I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’ve fully figured out how to love myself. I feel lying to myself like that is a disservice and unloving. What I can tell you is that I had a long road to travel to get to the point where I committed to loving myself. It hasn’t been an easy road. It certainly wasn’t a road where I had some strong advantages in that regard.
In America, especially for women, it’s taught that love isn’t something we can do for ourselves unless there’s external validation for it. Our worthiness for love is taught from a very young age. Everything from my basic assertiveness to outright boorish attitudes was usually met with, “If you don’t act like a lady no one will love you. You will be alone. You must be accommodating and pleasant at all times.” What really got to me over the years was how to be “pleasant”. No matter how “pleasant” I was it was never enough. If I took pride in something I did I was “too proudful” and had to be taken down a peg in someone’s eyes. If I was articulate and conveyed a point intelligently I was “trying too hard to appear brainy” and had to be shown how stupid I really was. Even to this day I’m perplexed how an elementary school teacher exclaimed how I think too big and needed to dumb myself down. If I met these tasks, people took jabs at me in other ways. I was “too ugly”, “too fat” (it didn’t matter the only person thinner than me at times had a thyroid problem), “a slut” (my sexual activity, or lack thereof, was irrelevant), or some other attack on me that was code for acting inappropriately for my sex.
If American society doesn’t teach people to hate ourselves for one reason it finds others. When I very little I was misdiagnosed as developmentally disabled and saw the dark side of learning disabled programs. While there have been strident efforts towards reform and moving away from what it was even in the 80’s (which was when I spent my time) there’s still a lot of systematic abuse. Most of the abuse focuses on making those with disabilities feel inferior or how they don’t matter. I was lucky in that I wasn’t sexually abused, but I’ve heard stories of that happening. I won’t go into all the details of what I experienced because it would detract, not to mention it’s hard to explain how I felt in those moments especially at a young age. While I did escape that program when I entered kindergarten thanks to an experienced teacher passionate about her work with developmentally disabled children, as well as advocacy groups and the district psychologist in tow (I will someday explain why all of that was necessary) I still had that stigma. I still had to battle with my teachers’ prejudices towards me, teachers still convinced I was somehow “less than” due to their prejudices against the developmentally disabled. I didn’t feel I overcame that stigma until college.
Part of my reason for feeling I started to overcome my self-loathing in college happened for many reasons. After battling a very dysfunctional family, an ex-boyfriend who raped me and stalked me, various broken systems (the schools nor law enforcement cared my ex was stalking me, even if it happened on school grounds), as well as my suicidal tendencies I felt free. I had a newfound lease on life by attending college. For once I had a very clear vision of how I wanted my life to look and how I was going to do it. I believed – in retrospect maybe with naivete – college would enhance my odds of getting a career in the performing arts. I always loved dancing and creating pieces, and this love led me to prepare for a career as a choreographer. It was at this time where I ran into a classmate who decided I needed to learn how to be a gay diva. I know many people feel being a diva is only about being “bitchy”, but I’ve come to realize why acting like a diva on some level helps with love. When you live a life that is mired in people wanting to hate you for inherently existing and changing one’s surroundings isn’t possible, raising oneself above the mire through just one of many methods is the only way to do it. There was another way I learned to rise above the mess, one that is probably more socially acceptable.
During my studies I ended up finding a religious path which I consider life-affirming. I found it through my own experiences with Het-Hert and subsequent conversion to Kemeticism. At that time I believed like others the Ancient Egyptian gods could be placed in boxes. I felt Het-Hert was a goddess of love, and given my life I needed plenty. It seemed for a while that everything was falling into place, even with new friends who were loving and supportive. I was learning to heal from my rape through consensual sex, though I picked partners who sent mixed signals. Close to the end of college my life faced an incredible upheaval.
I watched everything I worked for fall apart in six years. I lost my job and couldn’t get rehired, I watched friends abandon me and take advantage of my situation, I abandoned my dream of being a choreographer, and found out how worthless my diploma is despite the assurance of my academic advisors. I lost all of my savings and watched as debts piled up. Saying I was devastated to watch the life I was trying to build crumble is an understatement. I know I annoyed those in my life, but I don’t know if they were too exhausted to tell me they were tired or they never had that compassion to begin with in some cases. Unlike many others I still kept to my faith, even if I felt everything including my self-identity wavered. If anything during this time I did more to learn what I truly believed and my understanding of Het-Hert. I studied more about the practices of Dendera and started piecing together the rituals. I saw Het-Hert less as an archetype for love and more as a motherly goddess. What I learned about spiritual love in worshiping Her, however, didn’t leave me.
A few years ago I reached a point where I had enough of feeling used up and left for dead. I prayed to Sekhmet to help me clear out those in my life and practices which were toxic. I don’t know if it was a psychological motivator or if She doesn’t waste time but that prayer was answered in a quick and tumultuous way. People whom I thought would always be my friend I either cut out in a dramatic fashion or they parted ways with me. I also saw at that time people who were willing to pray for me as I got through clearing people out. As they cleared I saw my vision for my life return and have pursued it accordingly. I had violent fights with some of my family where they saw my true strength emerge and where I learned I still needed to grow. I saw my wake up call to where if I truly loved myself I would answer it. Part of that meant active pursuit of healing old scars from my past.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but putting my foot down was the first sign I was finally learning how to love myself. Because of that I kicked some folks out of my life while some folks left my life of their own volition. During that time I learned another path of self-love. I learned new ways to take care of my anxiety disorder. Some of it came in the form of therapy, some from researching what to do during an anxiety attack (I ran some of the methods over with my therapist, who found them healthy), and some of it through prayer. I regained my sense of self, albeit slowly. Some of my experiences with this I’ve shared before on this blog.
Sharing my personal experiences taught me a new approach to self-love, though not in the way people would expect. I learned some people didn’t like I discussed the less pleasant aspects of my life and what I’ve learned from it. I got to see passive-aggressive remarks about how someone’s “trying to be a bad bitch”, “lying”, read posts of how I’m “schizophrenic”, how I’m “a homewrecking slut”, and so on. I was debating how to handle these issues. I couldn’t decide whether to confront these bullies (let’s call it what it is) head on. I prayed about it to Het-Hert and asked people I know have been through similar experiences. The response was something to the effect of ignore them; live my life. I agreed even at the time it was great advice, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling something had to be done. I kept praying to many gods about the issue.
It all made sense when I shared with a couple of other friends. When they looked at what was said and advised the same thing, one of them added the comment of how these are the type of people who have to hate. The people who act like this are truly hate mongers. I ended up responding with, “Well, I guess it’s time to love myself.” I was silent while those words echoed in my head. It was something I should have been doing anyway, but there it was: my dedication to love myself. I finally uttered the words of my path all these years. What started as worshiping an archetype became a personal manifestation for me.
The reason to ignore hate mongers stems not only to bring peace of mind, but because you love yourself enough to know most aren’t worth the time and effort. There will always be someone who hates another for some reason, even if the reason only exists in their mind. Hatred towards people is in no short supply in this world. If left to my own devices I can generate enough self-loathing unmatched by 200 of my biggest “haters”. Let them put forth the time and effort. Yes, there will be a time when facing such hatred will come. There will be people who will do anything to make you feel their hatred for you so they don’t have to work as hard to hate. They will vandalize your things, they will spread rumors about you, they will attack you. However, not every act of hatred will be physically violent. Not every act of hatred towards me is worth my attention. I can call it out when it’s needed and encourage others to call out hatred. However the hatred I currently face is only bullying. I love myself too much to allow bullies into my life or my head.
I’ve cleaned house again and those people have been thrown out. When I find myself starting my self-loathing I’ve made it a habit to pray to Het-Hert to give myself enough love to get through it. I’m not always successful. After all I am human. I’m still learning some things about self-love. I know, though, I have a path that is exponentially less destructive than ever. It’s a path that includes self-compassion and learning to love the person I am and can be.