Lately I have had a lot of conversations about personal growth and ownership with people from all walks of life. At various points I tell some of my life story, and, with it, I connect with the people I meet. The interesting part of it all is that it's older people and younger alike that I share these stories and life lessons with. It doesn't seem to matter who it is. With each conversation I have, I reflect on my life, my choices, my failures, and my successes, too. It has been a whirlwind of connections and life-changing experiences since I started reaching people through my words and classes back in 2015 (dance fitness) and in 2017 (my first book). I've loved it all, especially when I see people who find joy in my words and my talks. It is enough to make me very proud of what I have done thus far. But, with praise comes either pride or reflection or both. Only time will tell which it is or if it is both all together. I've spent a lot of time lately thinking on who I am today and my impact on the world I work in and around. Recently someone praised me for my abilities and told me how I was sent by God to help her when she needed me most. What? Is this where I am? What a trip! Now, I don't know if she is right or not, but that statement brought me back to my thinking and eventually here to my blog and a reflection of myself. Let me explain.
I look at me today and I see the body of a man who has done a lot of growth both physically (look at that belly) and mentally (it has been at least an hour since I threatened to kill someone). OK, while both those are true, the real truth is the body houses a person capable of bringing joy to people. I see him. I understand him. I look at him, and he has a sense of peace about him. Yes, he is still rough at times. He is still crude and inappropriate. He still can be a bit cold-hearted and too blunt for people. He can be all those things but more often than not he is not any of those, well except crude and inappropriate (We can't change everything, ya'll). In any case, this guy could live up the the statement "God sent you to me for ..." and not feel bad about the compliment. I was not always this guy. Heck, even the picture I chose lacks the usual vanity of my yesteryear self. (Full disclosure: I have a lot of vanity pics still. lol) Anyway, I look at him and I know he has come a long way, and that what I want to talk about today is the guy who lived in this body before... the younger me.
Talking to people about my history gave me the glimpse into a truth that I hadn't fully understood until recently. I've always had inclinations and understandings in some fashion, but I couldn't see it all clearly. What is that you ask? That the younger me hated himself. Wait, what? Yup, all this talking, sharing and such opened my eyes to what I hadn't seen. I hated myself. No, not the hate that would cause me to self-harm or become suicidal. The kind of hate that wouldn't let me be me. The kind of hate I see in many "strong men/women's" faces these days. You know it when you see it, and, to be honest, it is everywhere. It's hate that is akin to taking arsenic where you don't taste it, smell it, feel it, or even know it's happening until it is too late. Before you know it the "you" that you know is dead and the shell is there in its place. Looking back at my years of developing I realize that I poisoned myself with the proverbial arsenic. Don't get me wrong. I would not change one moment of one day of my life or my choices I have made because, in the end, I am the guy I am today because of that self-hate. It's a funny thing how life takes us one way to get us to another.
Now, you might be wondering how does one hate themselves without harming themselves. When I think of hating myself I think of all the things I did that weren't entirely true to me. I joined a clique/gang during my high school years because my buddies joined. I got in a circle of guys and got the shit kicked out of me for 10 minutes. I was called Temper 4 because I had a tendency to react in anger to things. I fought, I stole, I got high, I kicked it, and I almost got killed a time or two for something I didn't believe in. No, I wasn't a follower, though it may sound like it. I just didn't care what happened. I didn't want to die, but, as we say in the hood, "That's part of the game." I hated myself. I was willing to do dirt for nothing more than a name, hand gesture and bravado with boys and girls who hated themselves too. The interesting part of that is my mother loved me, my father, even battling addictions, loved me. My sister loved me. My grandparents loved me. I had neighbors who looked out for me and made sure I did what I was suppose to do. They also loved me. I had teachers, who did extra work with me because they saw the potential, again who loved me. Yet, here I am riding down the street with my boys trying to get into some shit for the hood. I hated myself. See, I didn't care about the love, or so I thought, and I risked everything to prove it. That is what self-hate is: doing something contradictory to what is true to self. Thanks to some iffy situations I left LA and the clique/gang life and graduated on time. Some days I feel just lucky to not have wound up dead or in jail. Then I think, "For what?"
Self-hate allows a person to be harsh when compassion is needed. It allows a person to step on others with the idea of "getting ahead" even though the act leaves him/her hollow or unfulfilled (at least) inside. It's the thing that makes a girl or boy lie in order for "friends" to accept her/him in the group. It isn't depression. It isn't cutting. It isn't pill-popping or drug-taking. It is fear. It is the fear of being the only person in your family to go to college. It is living your life as a heterosexual because your family is very religious and won't understand you. It is turning the other cheek and saying nothing when you see wrong because you don't want to stand alone. While those examples aren't specific to my life, the truth still remains: I hated myself.
Through the years I've hidden true strength behind a wall of wit, sarcasm, intelligence, and bravado to keep people at a distance. In it, I lost a marriage (the first), a relationship with my first kid, almost another marriage (the one I am in now) and many friends, family and associates. However, with each day I learned a few important rules of life that would eventually turn self-hate into authentic living. I think about those days of a wild crazy kid just trying to survive or make it, and look at all the things I missed or lost because I didn't love myself enough to be the best I could be. Even in the military I didn't do the best that I could. I didn't study for advancement. I didn't learn the small things to make me a better Airman, Sailor and Soldier. I just strolled on through letting whatever happen do just that: happen. I didn't love myself to do what was best for me and my family.
But, I learned to take the mask off, just like in this picture:
The mask you see is one I made while in college working on my Theatrical Arts Degree. It represents so much of what I mean by self-hate. One interesting fact is the prompt for this creation was to make a mask and then paint it to reflect who you are. I proudly painted mine camouflage to reflect the military. I am proud of my service and the men and women I served with. Yet, as I look at this picture and the mask, it shows so much more in hindsight. It is both great and not-so-great. Today, we are talking about how I hated myself. So let me break it down on how it represents just that.... self-hate:
No Words - The lips are sealed on this mask. When one hates themselves, they all but refuse to speak the truth, be it in their own defense or in honesty. In this mask, my voice is stifled; yet I gladly wear it.
No Eyes - The eyes sockets are covered with military-issued goggles. The mask does not have eyes, and, with the goggles, one cannot see the eyes of the person behind. If the eyes are the window of the soul, no one would see my soul. In this, I have protected me from others seeing my truth.
Hidden Face - Camo breaks up a person's face so he/she can blend in with the surroundings. It is to limit detection by the enemy. In this, though, it is to limit detection by people. If you can't see who I am for real, then you can't know me.
Hidden Pain - I can wear this mask hands free but at a cost. See, the mask fits my face perfectly. It should. I molded it to my face to create it. However, I would have to hold it in my hand to wear it, which means that people would know I wore a (proverbial) mask. The goggles run through the mask, and, in turn, wraps around the head. The connector on the goggles push into my temple as I wear the mask. This is extremely painful. I can't wear this mask for long (which is why it is on my wall as a display piece). However, to continue, self-hatred is just like that: it pains you to wear it. Your body can't take a lie for too long so you have to constantly change it or learn to live with the pain. Ever wonder why people do drugs or drink to numb? It is because the pain of the mask they wear is too much. The hidden pain is probably the worst of the pains.
As you can see in the pictures, I removed my mask through many years of self-reflection, humbling experiences, and personal growth. I don't need it any more because I am who I am, and, to be very honest, that is all I need to be. The mask represents self-hate. And while one hates themselves, the mask begins to suffocate the wearer of it. It stifles the voice. It blurs the soul (eyes). It is a parasite that can only feed off the hatred of the person in the mirror, and it must be removed.
I hated myself, but now I stand as a person spreading the love of self-love.
Once I stepped from behind the mask and no longer searched for the light to shine on me, the world opened up and listened to my story, my life, and my wisdom. As the title ask, "Where is love?" It is behind the mask. Take it off. Be you. Be proud of your strength, resolve, frailty, failures, successes, and everything else because you don't have to search for the light when you are the light.
To the me from many years ago that I hated so deeply, I say, "thank you" because without you I am not the man that "God sent" to that woman when she needed someone. Thank you for forcing me to remove that mask and be authentically me. Thank you.
I'll end with a simple question: What are you hiding behind?