. I rarely take part in the local community here's events because I so dislike the cliques and the judgements.

Thank you for such an eloquent and important post.

Baba Yaga said...

Yes, in a nutshell.

It'd be better out of it's nutshell. It's January, and I Did something (not much) today, so it won't be. I'm sorry.

wendryn said...

This post got to me. I know that feeling much too well. I've been fighting it for years. In my case, I say that I'm like part of the wallpaper. Sometimes it's safer there. I've been coming out of my shell over time, but that voice is still there.

Equality is not something I expect. It's something I hope for, but I don't expect it. I've been fighting for other people much of my life but I don't know how to fight for myself. I'm learning. You're teaching, whether or not you know it.

In terms of starting something now so in a year I'll have been doing it for a year, I started running a couple of weeks ago, going to the gym and getting on the treadmill. I'm back to weights, too. If I keep at it, I'll get better. Right now I'm rather miserable at it, but that's okay. It does make it a little easier that the gym doesn't have any mirrors.

You always make me think, and I appreciate that.

Neil said...

I have big news for you sweetie: you're human, and to be human is to be imperfect.

Perfection is a journey, not a destination; and you don't need to get worked up over not reaching perfection today.

Now if someone could just remind those night-time voices of that...

A. J. Luxton said...

This is a gorgeous post, and so spot on. Especially this:

Because there is nothing better and nothing worse than finding some group where you belong. (...) And then, over time, you see the cracks, how this person doesn’t talk to that person and how this group thinks they are ‘more’ of whatever than you are, and thus better.

I have decided that this is one of the ills of the world, full stop. That the only enemies are the thoughts which put things into an us-or-them framework.

Or, as I said elsewhere recently, this is the political thought that has driven me away from "politics" as it is conventionally practiced: I can tell you what I'm for, but not what I'm against: or rather, I'm against all the "against" that leads to infighting. I'm convinced, these days, that infighting is the system's secret weapon against getting anything done.