I’ve had a real problem with obsessive self-loathing for a huge chunk of my life, which I naïvely assumed would get better after my PMDD went away. I’m learning the hard way that, while I’m free of a lot of self-harm/suicidal compulsions in post-op life, my tendency toward self-sabotage is going to require some heavy lifting to be rid of.
Alright, at the risk of sounding like a complete asshole, it’s important to note up front that I get plenty of outside validation that I’m a smart, funny, insightful, moderately-attractive human that decent people enjoy being around, but, for some reason, I just don’t believe it… often, I can’t even hear it.
This is an inside job. I’ve worked on this in therapy and countless other means, but the problem is that the voice of my “Inner Saboteur” is still just me making what appear as very valid arguments. (I’m pretty good at debate/persuasion; unfortunately, I’ve used my powers for evil here.) When someone says “You’re so [positive thing]!!” I immediately, automatically remind myself of a handful of examples that person doesn’t know about which prove his/her point invalid, thus perpetuating this deeply-rooted belief system I’ve instilled that I’m lazy trash who should feel lucky to be around other people. Honestly, this reflex hasn’t been voluntary for a really long time.
It’s annoying. I see it, too.
…which leads to how I act in public, particularly with people I feel insecure around. Oh, FUN FACT: If we’ve ever hung out IRL and I seem like I’m in a race to get alcohol into my system it is because I am having Inferiority Overload. Honestly, I’ve never believed that drinking made me smarter or funnier, but it does, temporarily, shut off the ever-present anxiety that I’m [insert lyrics to Radiohead’s “Creep” here.] That nagging belief is always present, and when I start feeling more insecure than usual, it gets SUPER FUCKING LOUD AND RELENTLESS, so much so that I start spiraling and compounding it, whether or not I’m intoxicated. And often, I am weak and I just want a goddamn break from my demons; unfortunately, drinking gives me that for a few hours, and I thoroughly enjoy it – appreciate it, even.
The obvious problem with that M.O. is that I sober up, replay the tape of what I said/did in my drunkenness, and wind up hating myself even more than I did before. Drinking just shuts off the voice temporarily, only to be [justifiably] amplified the following day(s). It’s a motherfucker of a cycle and I’ve been tired of it for awhile. It’s just that, before now, with everything else going on, it’s not something I’ve had time or energy to really fight back at. My binge-drinking wasn’t a daily or even weekly issue, and who needs self-esteem when you can’t even put coherent thoughts together to get out of bed for half of every month? Plus, occasional drinking worked far better for me than any anti-anxiety prescription, hands down.
The last few months have been much better at dismantling my self-hate and subsequent binge-ing. I can see that nobody in my life was working against my self-worth and nobody has in a very long time (which I also realize is a luxury) It’s all been an illusion like this mental prison in which I keep running the bullshit script insecure [and sometimes genuinely terrible] people [that I no longer even know/associate with] implanted during my formative years that I still believe after years of adding my own masonry (to beat this metaphor to death.) I’ve started understanding that a lot of my beliefs about me were just wrong, that I have more power over myself than I assumed, and maybe a lot of the stuff other people believe about me isn’t just because I’ve tricked them. I’d had my suspicions about that before, but it’s starting to become real now.
Again, I’ve known that the only validation that’s going to make a difference is my own, but I struggle to know exactly how to do that. And vague tips like “Just love yourself!!!” are nauseatingly unhelpful in that they don’t give my ignorant ass any solid methodology.
The only way to get my Inner Saboteur to go away organically is to practice telling it to shut the hell up without chemical interference. It’s like a muscle I just have to flex a little more. I’m just coming out of a very long-term chronic illness that kept me isolated more than was healthy, so social situations are going to be a foil for awhile; I should treat them with extra care and arm myself with nonalcoholic options, and maybe, over time, the knowledge and comfort that I’m okay to exist in public as myself will become my new normal instead of this habit of routine self-destruction. I’ve started redefining alcohol as “Liquid Self-Loathing” instead of “Liquid Courage/Relief”, because that’s really how it’s always been for me. It’s served as a solid first step so far.
And I’ve started doing something I saw on someone’s Instagram that temporarily wrecked me when I first read it last spring. It was a challenge to “Name 5 Things You Love About Yourself!” I sat there for 15 minutes, staring into the middle distance, unable to do it. I couldn’t even think of one right there on the spot.
That felt gross.
So I started small and, whenever I noticed something about me that I liked – physical or otherwise – I took a minute to write it down. It took me six months to get a list of the first 5 things* and, even afterward, I found myself debating those bullet points in my head and resisting the urge to scribble them out. It’s weird that someone who was so damn confident before I was 10 (and I mean obnoxiously so. My mom has footage. I watch now and, between my cringing, I do envy that kid’s blind, almost-delusional arrogance) has such an inverse reality all these years later.
Still though, Struggle To Not Destroy Myself From The Inside aside, this a part of post-op recovery I’m still really grateful I get to experience. The alternative is muuuch worse than sitting here feeling physically/mentally better but whining about my self-esteem. I get that. I’m grateful I get to try to do it clean for a change.
*Oh, The List? Fine. I only have six so far. (And this isn’t me asking for help for more bullet points! Inside job! Heavy lifting! Self-sufficience!)
1) I have a really nice décolleté zone.
2) I can laugh at/make jokes about myself in a way that doesn’t involve me crying on the inside.
3) I’m reliably good at disarming people or diffusing tension with [sometimes inappropriate but always irreverent] humor.
4) I’m getting grey hairs coming in, which I love. I like to wobble my head around and watch it sparkle in the mirror before I go to bed.
5) Occasionally I photograph well.
6) I’m really good at admitting when I was wrong and apologizing without prompting – from little faux pas to massive fuckups. Similarly, I’m way, way better than ever at hearing constructive criticism without reacting negatively.