How to Not Hate Yourself Long Enough to Enjoy the Twinkle Lights
The holidays are exhausting in every way, good and bad. And for everyone they’re tinted with memories of the past, good and bad. No matter what, don’t forget that what Catherine O’Hara reminds the airport attendant in Home Alone, it’s also “the season of perpetual hope.” So, by jingle, I have hope that I won’t always hate myself. That’s my determined Christmas wish.
In the last few years since graduation, I’ve come a long way. I was fortunate enough to have the time to tackle my anxiety, depression, and PTSD head-on. Skilled therapists, mentors, family members, and other close confidants helped guide my ambition away from external rewards and turned it inward to securing my mental health. No one close to me would deny how hard I’ve worked.
Overwhelmed at first, I broke it into sections. I remember the moment: my mom was sitting in the bathtub with the door cracked and I was sitting on the floor outside the bathroom; the steam hitting my face, her calming voice echoing off of the tile. After laying it all out with her, I was filled with conviction. Determined that feeling purposeful and effective in my career was a priority, yes, but I also “needed to measure my success spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially.” I was going for maximum satisfaction. A few years later, I’ve come so close. I keep going through it all in my mind.
Spiritually: I have a better relationship with the Divine now than I ever have. God is finally more than a judgmental old professor in a beard, with a tweed jacket, glasses, and a pipe in front of the fire (ahem, my high school image of God, otherwise don’t ask me where that vision came from, I’ve never known a man like that in my life.) God or The Universe or the Divine (the Divine works for me) is truly everywhere and in every language and sex and life-form and inanimate object… I’m at peace with That.
Emotionally: Apart from medicine, vitamins, proper diet, and so forth – I’ve also got my artistic expression nailed down. Which pretty much takes care of the emotions in me that ache to run wild. I’ve found the joy in performing again. It’s a relief.
Physically: Phhh, yeah, I’d say I feel more physically alive than ever. Thanks yoga.
Socially: well, I’ve got best friends. In the plural. They’re amazing to me. And I love making new friends and having fun with strangers. I know that when I go looking for love is exactly when I won’t find it. Furthermore, I know when to spend time alone and when to get out there.
So, why am I still not satisfied?
I mean, I recognize that my career as an actor, writer, yoga teacher, future small business owner, director, professor, humanitarian/philanthropist, C.J. Craig PR aficionado is going to take me… well, my whole career. In the mean time, I love what I do. Truly and miraculously. Logically: I know what must be done, I simply must be patient. That’s what I keep arriving at…
Wait, why am I not patient?
OH RIGHT. Because I fucking HATE myself.
It’s illogical. It doesn’t line up with any of my accomplishments that I said make me deeply happy, because I mean it, they do. It’s just that I can’t enjoy this happiness as long as a part of me is stuck hating myself. Whenever this truth arises in the back of my mind, I shove it back down again. You don’t have any good reason to hate yourself, Natalie, for goodness sake.
See what happens? I hate myself for hating myself. “You’re your own worst enemy.” Yes, Natalie, you really are the worst, aren’t you? Give it a rest….ok, really not helpful.
SO, instead I try a gentle approach. “Natalie, why don’t you take a break? Watch some Netflix and chill.” I remind myself later – after I give myself space – of all of the good things in my life. The good things I’ve done. The good things I am. I make top ten lists of stuff to be grateful for. Top ten lists of positive attributes. Top ten lists of proudest moments.
A few days, a few weeks, a few minutes later… I’m back to, “I’m so fucked that these self-indulgent lists aren’t even picking me back up.” The good cop/bad cop cycle doesn’t make any sense. No matter how many people I go to for advice, for consoling, for commiserating, for help, for company…they all try one or the other.
Good cop: Natalie, why are you so sad? You’re wonderful! I admire you for this, that, and one other thing.
Bad cop: Natalie, why are you holding on to stuff that tears you down? You’re doing this to yourself.
You know sometimes these responses work? Because they come from other people, maybe. But definitely because they come from other people… they never last.
Eventually, with my closest friends, I bring up this indescribable presence of self-hatred. In the depths of my yoga teacher training, I mentioned that I didn’t think I’d ever stop hating myself in some respect – the aftermath of this statement brought me an eerie peace – but someone immediately to my left in the circle, broke it and said, “Phhh, you can’t think like that. It’s not true. It’s defeatist.” Then they all went back to being the good cop to my “hum drum, bad cop.”
Except I don’t think it was defeatist. A mentor of mine, who was there, recalled it with me later and agreed. There’s a truth there that needs to be addressed, we decided.
I’m good at procrastinating things. So, this eerie peace that acknowledging the self-hatred brought was swept aside by more activity. Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music says candidly to Elsa, “Activity suggests a life filled with purpose.” I filled up my life for several months with activity and while the sun was shining and my career inched forward (as well as all of my different areas of measuring success)… I ignored that self-hatred. Attacking it like I had before always left me exhausted and without any answers, anyway, so, you can hardly blame me for putting it off.
Well, true to procrastinating form, now it’s back with a vengeance. I think the holidays have that effect on everyone. Not that they make you hate yourself, but that they bring up latent thoughts, feelings, issues, or memories. They’re nostalgic. They somehow reconnect you with a part of you that you go most of the year without.
You know how it reconnects you? Magic.
And that’s exactly how I’m going to stop hating myself.
I let the repetition of the traditions, the smells, the people surround me and fill me up. And I feel everything, naughty and nice. I lean in. To all of it. I never stop trying, I just stop trying in ways that haven’t worked before. I let the wrappings of the season fill in the holes, then mindfully, I let go of that which doesn’t serve the me anymore whom I live with presently. I think I have to trick myself out of self-loathing. We all have our burdens, our crosses to bear. Our curses, if you will. I won’t settle for coping, but I suspect I won’t get rid of this mental pattern forever. It’s a part of me, so to deny that I loathe myself isn’t helpful. If I accepted that, I think I can accept the good parts, too, eventually. To stay safe and sane, and enjoy the tree, the lights, the food and the traditions of my holiday season, I have to look for reminders that I’m more than a single attribute on its own. Just like our holiday season shouldn’t be defined by the perfect present, the perfect decoration, the perfect party. While I can inhabit the space created by my thoughts, my feelings, the sum of my actions – I don’t have to stay there. I don’t have to just love myself or hate myself – I can take all of those emotions into one, by employing methods that I know work for me. Because I think if we get the magic of the holidays to work on our side, coax it to work for us; by living with magic, not against it, we can finally live fully. Here’s everything you need to know about creating said practical magic in your life.