It was in third grade or so when I attended a birthday party/sleepover for a fellow classmate, a girl who was not my friend but whose mother, like most mothers, was deluded into thinking that anyone in her class was a good enough friend to invite over to spend the night. I had known her since kindergarten
, but we were never friends; I was never friends with any of the girls in my class, or in my school for that matter.
In the wee hours, we were goofing in the front room of her family's beach house and I actually found myself warming up to them. We got on some topic of self image and another girl asked me what I saw when I looked at myself in the mirror. I told her I didn't like what I saw. She asked, "If you don't see anything good about yourself, then why should I?" I shrugged and we stayed on the topic briefly until it faded out into something else, much to my relief.
When people think of low self-esteem, they probably pity anyone who has it, like cancer. Like it's something we don't deserve and so we should be able to just snap out of it. I compare it to anorexia, another crippling social disease that no one really takes seriously and most people can't understand, thinking that it is easily solved by a statement of the facts: you are not fat, you are not ugly, you are not stupid, and so on.
But like anorexia, low self-esteem is not easily fixed. You can't just tell an anorexic to eat, stuffing food down her stomach, and think that by fattening her up you have solved the riddle of her problem. She has to re-learn what food means, its purpose and function, that it was meant to be enjoyed and digested, it was meant to be part of bigger chunk of being human. In both cases, someone has tried to transcend the trappings that have everyone else in chains. I don't need anyone. I can take care of myself. No one will ever care about me or accept me. I can't trust you. I'm worthless. By saying this mantra to myself for 24 years now, subconsciously, I had grown to believe it was all true, no matter who came along to prove to me otherwise.
Some of it stems from over-protective but absent parenting, the kind that says, "I don't know what to do for you, but I don't want you sleeping over at Shannon's house, either; why don't you have her come over instead?" Without any armor and thrust into the social world of other kids, I seldom made choices that were good for me. I was looking for someone to follow, someone to guide me. You'll never follow the right people going at it this way, I've decided, and my choices couldn't have been worse.
It is no surprise that I picked a college 8 hours away from my family in a state I've never seen, and that I left to attend it at the age of 16. It may have been the only thing that delivered me, but in the end it only deposited me on someone else's doorstep, where I would follow him for four more years, all the way to New Orleans. Here is where I made the break to follow myself (and God; He helped too), but it was a hard road, and even now I haven't found the end of it.
What do you do once you realize that you were robbed of healthy human relations because of your own low self-image, that you thrived in areas that had the least to do with people? I graduated with a 3.8 in college and I was proud of myself, but my life was at the brink of falling apart. Here I am now making more money than I ever have, being the most self-sufficient I've ever been, and I am entirely alone, with no one to share it with or take pride in what I've done. What is life worth, if you shut out the world, if you can't let anyone love you?
I can't say that if I had become a great success (which for me would be to teach or write and get paid for it) it would have made discovering this any less painful. I am grateful, at least, that I didn't drag someone with me and have a family or husband in tow before I came to these realizations; it wouldn't have happened anyway, guarded as viciously as I am. Now I just have to apply what I've learned and see where it takes me. It's all anyone really knows to do.