The Danger of Self Loathing

Trigger Alert: If you are someone you know is contemplating suicide, please seek help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free and anonymous service. Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 or visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. 

Selfhatred (also called selfloathing) refers to an extreme dislike or hatred of oneself, or being angry at or even prejudiced against oneself.

Not_Good_Enough_by_graphiqual

I thought I’d never get to that point again. I guess that’s the danger of thinking you’ve overcome something. I still have a lot to learn and realize that my family’s involvement in AA* (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA* (Narcotics Anonymous) has a lot to teach me. Never stop thinking that you are an addict. You are an addict. You might be in recovery, but the moment you think you’ve conquered your addiction is the moment you fall off the wagon. That being said, I thought I was over feelings of wanting to die.  Until last week.

Self loathing and shame are powerful emotions, ones that lie and lead one to think that they are worthless. And truth be told, they are the two emotions that I have battled much of my life. I don’t know where it comes from, but I have constantly thought that I was unworthy. I could never make a mistake. I was never good enough. All of these thoughts have fueled my desire to further my education and constantly seek to be better. All in all, these aren’t bad things to seek but I’ve learned that the motivations – self loathing and shame – are deadly.

My desire for to be perfect leads me to have zero tolerance about making mistakes and I am inherently ungracious towards myself. More about this thing called grace later…

This past week, everything that I feared became a reality – making a public mistake, disappointing people that I care deeply about, engaging a man in an unhealthy relationship, scaring my closest friends – you name it, it happened. Basically it was one of the worse weeks of my life. And the feeling of wanting to disappear, to leave and never come back, to die, returned.

I didn’t think I would ever be there again. I didn’t think that I would make decisions that would put me in danger. But I am realizing that the longer I go trying to cover up rather than embrace the dark side of myself, the easier it is for me to slip back into thinking that I am worthless. My tendency during these moments is to withdraw, to shut out loved ones and crawl into myself. I’ve found that my thinking is flawed during this time because my mind leads me to wonder why anyone would care. At my lowest moments, I believe this to be true. And this is dangerous.

I am thankful for the community of support that surrounds me in spite of myself. I am thankful for the women in my life who push through and don’t take no for an answer. I am thankful that my decisions did not lead to a point of no return. I am thankful that God’s grace abounds even as I struggle with it and can’t fully comprehend it.

I am continuing on this journey of healing – meeting with my therapist, taking my medication, getting back in shape, taking care of my body – but I realize that there will be setbacks.

My prayer is that feelings of worthlessness disappear as we look them in the eye and declare that they don’t have the last word over our lives.

My prayer is that I grow in grace and compassion towards myself and that you do the same.

My prayer is that love abounds – love of God, love of self and love of others – as I continue to realize my self worth.

Love,

Me

*Alcoholics Anonymous is an international mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. AA states that its “primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”. Narcotics Anonymous describes itself as a “nonprofit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem”.

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After He Leaves

After he leaves I feel like a part of me is missing. How is it that this man has the ability to make me feel like I am on top of the world and simultaneously make me feel like it’s never enough? I don’t get tired of him. I love listening to him. I love sharing space with him. Truth be told, it’s not even anything he’s doing per say… it’s just how he is. When he’s with me I feel like I’m not alone…

I’ve come a long way. When I was younger, so much of what I thought about myself was wrapped in others’ opinions of me, particularly men. Now I am pretty confident about who I am and what I can do sans their opinions… yet, his smile, his eyes, his touch, make me want more.

More of what? I am coming to terms with being single. It’s not all bad. Quite frankly, because of the type of woman I am, I enjoy the freedom that comes with singledom. What I miss more than anything is knowing that there is someone who has my back. I miss knowing that on those days when the loneliness is too much to bear, there is someone committed to walk the road with me. He makes me long for that connection, for a partnership that is characterized by trust, compassion, honesty, laughter and the pursuit of excellence. And let’s not forget about the passion… I think what’s hardest about this is that I can picture our life together. I can see us supporting one another and loving one another. We are just enough alike and just enough different to be a pretty powerful team. And I think that’s what I long for most of all, to be a part of a team.

So much of my life is lived solo. I know it’s because of what God has called me to. I am someone that will live a public life and that mean there are many places and spaces that I must travel alone. I think I am coming to terms with that but I do long to be in relationship. And he makes me want it all the more.

I keep reminding myself that for everything there is a season. This is my season to develop professionally, to hone my skills, to travel and to nurture friendships. It’s also a time to grow in love and knowledge of myself, which I haven’t spent a lot of time doing. Knowing all of this doesn’t make me feel better but it does keep things in perspective. The sadness that I encounter will not overtake me. The love that I desire will come to pass. And when it does, I’ll be ready.

For Everything There is a Season…

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. It is a day that we celebrate our mothers. I have expanded my definition of mother to not just include my biological mother but also include the women in my life who “mother me” – those who provide guidance, encouragement, love, discipline, conviction and never-ending support. For me, these mothers are women of faith who care for themselves and their families. I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

Mother’s Day also brings out some darker emotions in me. I am a 31 soon-to-be- 32 year old divorcee who has yet to conceive a child. The assumption by most people is that I will have children at some point. I’ve always struggled with this because I am terrified of physically carrying a child and thoughts of what might happen to my fragile mental state paralyze me. I know now that I am at high risk for postpartum depression and other mental health issues because of my history. Pregnancy and the subsequent birth of a child will exacerbate these issues. However, there is something that happens this day each year, something that I’m quite ashamed to admit. I get a twinge of longing for the role and title of mother and feel like I’m not woman enough because I haven’t born a child. Then I feel guilty for focusing on myself on a day when so many others focus on the amazing women in their lives. And the cycle continues…So, I decided to write about my feelings today.

I had a glimpse of what it might be like to be a mother when I was married. My ex-husband has an amazing son from his first marriage and I was privileged to get to know this amazing child from the time he was three until he was ten. While he lived with his mother on a daily basis, he spent his summers and holidays with my ex-husband and I. During these times I fully embraced the mothering role and was amazed at how naturally certain things came to me. I began to care for and love this boy like he was my own. It was quite surprising to me and I lament that this relationship has been severed. I’ll probably write more on that later…

I’ve always struggled with what it means to be a woman. Is it defined by my gender? Is it defined by my participation in heteronormative relationships? Is it defined by certain characteristics? Is it defined by my role as wife? Is it defined by my role as mother? Is it defined by my desire to want to be a mother, wife or any other role that is lifted up as ideal?

Today at Shekinah Chapel, I heard a message that felt like it was meant just for me on this day. The preacher was a woman who preached on Proverbs 31. I must confess that this is one of my least favorite texts in scripture because of how it’s lifted up as how woman should be. I have always felt like if I’m not the Proverbs 31 woman, I am not woman at all. As the preacher began her message, I told myself to sit still and listen. And I am so glad I did.

The preacher talked about the text and connected it to the hats that we as women are expected to wear. She even used imagery at one point and placed six or seven different hats on her head. It was a powerful illustration because it showed how it’s not only impossible to wear more than one hat at a time but that it also looks just plain ludicrous. I appreciated this sermon on so many levels and my spirit resonated with the struggle that so many women face – to try and be all things to all people at all times and still maintain a certain attitude and character, which is often how Proverbs 31 is lifted up in communities of faith. Towards the end of the sermon, the preacher quoted Ecclesiastes 3 (see below) – For everything there is a season…

Before I knew it, tears started to fall. Even as I write this post, the tears well up in my eyes. But they are cleansing tears not tears of sorrow. I realized in the preached moment today that I am living in a certain season of life, one that has not called me to be a mother or a wife. I feel like I have always fought this reality and made apologies for why I was not living into these roles. Today, I felt like I had permission to shed any and every expectation of me that was not God given. God has blessed me in many ways and I know that I am walking in a season where I am called to be an advocate, a friend, a mentor, an aunt, a leader and a visionary. I am not called to be a mother or a wife right now. And for the first time, I truly believe that it’s ok…

For everything there is a season…

For those who have lost mothers…

For those who have had terrible relationships with their mothers…

For those who long to be a mother and their body’s won’t let them conceive…

For those who have suffered one or many miscarriages…

For those who feel like a failure because they have not become a mother…

For those who will never be mothers and don’t want to be…

For all women who struggle to define themselves against the ongoing tide of societal, cultural, familial expectation…

I pray. You are not alone.

Love,

Me

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

seasonsOfLifea time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time…

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11

Dance Lessons Part 1…

I love to dance. There’s something that happens when I hear music that causes a soul-stirring reaction.

I love movement. I love the expression of emotions through movement. I love how beats and rhythms and lyrics come to life in a physical form that is dance.

I am not a gifted dancer. I define gifts as those things that are like breathing, those things that you don’t even have to think about that just flow from you. Dance was not something that came naturally to me. Anyone who knows me from childhood knows that I wasn’t the most coordinated person. Truth be told, I was quite awkward. I discovered dance through my experience as a cheerleader in middle school and high school. I switched over to just dance when I got to college. Dance saved me from myself. When I was a junior in college and in the midst of my second major depressive episode, dance was the only thing that kept me from killing myself.

I am a passionate dancer. Passions are those things that can be cultivated. I see as many dance companies perform as money and time allow. I secretly want to be a member of a Salsa dance troupe and envision the costumes, music and pure joy that would follow. As I’ve gotten older and my passion for dance has been realized, I seek out classes and troupes and studios that would allow me to hone my skills. I’ve taken ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop, Latin and pole classes. Yes, pole classes. (For more about my experience with pole dancing, click here. It was seriously the most liberating experience of my life!) I have stretched and strengthened muscles I didn’t know I had. I’ve gone from being a terribly awkward girl who was not comfortable in her own skin to a woman who fully embraces her body and sees it as a gift from God. Dance has connected me to my soul and to the Divine.

Dance continues to be one of the best forms of therapy that I experience. I recently moved and while things have largely gone well, I have had some rough times during this transition. Once I found a therapist, I realized that I needed to find a dance class. I signed up for Salsa lessons and am ecstatic that it works with my schedule.  There is clearly a link between exercise and dealing with depression and every time I attend a dance class I am reminded of it’s importance. However, the what I’m learning goes beyond the physical. I am gaining life lessons from this passion of mine and am so grateful.

What things/hobbies/activities serve as therapy for you and teach you life lessons?

Stay tuned…

Love,

Me

(Not Quite) Daddy’s Little Girl

Unconditional love. Respect. Affirmation. These are the things that I have always wanted from my birth father. For most of my life, I have hitched my self esteem, my self worth and my self identity to his opinions of me. This has definitely been to my peril. What’s ironic about my desire for these things from my father is that he was not a permanent fixture in my life until I was fourteen years old. He didn’t have a track record of giving these things, but for some reason I constantly fantasized about a utopic relationship between us. Why is it that we seem to want the most from those who are least able to give it?

My father and I have a complicated relationship. I am the youngest of his four children by three different women.  My parents were not married when I was conceived and my mother decided to leave him shortly after my birth. I would see him from time to time but I don’t remember him being a steady presence in my life.  My mother met my step-father when I was three and married him when I was six years old. My younger brother was born and we relocated from New York to Texas. This move ended my visits with my birth father. With the exception of a handful of trips to New York, I don’t remember having a substantial relationship with my father before I was a teenager.

As I reflect on our history, it boggles my mind how much his absence affected me and influenced how I engage men in romantic relationships. One might think that I would not be seeking something that I never received but in my mind, I had created a fantasy about what it would be like if my father and I ever reconnected. This fantasy became a reality when my mother and step-father divorced. This was a traumatic time in my life that was overshadowed by the fact that my birth parents were reuniting and would eventually get married. I found myself in a broken state; one where I struggled with the loss of a relationship with my step-father, who had raised me and, at the same time, trying to be happy about the return of my birth father who I really didn’t know. It was a difficult time for everyone involved. I learned very quickly that the life I had envisioned with my birth father would not become a reality.

I had a revelation yesterday. It was actually quite painful but simultaneously liberating. Nothing I could ever become, say or do would engender the affirming and uplifting response that I so desperately seek from my father. And you know what? That’s my issue, not his. I have to come to terms with the fact that I have been looking for that which is life-giving in the wrong place, from the wrong person. For my sanity’s sake, I have to let go of this overwhelming desire to be “approved” of by my father. I am a thirty one year old woman who is finally letting go of something that has not served me well. I am choosing, on this day, that my self worth and identity will not be based on any external factors, particularly those that perpetuate negative and harmful ways of being.

I have never been the proverbial “Daddy’s little girl”. Nor will I ever be. And it’s not necessary that I am. For the first time in my life, I realize how important it is for me to create a new narrative, one that takes into account who I am and have been created to be, first and foremost by God.

I pray that I am able to remember that God created me and simply said, “It is good.”

I pray that my self worth and self esteem will no longer be based on what others think and that I will embrace that I am enough.

I pray that I am able to be in relationship with my father in a way that honors who we both are and leaves room for who we are not.

Love,

Me

The Skin I’m In

I was called an oreo when I was growing up. In the African American community this was not a term of endearment. It didn’t refer to how sweet I was. Rather it was social nomenclature that described my perceived character. In layman’s terms this word described me as one who, though I was black on the outside, was really white on the inside. As you might imagine this was not just about color. This term and those who used it were referring to my physical appearance and my norms, behaviors and mannerisms. For some reason I was viewed as an outsider within my own community and to this day, I am teased by family and friends alike in regards to my seemingly “non-black” behavior. Truth be told, this had a devastating effect on my identity…

This way of thinking brought so many other things to mind. For one, I wondered what it meant to be black and how someone like me who comes from a black family and was raised in black neighborhoods and went to predominately black schools (even graduating from a Historically Black College & University) was seen as not “black enough”. Black history and knowing my roots was very important in my home. My mother was an educator who took seriously her role in passing down traditions, knowledge, and untold stories of our culture.

I often thought that maybe peoples’ interpretations of me were connected to my faith tradition. I was raised in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is a predominately white denomination; however the churches of my childhood were black Lutheran churches. Many friends in Texas asked if Lutherans were Christians (to this day the irony of this question makes me chuckle) and when I invited them to church they were taken aback by our worship style when compared to their Baptist/Nondenominational/traditional black denominational way of worship. But once again, even in my church community, black traditions and culture were important and uplifted.

Education was very important to my parents and I was a voracious reader. We traveled extensively during my childhood, taking a family trip every year. My parents made a point to include historic sites and cultural information on every trip. I was well spoken and well rounded, being involved in everything from academic enrichment opportunities in the summer to the requisite tap/ballet/dance trifecta. I finished high school with honors, graduating number eleven in my class of 454, was a Varsity Cheerleader, National Honor Society member, and belonged to host of other clubs and organizations.

Going to an HBCU was important to me. I wanted to be a part of an institution of higher learning that infused African American history, culture and traditions into the DNA of their curriculum. When I arrived at Spelman College in the fall of 1999, I finally felt like I found a place where I belonged. I was surrounded by intelligent, articulate, and vivacious BLACK women. But I soon realized that the world outside of our gates still viewed us as the other.

This “otherness” has been with me as long as I can remember. In my darkest hours, I’ve begun to realize the damage that was caused by those who ridiculed me for who I was, making me question my identity, my worth and my purpose. I’m now at a point in life where I fully embrace the skin I’m in. I fully embrace who I am as one who has been crafted in God’s very own image, gifted for a purpose.

My hope is people judge less and love more.

My hope is that we can broaden our perspectives on what a particular race/ethnicity/culture is like.

My hope is that we realize how damaging it is to ostracize and criticize anyone because of their individuality.

My hope is that we all can grow in love, grace and acceptance of our selves in order to fully love and accept each other.

Love,

Me

Music Mondays: Break Away by Hunt Ft. Jae Michelle

Click here to see the powerful video for Break Away by Hunt Ft. Jae Michelle.

Abuse, bullying, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, self esteem…

The list goes on and on and on…

Many try to ignore their reality.

Others try to be something or someone they aren’t.

So many of us who suffer from depression have also experienced one or more of these things during our childhood and youth. I love this song because it highlights some very real issues that young people face today. I also applaud artists whose music inspires… Hunt is one such hip hop artist who has continued to write powerful lyrics that capture the nature of human suffering. Check him out at http://iamhunt09.wix.com/iamhunt.

This song inspires me to continue to fight and face my demons. Maybe it will do the same for you.

Love,

Me