I had coffee after work yesterday with my priest.
He is my priest, but he is also my friend. His wife is one of the important people in my life…a supporter, a role model, a real friend.
The boundaries are fuzzy…but suffice it to say that I have a deep love for my friend and her family…including her husband, who also happens to be the person who helps me navigate aspects of my spiritual life.
I have struggled to accept my own self-worth. My own self-love. My own grace and compassion.
A year and two months ago, I felt compelled to go to church…something I had sworn off and no longer believed in. The hypocrisy…the judgment…the exclusiveness…it had long ago driven me away from religion as I knew it.
So, the desire to just go to church made no logical sense to me.
However, I was long past the logical, and deeply entrenched in the emotional.
So I arrived at church.
I struggled. I felt uncomfortable. But, I kept going.
And, I found community. I found openness. I found support.
I found that I loved it.
The community is what keeps me. The religious part is still difficult for me.
My priest firmly believes that we are all inherently lovable because that is how God created us. To him, it is as simple as that. We are all beloved. That should be enough. If we know God loves us…that should be enough.
But…it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel like enough because I don’t physically feel loved.
And, I desperately want to feel loved.
It leaves me open. It leaves vulnerable.
Despite all of the things that have happened to me, I do not turn away from love. Instead, I turn eagerly toward it.
Last night, we discussed this vulnerability. We discussed how it is probably the core of so many of my struggles.
My priest said, “I know you shared that you were sexually molested as a child. Doesn’t that leave you vulnerable to these feelings of worthlessness?”
It is such a complicated answer.
The simple answer: Yes. Of course it does.
And, while the fact that I was harmed in this way as a young girl–and again as a burgeoning adult–does matter, and does affect me–the problem feels so much more systemic than these two isolated situations.
In therapy, I am stuck and frustrated because I can’t quite pinpoint an exact moment or situation where I first felt so unlovable.
And that is the problem.
It is bigger. Yes, I am sad and affected when I think about what happened to 6 year old me. But, I am more sad an affected that what happened to me was allowed to happen to me.
I am more sad and affected when I consider that I was never allowed to share what happened. That I didn’t trust it.
That I couldn’t share how I felt.
That I couldn’t ask to be held.
That I wasn’t ever told that my anxieties and tummy troubles were normal reactions to stress and difficult situations.
That I was told, my entire life, to essentially suck it all up.
Hold it all in.
I am sad that, as an 18 year old, I could not report my date rape. I could not do anything but freeze. I could not even angrily ignore him afterwards. No…I felt guilt for allowing it to happen. I felt like I could not make a big deal about it. I had to make sure that he still liked me.
He raped me. But I was worried that he didn’t like me afterwards. Do you see how fucked up that thinking is?
It is so much more than one instance.
It was chronic…daily…small interactions that had a big impact.
Small interactions that made me feel unloved. Unheard.
I try so hard, as a parent AND as a teacher, to never make my children….or my students…feel this way.
I am compelled to do what I do to prevent it from happening to another child. Or, especially, my own children.
While I can very easily treat other children with love, compassion, and kindness…with everything I WISH I had received as a child…I still can’t treat myself this way.
There is a voice. A part of me that is always there. That is louder than any other voice. That carries so much more weight than anything else I could ever possibly tell myself.
That voice that undermines so much of the hard work I have done.
The one that always tells me I don’t deserve to be loved.
That I have no real value.
That the things I am good at are just show….that no one would like me or appreciate me if they knew the REAL me.
That voice? It is impossible to argue with. I try. I do. But, time and time again, that stupid voice brings out all of my fear…all of my vulnerability.
It makes me scared. Nervous. Sure that I will lose the things–the people–I love.
All because I don’t deserve them.
So, I look to my people for reassurance. Sometimes, I simply require it. I just need to hear, You matter! or I love you! or You are so important to me!
I can’t believe it myself. These words reassure me that I have some value.
But…my value is wrapped up in what is said. If it isn’t said? I feel worse. I worry more. I get more scared.
And…when someone tells me everything I have been starving to hear? It is like the most amazing feeling. I want to believe them…but…what if their words hold no value? What if I believe them because I am simply so starving to hear them?
Does that mean I have no true value? That words are just empty?
…Do you see the problem?
I don’t know where my own belief in my value went. I don’t know exactly when I lost it.
And…I don’t know how to get it back.
Not for you. Or them.
But, just for me.