Unlovable

Lovable: of such a nature as to attract; deserving; amiable; endearing.

Unlovable: not lovable: of such a nature as to repel; undeserving; repulsive; hateful.

I imagine everyone knows what it’s like to feel unlovable, if only briefly. It is a sense of unworthiness, a belief that there is no possible way or reason you could be loved. It is a feeling, a sense, a belief I know well. Perpetuated first by shame, feeling unlovable has been my constant companion for the better part of the past two decades. It has influenced my decisions and behavior. It has stolen happiness and left wounds and saddened me more than once. And it has continued to feed that which birthed it: shame. It all comes back to shame.

Shame researcher Brené Brown defines shame as:

The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

It sounds an awful lot like feeling unlovable to me.

Why I believe I’m unlovable, my reasons for such a diagnosis, per se, has evolved over the years, following the opposite path of Dictionary.com’s definition of “lovable” as if it was a map: this way to hating yourself.

When I was unmarried and pregnant and was being shamed by friends and family and the Christian group I belonged to and my own beliefs in right and wrong, I felt undeserving of love. I felt lucky, blessed even, that the man who was both the father of my child and my rapist wanted to marry me despite my shameful, repulsive state. So I married him and stayed married to him for a long time. My family and friends who did stand by me, they were kind and good beyond all expectation and necessity because I didn’t deserve their love or support. I didn’t deserve anyone’s.

I carried that sense of undeserving  into and through all the years of my marriage. I felt that being pregnant before I was married was something I would spend the rest of my life fighting to make up for. I was already a perfectionist, but now I thought being perfect might earn back my ability to be loved. But every time I failed to be perfect, I also failed to be lovable.

And when I started a new church early in my marriage and wanted so terribly to belong, be accepted, be loved, I believed the lies my mentors told me and followed their guidance to a fault. The group was for married, Christian women with young families; the mentors were highly respected women in the church who had raised or nearly raised their children to adulthood. I felt honored to be invited to be part of the group and sure that if I did what I learned there, I could lessen my shame and be worthy of the love and friendship of the other women, and I could deserve to be part of my church.

One night we talked about sex, and the mentors told us that we were to have sex with our husbands whether we wanted to or not. They called it “sympathy sex” because we were taking pity on our husbands’ desires and needs. It was guidance I took heart, having sex with my now-ex-husband again and again, whether I wanted to or not, an act that has left me with nightmares. I believe now that if I hadn’t been trying so hard to be the perfect mom and wife and member of my church, to be lovable, I would have seen the fault in their words; I might have spoken out about them. God help the other women who believed them.

Today feeling unlovable looks different for me. I do think I’m deserving of love. Rather, why would anyone want to love me? I have a dark past. I’m anxious and emotional and intense. I experience PTSD-like responses to unexpected triggers as a result of past trauma. I’m not an easy person to have in one’s life. Some might say high maintenance. Repulsive.

And if you’re not already repelled, I’m divorced and have children. My ex-husband, the man who raped me, is still an irremovable part of my life because of my children. And if you want children, I not only don’t, but I can’t have them anymore.

I have so much that I carry with me. I can’t imagine how anyone could possibly want to love me. It doesn’t matter that I’m a good person, have a good heart, or have a nice smile. The fact that I work hard and pay my own way doesn’t improve my prospects either. I deserve love, but that changes nothing. I have come so far and fought so hard to get here, but I believe all those repulsive and repelling things cancel that out. And my shame forces me to ask, who would want to be with someone like me?

Today a man I’ve been dating, and have really been starting to care about, told me he only wants to see me once or twice a week, at most. He’s not into texting, though phone calls are okay, occasionally. He said he’s easygoing and calm and that I’m intense and emotional, and that this perplexes him. But he told me that I shouldn’t alter my behavior—that is, my desire to talk to him and see him more often, my penchant for texting, my efforts to plan ahead, my need for connection, my intensity—for him, that I should be who I am. Then he said he’s going to be who he is too and not alter his behavior either. I’m not sure where this leaves us.

I don’t blame him for needing his space and time. Everyone needs those things, and some more than others. I certainly can’t fault him for standing firm in who he is, something I’ve personally struggled with in my own life. Rather, it is the sense that he can only take so much of me that it gives, the implication that if I want someone who can give me more of his time and attention, I should look elsewhere, that is hard to cope with. It echoes my feelings of being unlovable. Did I really expect more? I want to hold on to his assurance that my caring for him is reciprocated. Isn’t it better for part of me to be loved than none of me? I’m not sure what the answer is.

I want to be loved so much. I want someone to look at me and see only me, not my faults or past or children or mistakes or tears. I want someone to love all of me. I’m just not sure it’s possible.

There is no moral to this post. I’m not writing tonight to say I’ve learned anything or grown or overcome or won my battle against shame today. I still feel unlovable. I imagine I might forever. But I’ll still get up tomorrow morning, and I’ll still try to find someone who could possibly love someone with my history and flaws and challenges, and I’ll still fall in love, over and over again, even if it means I’m likely to get hurt. So if I’m nothing else, I am at least brave.

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Please Come Back to Facebook

No matter how you feel about it, Facebook is at the center of the social media universe. According to Pew Research, 76% of American Internet users were on Facebook in 2015. Currently, approximately 40% of world Internet users have Facebook accounts. We use it, our friends use it, our parents, our kids, our coworkers, our religious leaders, our politicians. It’s used to socialize, promote businesses, promote ourselves, inform, make plans, send invitations.

It’s also used to bully, berate, defame, prey, rant, and shame. It’s a platform for racism, sexism, heterosexism, and every other -ism in the dictionary. It has widened our social horizons, but it has also diminished our ability to interact with other humans face to face. While it feeds the basic human need to connect with others, it also nurtures isolation, and I think this is a key reason bullying, racism, etc., are so easy to pursue on Facebook.

These days, I barely use Facebook, and most of the time my account is deactivated. It’s a personal choice I made last fall for my own peace of mind. In fact, just removing Facebook from my life reduced the amount of stimuli I had to deal with, which reduced some stress. But there was more to it. And it’s all rising to the surface again this week as I’ve been pressured by several friends to end my Facebook abstinence. And so I want to explain.

This isn’t the first time I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. I’ve taken several two- to three-month hiatuses over the years. I used the time to finish my thesis and work on big projects at the office and at home. Time is the key word here. Facebook eats time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snacks. I would guess the main reason anyone might take a break from Facebook is time. But for me, this current hiatus goes deeper.

When I deactivated my account last fall, I was newly separated and divorced, working full-time, parenting two middle schoolers, working on severe anxiety with my counselor, and trying to make ends meet. I was sad, anxious, depressed, and harassed. I knew just walking away from Facebook would bring my stress levels down. But I resisted it for a while.

Facebook Messenger was how I communicated with friends and family, and how would I know of my ex-husband posted something about the kids, or worse, about me. What if something big happened or if my friends didn’t know how to reach me any other way? I feared isolating myself and losing touch.

Then I realized that some of these things I was using to justify staying were actually making my life more stressful. And in the end, it was three of these triggers that sent me flying for the “deactivate” option, the same three triggers that came immediately to mind this week.

  1. My sister was madly posting anti-divorce memes and quotes, and making judgmental statements on a regular basis and more often than usual since my separation.
  2. My ex-husband was posting shirtless selfies for no-shave November on at least a weekly basis, the sight of which made me uneasy.
  3. My Facebook feed was filled with pictures of amazing, happy couples, and looking at them made me feel beyond sad. Especially those of a particular friend whom I had developed feelings for in recent months.

Feeling angry and hurt, disgusted and sad weren’t worth it. I needed to take care of myself. I left Facebook to ease mind, and it helped. I knew I was missing out on some things. I’d hear, “Did you see that cool story on Facebook?” Or, “Did you get my message?” And I’d have to remind family members I didn’t see their announcements because I’m not on Facebook. But most of my friends easily made the adjustment. They found other ways to message with me, or they called me.

And the longer I was away, the more I realized I didn’t actually miss it. I didn’t need all the minute updates of friends’ and family members’ lives. I didn’t need the stress of happy couples. I didn’t need the stress of other people’s anger or judgment. I didn’t need to see my ex-husband—or anyone else—exposing himself to the world.

Since I’ve been asked to return to Facebook again this week, I’ve had to reconsider these things I don’t need or miss. Are the things I want, the things I do miss worth the anxiety or shame or sadness I could experience going back? Am I taking care of myself if I return to a situation I already know will cause a great deal of stress?

It’s possible my sister won’t post divorce things anymore. It’s not November, so my ex likely won’t be posting pictures of his beard (and chest). But my friends are still in love, and there will always be judgment and always be stressors.

People are isolated, anonymous, so it’s easier to share one’s opinion—to force one’s opinion on one’s friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. It’s easier to share pictures of our bodies or our private relationships because we don’t see who’s looking at them. We speak freely on Facebook because we don’t see who we’re hurting.

But at the same time, I know I can’t expect my family, friends, and acquaintances to protect me from their lives. I can’t judge what they post. I can’t assume it’s about me. I can’t ask them to be more careful for my sake. I can’t ask them not to share their happiness with me. Rather than it being about what they do or don’t do, it’s about me. It’s about knowing what I can cope with, what I can guard myself against, what I can accept. It’s about knowing my boundaries and when I need to walk away. It’s about knowing me.

So I’m back to my decision. Do I reactivate my Facebook account because a few friends want to socialize with me in that way? Am I ready to place myself within an environment I know will cause me stress?

No, I’m not. My anxiety is still too high and the sadness is too deep. I’m still traumatized by the past. I am still susceptible to being shamed.

I know I can’t avoid the social media world forever. But I can choose to give myself a little more time, to take care of myself until I’m stronger and steadier emotionally  and until I’m ready to face courageously the challenges that await.

I Bring Myself Flowers

Today would have been my 15th wedding anniversary.

I remember my wedding day in emotions and moments that flash like snapped photos. Waking up with my sister beside me. My hair ratted and pinned in a way I both hated and felt I deserved. Getting dressed with my closest friends all around me. Laughing, smiling.

Shame.

My grandmother annoying the photographer by stealing his flash. My grandfather, who’d I’d lose in a year, watching with joy.

Guilt.

Crying as my parents walked me down the aisle and not knowing why. Wondering if everyone knew I was pregnant, if everyone despised me for it. Crying through the beginning of the ceremony and the pastor trying to calm me down.

Sadness.

A rose falling from my bouquet with a resounding, mic’d thud. Laughing, finally. Tulle catching on fire after we’d left the church. Being overwhelmed in the reception line.

Embarrassment.

A cake decorated by a dear friend. Kissing my bridesmaid and not understanding why she was sad. Thinking everyone was being so kind to me and that I didn’t deserve it, not even on my wedding day, and especially not because I was five months pregnant.

Shame.

Not wanting to have sex with my new husband on our wedding night and not understanding why. A foot of snow overnight. Pizza for breakfast. Finding out my bridesmaids’ sadness was because their grandfather died on my wedding day and feeling somehow responsible because it was my growing belly that made that day what it was.

Shame lies at the center of even what should have been one of the happiest days of my life. I have never remembered it as such. There was happiness that day, but every minute of it was tainted. I didn’t believe I deserved a single good thing that happened to me that day. I didn’t believe that my friend should have grown flowers to decorate my wedding cake and reception. I didn’t think that friends should come help decorate the church and reception hall. I didn’t think I deserved to look beautiful. Or feel beautiful.  I was ashamed of every part of my body, and I thought it was a just punishment.

I was hurt that friends had chosen not to come because of my “delicate situation,” and sad that everything was so rushed that my best friend couldn’t be there because he was on the other side of the world at the time. I was embarrassed that everyone knew I was pregnant and so grateful people were nice to me anyway.

Today has been a difficult day. The memories, the emotions, the sadness of what today might have been mixed with the relief for what it is no longer.

The night a friend called me out for still feeling ashamed about getting pregnant before I was married, it changed my entire perspective, almost in an instant. So many things happened in that moment: I realized he was right; I still felt shame. I’d just managed to lie about it, even to myself, for years. I also realized how much in life I’d missed out on because of that shame. And I realized that my entire marriage had been based on shame and that I no longer wanted to be married. I wanted my life back; I wanted to be myself again.

Today reminds me of how much my world has been overshadowed by shame. It made me believe I didn’t even deserve to be loved or treated well. It made me believe I added nothing to this world, that I was worthless.

So what I can do tonight is combat that shame with the goodness I now know I have.

I am loved. By my kids and my friends; they have acknowledged me and my struggles, and they love all of me. And I deserve that love, not because of anything good I’ve done, but because I live and breathe.

I am strong. After more than a decade, I have survived the steady beating of shame against my soul and still come out whole. Bruised and scarred and hurting, but still standing.

I am brave. Courage is being afraid of something and facing it anyway. Fear has never stopped me. Not when I was unmarried and pregnant, and not when I left my marriage six months ago, alone and against the will of even my own sister.

I am good. I am kind and loving and I care about people. There are good things about me that no one can take away. And I deserve just as much as anyone else to find joy, be loved, and make peace with myself.

I love myself. For so long I didn’t think I deserved even my own love, but I’ve learned that I do. And now I love and take care of myself. I bring myself flowers and take myself out for coffee. I am kind to myself.

I am me. As the shame is peeled away layer by thick, painful layer, I am finding beneath an amazing woman. She’s funny and interesting and worthy of good things, and she has amazing dreams for the future. She’s going to be okay.

It is these things that have taught me that shame cannot hold me. It cannot prevent me from living a good life. Not anymore.

Today is sad day because it marks the going dark of something I thought would be a part of my life forever. But it is a happy day too because, though I’m marking what was and what might have been, I’m acknowledging what is. I’ve come so far, accomplished so much, and I have the entire future ahead of me.

Unfreezing

Rough days come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re caused by people or stressors outside of ourselves; sometimes they’re caused by what’s within. Sometimes both. Sometimes they freeze us so completely we can’t go forward or backward. Sometimes they last 72 hours.

I’ve been having one of those days, but I’m inching my way out of it, bit by bit, and wanted to share how, because I know I’m not alone. My advice, ask for help (you don’t have to do it alone); ask for prayer (if this is a thing you do); do the next tangible, logical thing (for me this morning, this was getting out of bed and making breakfast and coffee); and then the next thing and the next; and go slow (stop to take care of yourself between each thing if you need to). Most importantly, be brave.

The problems, concerns, worries, sadness don’t go away in this, but I am moving, not frozen, which means I’ll be able to change, deal with, cope with, fix things in time—my time.