Right. So. I’ve spent the afternoon having an excellent conversation via Facebook chat with one of my readers. I hate calling them ‘fans’ as that sounds like I’m famous or important…and come on, we all know better than that. As the conversation went on, this nice young lady did a bit of a psych eval on me. I finally realized at some point that this was most likely because I am one of the most self-deprecating humans on the planet, and within seconds, another realization that to those that don’t know me, I probably seem like one of those types that truly is hateful of himself.
You know, the kind of Debbie Downer that makes everyone uncomfortable because when they say something like, “I suck”, everyone around them knows that the person indeed believes that he or she feels like a complete and total loser who has no value in life to themselves or to others around them.
The kind guy like me, who thought all through junior and senior high school my name was “Kill Yourself” because anytime someone said something to me, it always started with “Kill Yourself”.
So I decided I should write a new blog post to say a few things that I think are important. No, not about me, I’m definitely not important (I can see this nice young lady cringing at each self-inflicted insult I produce, by the way). Some of it will be about me, but that’s because there are many like me who use self-deprecation as a form of humor, and there are many more who use it as a defense mechanism for poor self-esteem, and then there are the majority who use it because for some reason or other, they truly do believe they aren’t worthy of any respect or compliment.
So…right up front:
THIS IS NOT ME (the part about truly believing I’m terrible)
Just for the record, and this is the only time you will ever hear me utter these words in public or private, unless you are my wife, who is now tired of hearing how awesome I think myself to be (heh):
I am a damn good writer. I believe in myself, and I know that eventually I’ll be popular enough to pay my mortgage with book sales. I don’t believe I am Hemingway or Dickens or Fitzgerald, hell, I don’t even believe I’m King or Scalzi or even Hugh Howey. That would just be ridiculous and egomaniacal. However, I do believe that I have enough talent and skill to write popular books that readers will enjoy.
The problem is, I HATE saying such a thing out loud. I even hate saying such a thing internally. It is the kind of thing that people say about themselves that makes the rest of us hate them for being blowhard, conceited jackasses. So I tend to spend my time talking about how awful I am, what a talentless hack I am, and how you should never read anything that I write unless you are a glutton for punishment or have a good ambulance-chasing lawyer that can win a civil suit against me for lowering your IQ.
Now…there. I’ve said it. I’d rather not repeat it again for another six or seven years. If ever. It makes me uncomfortable. Not that I don’t believe it, no, never that. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t put myself out in the public arena for everyone ridicule. It makes me uncomfortable for saying it because I’d like to believe that I’m humble. I DO worry that what I write might be considered molding excrement, but I believe in myself enough to go ahead and click the PUBLISH button so everyone can find out for themselves (yes, we are back to me and my favorite pastime of talking smack about myself).
So…that being said and out of the way and me feeling properly foolish for doing it, let’s talk about what this post is really about. A new friend that lives in Boise, Idaho (where I live) asked me to write something for teens/adults that might need a little encouragement that their lives also have meaning and purpose. I guess it was supposed to be about LGBTQ themes, but as I was having the conversation with the nice young lady on Facebook (who, by the way, I am NOT trying to make her feel like I’m calling her out or anything negative, I truly enjoy having conversations of the kind we were having, especially with someone who has read one of my books and seems genuinely interested to talk about random things. I like smart people!), I realized that my LGBTQ friends and family struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence issues the same as others do who aren’t LGBTQ.
And then I also thought, the same thing can be said of those that are considered a ‘minority’ because of their race or ethnic background. And then I thought the same thing about anyone who is ‘different’ for any reason. A kid that has Asperger’s. A girl who is bisexual. A boy with autism. An African-American in a mostly white school or job.
While there are many reasons anyone that is ‘different’ would have low self-esteem and no self-confidence, those reasons are beyond the scope of my expertise and this blog post. This post is intended to be more about self-esteem than it is about the reasons behind it being low to non-existent.
So I’ll start with myself, though I have to give you some reasons as to why I am the way I am. In your head, you’ll know your own backstory about yourself. As far as I’m concerned these days, my reasons and backstory aren’t all that important (in fact, they acted as a hindrance to me believing in myself because I focused on them instead of focusing on what made me valuable as a human being). But I suppose you should know a little something just so I don’t sound like some pretentious asshole who thinks he is going to write one of those self-help books that basically says “SHUT UP AND STOP WHINING YOU CRYBABY!”
From the time I can remember until I ran away at age thirteen, my mother was worse than any movie monster or terror from a book. The only thing I didn’t have to deal with is sexual abuse, so I’m thankful for that, but everything was fair game for my mom. She was this huge, four hundred pound woman with false teeth and such a miserable outlook on life that it’s amazing she and I both didn’t commit suicide at some point. What is more amazing is that I never ended up in a morgue and her in a prison jumpsuit.
I don’t think you need details, but just in case you do, I’ll give you one. When I was maybe six or seven, somehow I became fascinated with the knife block and the very awesome, very sharp knives that resided within it. When my mom was at work one day, which in itself was a rare occurrence as she worked maybe three hundred days total in the thirteen years I lived with her, I decided to take a closer look at the knives.
What that translates into is that I pulled each knife out, one by one, examined it closely, admiring the way the blades looked, the way the handles felt in my tiny child hands (these things were like swords to me). At some point I played “choppity-chop” with them, which also translates into admiring each knife by banging its blade against another knife’s blade as if I were banging drumsticks together. Oh, yes, you are correct. It really did a number on those knives. But I was, like I said, six or seven, and my mother would leave me home alone while she went to work. She’d grown out of tying my wrists the bedposts before leaving in the morning or afternoon by this time, knowing that eventually my older brother or sister would come home and free me.
It was maybe that night or the next, whenever Mom grabbed one of the knives from the block to cut one of her hockey pucks (aka a steak or pork chop or chicken breast…she was not a good cook at all), and shrieked in fury. She started pulling out each knife, raging more at each one, all while I was playing with army guys or GI Joe action figures on the living room carpet, my asshole starting to crawl up inside itself as my brain began to relay that a nuclear fireball was about to engulf me.
And it did. You can’t really imagine how fast a four hundred pound woman can move until you see one of those big, fat, awkward-looking spiders rush across a web faster than the eye can follow to start spinning a bug up in its silk. One instant I was shrinking into the carpet, knowing my doom was approaching, the next, I was being flung across the room as if I were a pillow and she was trying to squash a fly that had landed on a random wall.
I don’t remember how long this went on, but long enough I’m sure, as my mother never did this kind of thing half-assed. What I do remember is standing in front of the kitchen table with hands buried in my armpits, bawling loudly, watching my mom lay the knives out on the counter next to her. I distinctly remember hoping she wouldn’t pick up the one that looked like a meat cleaver (it wasn’t a cleaver, but it looked like a big machete to my eyes) just as she picked up the one that looked like a meat cleaver.
I also remember her commanding me to put my hands on the table in a voice that was no longer drowning in rage, but one that was flat and dead as if it were coming from a reanimated corpse. When I asked why between sniffles and sobs, she informed me that she was going to cut my fingers off. Yes, you can imagine the wail that came from me as I tried to dig my fingers inside of my armpits.
It quickly became a one-sided debate between me and my mother. She would command that I indeed take my hands out from under my arms and put them on the table so she could cut off my fingers. Her reasoning was that I would never be able to ruin her knives or anything else again. I would cry and say (or scream, I did a lot of screaming in fear) no. She would reply in that same voice, though it started edging again towards fury the longer I refused to comply with her order, to put my hands on the table so she could cut my thieving little fingers off. I’d never be able to steal from anyone again, nor would I be able to ruin anything again.
And as I stood there, I knew, I KNEW that if I obeyed her, I would lose a finger. I would lose every finger I laid on that kitchen table. I might even lose my hand at the wrist. I KNEW she was insane enough to do it. All I could do was imagine the knife slicing down from above, and feeling the intense pain of what it must feel like to have your fingers cut from your body in such a violent way. I really can’t describe the terror within me, not even to this day, and it is one of those awful memories that is as vivid now as the night it happened. I still get that weak, sick feeling in my stomach, my asshole still tries to crawl in on itself, and my brain reverts back to childhood and I’m still filled with the same mindless terror that ate me up inside that night.
That’s about a one hour slice of my life, so you can guess I am no stranger to such things.
I escaped when I was thirteen and lived with my grandmother across town. By fifteen and after having been part of the juvenile justice system for a while, I had found my father, whom I’d never met and only talked to once in fifteen years, and went to live with him. What was supposed to be a joyous reunion turned into another couple of years of living hell. He was clinically insane and refused to take his medication, unless you consider booze a medication. By then I was grown up a bit, having come into my full height, and full of rage from a lifetime of abuse.
My father was abusive, but he only got physically abusive with me once, and I put him down hard in the shower after he tried to attack me in the bathroom. The rest of the time it was a continuation of the verbal and mental and emotional abuse that my mother was an expert at.
The point of all that was to let you know that I spent a lot of my years knowing I was lower than dirt, that I was worthless, that I was useless, that no one loved me (my mother, in the thirty-some years of my life she was alive before finally dying of cancer, never once said she loved me. I suppose this is where this whole ‘mommy issues’ thing stems from, and I will readily admit that yeah, this was a big problem. If you are a mommy or a daddy and you never tell your child that you love them, I only wish mean things on you). I did a lot of drugs to dull the pain and to escape from my own living hell of being a nobody that would never amount to anything other than a criminal or a loser (or a loser criminal, but that’s almost like a double-negative).
I gave up what looked like would be a promising baseball career before it ever got started. I don’t blame the drugs (though I was too busy doing them to keep practicing and stay in school so I could keep playing and get scouted). I don’t even blame my mom so much anymore, though I know this is pretty much all her fault.
And that’s the thing that I want to talk about. This isn’t some “TOUGHEN UP, WE ALL HAD ROUGH LIVES” post calling anyone who feels the way I felt a sissy, a loser, an excuse-maker. I had to get over all of these things before I could make any progress. Some of you have had much worse, much more traumatic horrors happen to you than I could, and some of you had it with much more regularity.
That shit doesn’t just up and disappear one day when you wake up and think, “I’m going to be different from now on, and not let this bother me anymore.” You have to find that deeply-buried thread of what makes you special, what makes you important, what makes you YOU inside, and you have to gently coax it out from under the layers of scar tissue, self-hatred, emotional trauma, and bring it to the surface so you can begin to weave it into something beautiful something strong, something that will protect you from anyone else that you might meet in your life that will try to make you relive your past when they inform you that you should kill yourself, that you aren’t good enough, that you should just give up.
All of us have this thread within us. Every last one of us. Except maybe true sociopaths and such. But anyone that has the capacity to love has one of these threads within our core. Years of abuse or bullying or discrimination or shame will bury it deep down inside you. Most of the time so far within you that you don’t even know it is there. Once in a while you accidentally brush up against it, those times when you feel a rush of emotions like love for someone, joy at an event, even a compliment.
I won’t say it doesn’t matter how or why it got buried (even though I probably did earlier) with 100% certainty because I’m not a psychiatrist or therapist or even that smart of a dude. Everyone is different, and what works for one doesn’t always work for another. But the one universal truth is that we all have this thread within us, and when we find it and nurture it and grow it and weave it into a second skin for warmth and protection, it changes who we are.
Who we are has always been inside us, but people like me, maybe you, we’ve lived a lie for too long, sometimes our whole lives. The change isn’t our core. The change is the shell, the lie that we’ve built around ourselves that we discard finally. Sometimes it peels off in small, thin layers, like one of those oranges that isn’t quite fully ripe and it annoys the hell out of you because it takes twenty-six minutes to peel and even then you still didn’t get all that weird Styrofoam-type white stuff off it. Sometimes it rolls off you like muddy water. Again, everyone is different when their transformation takes place.
Like any butterfly fresh from the cocoon, when we finally emerge, we are raw, soft, and easily damaged. It takes time for our skin to harden, for our resolve to harden into a protective barrier that can keep out all but the sharpest cuts or crushing blows. Soon though, it is time to spread our wings and fly away, leaving the old shell of us behind, and head towards the sweet nectar of all the flowers that life has to offer us.
And I’m sure that this all sounds like I stole it right out of some sappy poem, but I didn’t. But it sounds like it. It’s a lot more flowery than I normally get, but as I’ve witnessed from a first-person perspective, and looked back over it objectively a good deal of time after it happened to me, it is a beautiful thing. To watch myself blossom and grow as a person, leaving all of my hatreds behind (except for the Detroit Red Wings, and that stupid show “Toddlers & Tiaras” which seems to me like legal child pornography or a show specifically aimed at pedophiles) was one of the most satisfying, beautiful things that I’ve ever experienced.
Leaving the hate and the shame and the guilt behind is essential. It wasn’t an overnight thing for me, and it won’t be for you. But at some point in your life, you have to come to the realization that everything that happened to you can never be changed unless you invent a time machine and go back to fix it (which then really screws up timelines and you might pop back into the present with little T-Rex arms and a furry tail).
Again, whatever has happened to you, can NEVER be undone. No therapy in the world, no religion, no amount of soul searching will undo what was done to you. The only thing you can do is put every ounce of energy into never allowing anyone to ever do that to you again as you find the thread within you, and protect it, grow it, and eventually shroud yourself in.
I don’t know who you are, but I can guess right now that you have at least five things in you that make you not only unique, but valuable as a person to others. And I’m not just talking about ‘he can fix small engines like Carl from “Sling Blade”‘ either. That does make you valuable, and that might be one of the five things you are good at. But I’m also talking about the internal things. The way you make people laugh. The way you tell a story that has everyone listening to the end and wishing you would tell more. The way you run your fingers down your partner’s back that makes him or her sigh in pleasure the way no one ever has before.
There are more than five things in you that make you worthy of continuing to breathe oxygen and live in society without being a pariah. I don’t know all of them, but you do. You might not want to admit it, heck, you might have even hidden those things behind a barrier that you erected a lifetime ago. But they are there. They are real. You have value, not only to others, but to yourself.
Take me, for example. I’m awful, I’m tall and gangly, I’m hideous and physically repulsive, and I tend to perform verbal (textual) masturbation at inopportune times (like in a social setting full of people three grades above my standing). But no matter how many scathing 1-star reviews readers might leave on Amazon or elsewhere after reading my books, I know that I am very good at putting words on a page (okay, this is the second time I’ll say I’m kind of decently worth appreciating for my one or two qualities).
Sure, it still hurts when someone trashes me or my work. Sometimes I even catch myself imagining that I’m a shitty writer who should drink bleach instead of typing another word on my keyboard. But these days, that kind of thing hits me and either bounces off, or slides off quickly. I know that I might be only a 1-star type of writer to a reader, but that is more than balanced by the fact that nine readers think of me as a 5-star type of writer. In my world, NINE is a much greater number than ONE.
And this is the thread inside each and every one of us that we must find and bring back out to the surface. You have to begin believing that you have worth, that you have value, that you are meaningful to others around you. You have to realize that people, much like yourself sometimes, will use their own misery to try and bring you down, to make your sense of self-worth and your accomplishments and talents and skills bottom out below theirs.
More importantly, you have to come to the hard realization that you did not deserve what happened to you. Whoever did what they did to destroy your self-confidence was that way before they ever crossed your path, whether it is an ex-spouse or your own father. You have to learn to stop blaming yourself for what others project on you. And that very rare case that you did deserve what happened to you (much like I most certainly deserved what happened to me in my twenties that I brought on myself), you have to get past that and begin to believe that the person who did all of that might have been you, but that isn’t you anymore.
If you robbed banks when you were younger but are reading this now, I’m pretty sure you are no longer a bank robber. If you were a bully or an abuser or someone who lived to tear others down, that isn’t who you are anymore. And if it is, you know it, and you don’t like it. If you do like it, you probably should seek professional help or incarceration. For the rest of us who want to be happy, to have a good life (not necessarily a rich, wealthy, famous life, just a good one), the person inside us that wants these things is the person that has to be the butterfly, and your ‘bad’ self has to be the cocoon.
Never let anyone tell you that you don’t have worth. Never let anyone tear you down because you are gay, black, read science fiction, write erotica, are a republican or democrat…never let anyone touch that thread within you unless they are going to help you nurture and grow it, maybe even help you weave it into that protective, warm covering that will start to allow you the confidence to go about your daily life and leave all of the shit that falls on you behind. That thread is kind of like teflon as well. I should probably mention that.
You are somebody. You have worth. You are important. You have talent and skill and ability. Find yourself. Find your worth. Find your importance. Use your talent and skill and ability.
Now, if you read this far, you probably have a lot of complaints about how I’m supposed to be an author yet I’ve got a ton of errors in this post. That’s cool, I’m down with a few 1-star reviews of my blog posts. But I wrote this all out at once, with only a short break for dinner. It probably does have spelling and grammar and punctuation errors in it, and I will come back and fix those so that the two out of three readers that actually pay attention to this blog will have one less thing to complain about.
Also, believe in yourself. I believe in myself, and my life has been rounding the corner into happiness for a long time.
If you wish to talk privately or tell me your story (I won’t write about it, don’t worry, personal stories are personal for a reason), you can drop me a line at my gmail address: