Friday, November 13, 2009

Painful, ugly stories are often hard to tell. Yet they are most often the ones that need to be told. Our stories of pain, depression, apathy and self abuse allow others to understand that they are not alone. When we dig deeply into our own sordid pasts, tell the stories we wish were not true, that is when we are most helpful to others. As with many difficult things in life, the first step is the hardest.

I grew up in a middle class home. A Christian home. I was not abused or tormented in any way. I was also never told that I mattered. I was never encouraged. For an introspective, sensitive child such as myself, this was the worst possible scenario. I felt guilty that I felt bad about myself. After all, there were many people in the world who had things much worse off than I. Who was I to wallow in self pity?

These conflicting emotions led me down an extremely destructive path for a number of years. I didn't really care enough about myself to care that I was self-destructing. I never actively tried to kill myself, but I certainly did not care if I lived or died. I wished many times that I had never been born. I had no purpose or future beyond taking up space on the planet. I pushed people away and then lamented that I had no one in my life who cared about me. I drank myself into oblivion in an attempt to numb my feelings of worthlessness. I slept with random strangers in an attempt to find acceptance. I starved myself in an attempt to be more attractive. None of it worked. I felt isolated, alone and scared and I had no idea how to feel any other way.

One morning, after a particularly intoxicating night out, I had a moment of clarity that pierced the darkness just enough for me to understand that I mattered and what I was doing to myself was not okay. That was the beginning of the end of the self loathing chapter in my life. Oh, the pain surely did not stop that day. Nor the next one after that, for that matter. I had a long row to hoe in order to undo all of the damage I had done to my psyche and to my body over the years. Some of the damage I had done could never be undone. I was left with battle scars - self inflicted wounds of the war I had waged with myself for such a long time. They are reminders to me to this day that I never want to be in that place again. I thank my God that I never have to be. Luckily I did survive. By all accounts I should not have, but I did and grateful I am for that.

I wish, that back when I needed help discovering my value in the world, there had been a group like To Write Love on Her Arms. It would have been a tremendous help for me to know that I was not alone in my misery - not in a 'misery loves company' type of way, but in a 'there is strength in numbers' sort of way. My dark night of the soul happened more than 20 years ago, however, so there was no Internet, no way to connect in a positive way with other people who were struggling like me. I did the work on my own to get better, but I feel it took me much longer because I felt such guilt and shame. I couldn't even share my most private thoughts with my family for fear of condemnation. I fear that even now. Guess I still have some work to do.

Yes, it would have been better to have had a shared journey with others. It is too late for that for me, but it is not too late for you to understand that you are not alone. There are people in the world who have been through or are going through just what you are. No matter how dark, depressing, anxious or destructive your life has become there is always someone else who can relate. Not only that, there is also always hope. No one is beyond redemption. No life is beyond hope. There are people who don't even know you who are willing to love you through the dark times and bring you into the light of a brighter future.

I am one person among many who loves you without ever having met you. That is why I have chosen to take a huge leap of faith and not post this journal anonymously as I first intended to. I have decided to be brave and put my past out there for you to see that past mistakes are not something to be ashamed of. I have also shown my support today for all who feel the pain of depression, addiction, thoughts of suicide and just plain self loathing by joining others in writing LOVE on my arms. It is my simple act of support to let you know that I know what you are going through. I know how you feel. I have been there. Let this day not be the end, but yet a new beginning. Let me and others like me love you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do you live with regrets or learn from experience?

I asked myself this question today as I perused the past 25 years of my life. I certainly had a lot of experiences and there are more than a few things I regret doing, but to be stuck in the regret would be to not learn from the experiences of the past and not learning from past experiences is perhaps one of the saddest ways to live.

I look at the girl I was at age twenty and I do wish that I could go back and tell that girl that she was way more than she gave herself credit for. She had so very little in the way of self esteem that it would be wonderful to be able to tell her not to give herself away so cheaply. I would tell her that she was smart, funny and not nearly as ugly as she thought she was. My eyes mist over as I remember how little she actually thought of herself - how many hours she spent crying and agonizing about her worth (or lack thereof). I would love to be able to save that girl just a few hours of agony, but since that is impossible, I must push on into the here and now and move on toward the future.

Even if I could go back and tell my 20 year old self the things I needed to hear at the time, knowing myself, I would not listen. I am a 'learn from my own experiences' kind of person and the only way to learn from experience is to experience life and then to take stock in the wrong decisions we made and either keep doing it wrong or try to change things and get it right. In my case multiple stumbles and wrong decisions are often necessary in order to learn the lessons that perhaps seem so simple to others. Who knows if I had actually known my worth at age 20 if that knowledge would have been of any benefit to me. It is useless to speculate, I suppose, but it is interesting none-the-less.

Yes, those experiences - good and bad, shaped the person I have become. We have to give in to the experience and cull out all the junk and keep the good parts that we learn along the way. I can regret that no one ever told me I was worth anything when I was young, or I can thank my God that he was with me even when I didn't think I was worth it. I can regret that I made some bad decisions that could have cost me my life, or I can thank my God that he saved me from myself and taught me countless lessons along the way.

The lessons that I learned made me who I am today. Having made mistakes makes me a more compassionate person. Having had low self esteem myself helps me to be more encouraging to the young people in my life. Sure, there are things I wish I would have done better and choices that would have made more sense, but I can't regret any of it. I have to think of my life as a whole and know that the journey is part and parcel of that life, not just the means to an end, but to be experienced. To live my life with regret would be my biggest regret.