[AUDIO BLOG] Tough Love
Today I want to talk to you about self-acceptance and self-loathing. Now, I’m not an expert by any means, and I can only relate my personal experience as an able-bodied person. But this is still something I think will ring true for a lot of people — and you may find helpful. I understand that everyone has their own mental and physical capabilities. I dug myself out from a very dark place, and I want to share how I did it with you. I believe the crucial combination of self-acceptance, truthful self-awareness — on your own or with a therapist — and regularly, purposefully pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is the key to unlocking your potential. Speak gently, but practice tough love.
My mother started reading storybooks to me almost as soon as I was born, so I basically taught myself to read and write before I even started school. Great, right? Well kind of. My parents’ expectations were so high for me that I was often severely punished for falling short of them, in many ways that my younger two siblings never were. Verbal debasement, screaming, and harsh “whippings” taught me to fear my parents’ judgement, silence my opinions, and that love is something you have to earn — like a trophy. Be smarter, be more talented, be thinner, be prettier. Whoa now, honey, we expect only the best from you, but don’t think too highly of yourself either! That’s not healthy attachment, and the older I got, those learned attitudes began to influence my budding adult relationships. At one point, I spent months of my freshmen year of high school grounded for getting Cs in a geometry class. Instead of figuring out the reason I was getting bad grades and addressing that, I was isolated from the few friends I had, and withdrew into my dark internal world even further. Later I figured out on my own that one reason I was struggling in class and having trouble concentrating, was because at the time I needed glasses. But a childhood of incidents like that, and the damage was done.
Most of my life, I have lived with an undercurrent of self-loathing and never feeling good enough. I was always the weird kid — neither popular or bullied, existing in a category no one really knew how to deal with. Sometimes picked on, but mostly avoided. It’s that weird girl. She draws stuff. In sixth grade, mini proto-Jin was already hustling to sell my hand-drawn bookmarks to my classmates. Growing up, my primary source of self-loathing was my body. My whole family struggled with food, weight, and emotional eating. Self-hating fat parents frequently reminding their self-hating fat daughter that she is, in fact, fat. My lack of self-esteem caused me to hurt other people by staying in friendships and relationships that weren’t right for me, some actively harmful, because I was afraid of being alone and doing the HARD WORK on myself to build empathy and forge true connections with other people. The failure of bad relationships caused me to hate myself even MORE, until I eventually ate my way to almost 180lbs and imminent health problems because eating was how I learned to cope with negative emotions. I ate because I felt bad, and I felt worse because I ate. It is a vicious, self-defeating, and self-destructive cycle, true of alcohol, drugs, food, and other vices. I also wasted years of my young life binge watching television, playing video games like Minecraft, and basically doing everything I could to avoid my buried feelings and reality.
It was not until I stripped away all the layers of self-loathing and started to accept and love myself, including my flaws and mistakes, that the rest of my life started to improve. You can’t build a house on a rotten foundation.
In recent times we have started to see a lot on the Internet about self-care. Self-care is important, but it isn’t all comfort foods, bubble baths, and Netflix. Self-care has to come from a place of self-love, and sometimes that self-love needs to be TOUGH LOVE. I want to encourage you to challenge yourself. If, like me, you struggle with something as simple as keeping your apartment clean, make a resolve to clean five minutes a day. Then ten. Then fifteen. The thing you want to build here is momentum! Write it on your calendar. Slap a smiley-face sticker on there! Put it in a form that enables you to visually see your progress, and motivates you to not break the pattern. Allow yourself to take pride in your accomplishments, no matter how small. Over time, those tiny accomplishments add up to the ability to do bigger things. The important part is being proud of what you’ve done, but always pushing yourself a little more. Small changes — adding up — are how we change our world.
Love your body. Big, small, tall, short, tight, lumpy, it’s yours. And it’s the only one you’ve got. Loving your body also means TOUGH LOVE. Find exercise you enjoy, whether that’s biking, running, lifting weights, swimming, or even just dancing in your chair if that’s all you can do. Get yourself moving! It’s good for your body, your heart, your brain, and your soul. Again, momentum is key here. Those first steps on the walking trail or into the gym, are the hardest. Celebrate your milestones and let them propel you forward.
I’m not asking you to become a goal-fueled obsessive like I am — I know my brain was broken in a weird way that allows me to hyperfocus on things. But I am asking you to start loving yourself, and to let go of the distractions and negativity and self-loathing that may be holding you back from growth. Live your best life. Accept yourself as a flawed human, as are we all, then commit to becoming the best version of yourself you can be. Find your passions and cultivate the things that grow your confidence and your self-esteem. Do not just consume, create something! Life is too short to waste away in the dark places. Seek professional help if needed, and move at the pace that is right for you. Just — for fuck’s sake — move. Do things because they are hard.
In short, I am asking you to stop fuckin’ around.