Going to a therapist to try to redeem your self-esteem means having someone ask you when it all started. When did you start disliking yourself? When did you start hating yourself? What happened to you? What was your childhood like, your parents like, your whole fucking life like?
But I don't remember. I don't remember most of it. I'm not blocking traumatic events; I have an older brother and I feel like we were close growing up and he remembers loads more than I do. If something traumatic happened, he'd tell me. I just... have very few memories. There's one here, one there... my brain seems to have a knack for remembering the negative portions really well, the awkward moments, the punishments for being bad, the actual being bad. The good stuff seems to have gotten lost in that haze somehow. Is that genetic? Chemical? To have a brain that clings only to what makes me feel like shit, and discard freely anything that might remind me that things were okay? That I'm okay?
It's all too easy to blame having a military father. "My dad wasn't around when I was growing up," I can say flippantly, and people make their assumptions. Well, of course I'm messed up! Of course I've always sought affection from male figures in my life! My dad wasn't there! But you know, he wrote me letters. Lots of them. I remember that when I stop to think. He called me by cute nicknames (which I remember), he hugged me a lot when he was home, he told me he loved me all the time - I'm sure he did, even if my brain isn't letting me remember it specifically. I remember counting down with Mom until Dad would come home. I remember waiting at the dock (the pier?) with the other families and being excited. I remember wanting him to be the one who brushed my ridiculously long hair because he was more gentle than Mom. I remember having a night shirt that said "Daddy's Little Girl."
What I don't remember is when things changed. I mean, at some point I was too old to sit in his lap anymore. At some point I know we still wrote letters but I don't remember them anymore. Maybe I was the one who stopped, stopped writing him back; maybe I was the one who broke his heart. Maybe he wasn't prepared to have me keep growing up every time he left. But is that really why I have problems with men? Is it because Mom had to work? Did I not have enough of a positive female role model, either?
My first crush... there's a vivid memory. My brother's best friend, when I was 3 or 4 years old. Do people even have crushes that young? Sometimes I joke that I probably winked at the doctor who delivered me, but let's be honest: I wasn't very good at flirting until much later in life. Another crush, kindergarten, a blond boy in another class. Every year of school I had a crush. As I got older, there were more.
I knew I wasn't attractive. I wasn't one of the pretty girls. In elementary school I had glasses with huge, ugly plastic frames. I wore cheap plastic headbands that my hair was constantly escaping from. I had an overbite, big front teeth, ridiculously crooked front teeth. Skinny, all elbows and knees and ears, these goddamn ears. I knew I was awkward. In 5th grade, I'm ashamed to admit that I took part in some bullying of the class "fat kid," writing him a letter to tell him how awful he was. I just wanted the cool kids to like me. I just wanted someone to be lower on the food chain than I was.
Middle school - is it really horrible for everyone? Because I felt like there was a group of kids for whom it was great. They were popular and wore the cool clothes and I remember feeling so special when any of them talked to me, even though it was usually just to get some bit of info for homework. I was never bullied, not the way they show in TV and movies. Teased a bit, sure. But I wasn't harassed, physically tortured, given horrid nicknames... not really. My looks were compared to a rodent's more often than is ever pleasant, but mostly I was left alone, I think. Maybe that's the part I've blocked?
But boys.. always the obsession with boys. I have this very exact, detailed memory of being a pre-teen, of my brother getting his first girlfriend, and of thinking to myself - even writing in my sad little purple diary - that I would never have a boyfriend. I was too horrible, too ugly. No boy would want me. I remember thinking if I had a twin sister, I would feel sorry for her because she, poor thing, would look like me. What sort of way is that for a kid to think? What on earth made me think that way?
In high school, I said yes to almost any boy who asked me out. YES! Thank you for paying attention to me! YES! Thank you for noticing me! It made me feel good, powerful, worthwhile, almost pretty (but not quite, not really). I didn't know why they liked me - I was still skinny and awkward and I spent a couple of years in braces - but they did and that was the single most attractive feature of every single one of them. Most of them, I "went out" with for a week or two before realizing I didn't like them. I wasn't allowed to date, so we just held hands at school or church, made out whenever and wherever possible, and talked on the phone. Once the thrill of being liked, of being chosen, had passed... well, I was done. I didn't honestly believe I was hurting anyone. I know, that's horrible, but I didn't think they liked me that much. I was probably just a fleeting interest, someone to make out with during those hormonal years. I believed that.
Can I blame it on my first boyfriend cheating on me? Is that too easy, too? It is a hell of an introduction into the world of romance for someone who thought she'd never even get a foot in the door... at least give me that.
Now, as an adult, I still feel like I lack so much. Why? Is it genetic? Chemical?
The therapist asked me to write a list of my good qualities. She was fascinated by my process of first crowd-sourcing the answers because I couldn't come up with a single damn thing on my own; then forcing myself to say thank you instead of arguing; then writing everything down without censoring or editing. All of this took a couple of weeks - just to make a list! I know the next step is internalizing, believing, owning this list... but it's been a couple of months now and I'm not even sure where it is. How do you undo whatever it is that's done, when you can't pinpoint how or when it was done? If it was done? I'm not sure that anything in my life caused my self-esteem to plummet. I think maybe I just missed or glossed over or daydreamed my way past all the parts of my life that should have bolstered it up from the original point of zero. So when the normal course of life happened, I let it beat me up and wear me down and my points went negative, because I hadn't stored them up like nuts for these winters; was I just not paying attention when points were being handed out?
I don't blame my parents, for the record. I think if I told a succinct version of my childhood, any armchair psychiatrist would immediately blame them. I admit to feeling a bit of a pain, a bit of emptiness and jealousy, when I see my mother leave so many effusive messages of love and support, messages just dripping with compliments, for my brother's kids and my cousins on Facebook. I'm not sure why, since she does the same to me. My brother insists our mom was encouraging and supportive, and I do remember a lot of that. Am I just jealous because she simply has more time for them? Logically I understand that my parents sacrificed a lot for us, that they both worked hard to support us financially - neither of us had any idea that our parents were struggling for money when we were growing up. But emotionally... just... what the fuck is WRONG with me?
My parents tell me they love me all the time. They support me. They let me move back in when I needed to, and I know they're proud of me despite all the mistakes I've made. I'm extremely fortunate and I know that and I don't blame them for ... well, how I am.
So what the fuck is WRONG with me?
When I try to sleep, all of this, all of this, goes through my head. In circles. Along with all the things I can remember that depleted me, all the things I've done wrong, all the poor choices I made. How do I ever sleep? How am I ever supposed to convince my emotional side what my logical side is trying to say, that I'm successful and good in so many ways? Instead, when I try to say "yes, I'm a good person," my emotional side says "Um, excuse me! You are incredibly selfish, and need I remind you of that time you were a bitch to that guy? And what about how you suck at faking friendliness with people you don't like? You make people feel bad when you decide you don't like them. Can't you just fucking FAKE it? For an hour? Is that so HARD? You selfish bitch. Oh, and let's not forget that time that you......" on and on.
That's quite a verbose side to go up against.
And so I try to fight back, I try to sleep. I take my little pills, operating under the theory that it's chemical. I visit my therapist, operating under the theory that it's mental. I ... well, I'm pretty much just buggered if it's genetic, aren't I?
I know I'm not alone, but you know how sometimes it really, really, really feels that way? I'm the only failure. I'm the worst failure. I'm not fit for relationships, romantic or platonic. Changing my selfish ways is more difficult than trying to change my diet or exercise (all things I have failed at, by the way, multiple times). Telling myself I'm anything more than "okay" feels like I'm lying, and how can you lie to yourself? You know it's a lie. You don't even need to look for tells!
And so I try to sleep, and I try to quiet my brain, and I write in this blog a thousand times every night in my head but just once, just this time I manage to sit myself down with no distractions and try to get it out so maybe my brain will shut. up. for a little while. (but it won't. I will re-write this very entry a thousand times in my head tonight, I can promise you.)
So maybe I type it out in the hope that someone else with a noisy brain, someone else with a jerk brain, someone else who just for once would like to be able to fall asleep without swirling into a vortex of mental self-flagellation because they can't stop reviewing the day and everything they did or said wrong and of course that leads to the previous day and then it just keeps going like a bad movie in reverse - maybe that someone else might be able to find at least a few minutes of peace knowing that there are other asshole brains out there, shouting and clamoring and hiding all the good things.
Goodnight, and to whomever is bothering to read this: I hope you're able to find the good things.