I used to hate myself.
If you would have met 9 year-old me, you probably would have understood why. Recently having immigrated from the Ukraine, I had fierce math skills, a thick accent, and an affinity for spoonfuls of mayonnaise.
Walking down the hallways of an upper-class school I attended simply to access the gifted program, wearing the hand-me-downs of the older kids, saying I didn’t fit in would be an understatement.
I dove into my books, not only my textbooks, but into every single book at the library.
Books will teach you a lot, but they will never teach you social skills.
In the absence of contact with real-live people, I began to feel paranoid and uncomfortable in public. No matter where I went, I couldn’t seem to shake off the feeling of being judged and watched. I couldn’t look them in the eye. I couldn’t be honest. I would just lie and lie, hide and hide.
In hiding, I found a new friend. I found television. TV was not a good friend.
As a child, I would daydream about leading giant amounts of people to something amazing. I imagined myself as a singer, a politician, an actress, or some other spot in the limelight. And yet, there was no one on the television who came even close to resembling an overweight Eastern European girl who rolled her Rs and did algebra on a Friday night.
Over time, my life experiences only narrowed my limited view of myself, people, and the world. I got teased, ridiculed, and taken advantage of in unthinkable ways. And yet, my greatest enemy was me.
I began to lead on an extremely abusive relationship with myself. Each moment of rejection by my peers became even worse when I was on my own, rubbing in my inadequacies. Each time I watched a movie or a TV show, I would end up naked in front of the mirror, crying at my million and a half flaws.
Looking back, I’m not surprised I started drinking and taking drugs. No one can live inside a mind like that. No one can survive in this world with an enemy in their head.
Over the years, my self-image transformed. I went from being the lonely, rejected loser to the cold, badass genius. My idols were Sherlock Holmes and Dr. House. I fancied myself a misunderstood, brilliant mind who didn’t have to get along with people, because I had big ideas and veins full of chemicals.
That mask got me through for almost a decade. I developed a tendency for disordered eating and a taste for power. My invented personality got a lot of attention and even more praise. It was like that little girl – vulnerable, self-hating, and alone – it was like she’d never even existed.
But she did exist.
And you can’t hide from yourself forever. When you do, all sorts of things start to happen. Things like hearing voices and seeing memories. Things like thinking about death every day.
Fast forward 10 years and I’m sitting on my bedroom floor, staring at myself in the mirror, realizing that I have to stop this or end it. I have to change or die.
I contemplated my own suicide, weighing the pros and cons, for hours. If I die, there’s no more pain, no more hiding, no more lies. If I die, the voices and flashbacks would stop. If I live, then what? Then what? I didn’t know.
I woke up the next morning, not quite sure if I’d done the right thing. I went over to the mirror, picked up my eyeliner, and looked myself in the eyes.
For the first time, I saw myself in those eyes — naked, vulnerable, and full of hate. I saw what the real problem was — I hated myself. And no amount of eyeliner could fix that.
What happened next is hard to explain. It was almost like, by choosing to change, I had surrendered control to something beyond myself. It was like my brain wasn’t in charge anymore, something else was. And that something else told me to look at myself, deeply, every day.
I looked and looked, finding nothing, day after day.
Finally, two weeks later, I found something. With my shoulders in helpless surrender and my arms weakly by my sides, I looked up into the eyes of the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. And, suddenly, everything was quiet.
I’ve heard they have silence like I heard that day in the Alps. Pure calm. Pure peace. In that moment, it didn’t matter that the cars were whizzing by and the airplanes coming overhead, the inside of my head was silent for the first time in years.
I went out that day into a different world. I’d only ever seen glimmers of such a world while I was hopped up on chemicals.
That day, my blood clean and my eyes open, I saw something amazing. I saw people. Standing on a packed subway train in the middle of rush hour, I was overwhelmed by the beauty all around me. Their chins! Their eyes! The way that he moved his hands and the way that she smiled. They were all so beautiful, raw, and inspiring.
My heart beat to the rhythm of the crowd.
I was shocked and intrigued.
What was this feeling? What was happening to me?
After a little while, the feeling faded. I scrambled to get it back. I didn’t know how.
I wondered, for some time, if I had simply gotten some permanent brain damage from drug use. Maybe it was just a one time thing, a fluke. I wondered if I would ever get the feeling back.
It did come back. And then it went away again. I didn’t know why.
I had to name it something. I remember my dad telling me that people call “Hate” the worst feeling they’ve ever felt and “Love” the best feeling they ever felt. So I called it love.
It seemed all wrong though. The love I knew was painful, psychotic, magnetic passion. The love I knew was cruel. The love I knew hurt.
This feeling didn’t hurt. It was soft, but energized. It was harmless, but powerful. It was calm, but fierce. It was like drinking a tall, fresh glass of water after 40 days in the desert. It was like the peak of an orgasm. It was like sitting down after walking from sunrise to sunset.
I tried to grasp for it. I tried to re-create it. I tried to get it back. It just wouldn’t work.
The feeling of love came as it pleased. Each time, I tried to make it stay. I tried to assess what, specifically, was going on outside of me that made me feel that bliss. I found no patterns. I grew frustrated.
I still remember when I realized that it came from inside me.
I cried and cried.
This is what I’d been addicted to. Every single drug, every abusive relationship, every eating disorder — it all led me into a state where I would just leave myself alone. Each time I said “I love you” to anyone, I really meant “You help me let go.” I just needed to let go.
I just needed to trust that, if I wasn’t working so hard to hold myself together, I wouldn’t fall apart. That even when I was standing amongst the broken little pieces of my life, I wasn’t the broken little pieces.
I was something else.
I’m not my pain, my judgment, or my perception of my inadequacy. I’m not my past, my rapist’s victim, or the number on the scale. I’m not my thoughts. I’m not my body.
I’m something else.
I’m something beautiful that can’t be broken, no matter how much it’s harmed. I’m a force of nature, like wind, that doesn’t really go away when my body’s gone. I’m you. I’m me. I’m all of us. I’m everything that ever has been and everything that ever will be.
And when I let myself experience that, I feel love. I feel love when I think this way for the same reason that my stomach feels good when I eat – because it’s what I need.
It’s who I am.
And it’s who you are, too.
The truth is, I never hated myself. I just didn’t know who I was. When I found out who I really am, I couldn’t hate that. When you find out who you really are, you won’t be able to hate it either. It’s just so damn beautiful. We’re all so damn beautiful.