“You remind me of me when I was younger, depressed and sullen. Matter of fact, tried to kill myself, a couple of times. Never could get that shit right. Biology wasn’t my strong suit. I hated myself, man. Still do. Thought that shit was a weakness for a long time. Then I realized that shit was my power. People walk around, act like they know what hate means. Nah, no one does, until you hate yourself. I mean truly hate yourself. That’s power.”
When I saw this scene on the show I’ve recently been binge-watching, “Mr. Robot,” I was nearly frightened by how much I deeply and truly understood exactly what he said – especially the part about power. I suppose I never realized how much power I derived from my own sense of subconscious self-loathing. But the fact is this: It is entirely possible to hate yourself so much that you feel invincible, simply because you’ve stopped caring what happens to you. And I think it is this that led to my destructive choices. Though I was wrong to think it, I honestly thought that I had nothing to lose, because I hated myself to the extent of feeling like I had nothing worth having. Obviously this couldn’t be more wrong, considering I have such a loving and committed group of family and friends; but when I was caught up in my own bottomless sense of self-hate, I was willing to do anything or take any risk, simply because I hated myself that much.
But what the hell could make me hate me so much? What did I ever do to make me hate me? And when I say hate, I mean HATE. In retrospect, I absolutely despised the sight of myself and it was beyond anything I could control. Maybe my remorseful behaviors led to my self-loathing. Maybe my past tragedies led to my self-loathing. Maybe my seemingly-continuous discontent led to my self-loathing. Honestly, I don’t know. And at this point, maybe the details don’t matter. Fuck, I don’t know. Typically when I write – as I am right now, typing this very sentence – it’s because I’ve come to some well-thought and well-rationalized realization. But not this time. This time, as I write, I’m pretty sure I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. All I know is this: Yesterday, I was watching this TV show, and this scene came on, and this guy gave his monologue about hating himself, and I haven’t thought straight ever since. It bothers me that I related so closely to what he said – that I understood what he meant, perfectly. No healthy human being should be able to grasp that concept so clearly. I mean, shit, the guy making the speech was smoking meth as he spoke. Is that the depth at which I emotionally reside?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
I guess I’m okay though. I mean, I don’t have the deep dark fleeting thoughts anymore. My actions don’t lead to self-loathing anymore. So I suppose, as I live and breathe the contemporary air, I don’t hate myself. But I hate who I was, and perhaps that’s where I’m struggling to make a solid disconnect. As much as I want to, I’m still struggling to distinguish between who I was and who I am, regarding the way I interact with other people – I still assume when people see me, they only see my crime – not an actual living breathing human being.
The banalities of life tend to present opportunities like this. I was recently grocery shopping with my wife at Target. I walked away from her and the cart to go buy a three-ring binder, and as I was making my way back to the produce section where I’d last seen her, I walked by a woman who stopped as I passed.
“Kurt?” she said. I froze.
See, here’s the thing, I’ve never had a negative interaction with anyone since being released from prison – ever. And in fact, every interaction I’ve have experienced has been exceedingly positive. No one has shouted at me or called me names or spit in my face or anything. Every single time someone has approached me, it has been positive. Every time. But for some reason, my instincts haven’t grasped this.
I must have looked completely lost, because she told me her name, and it rang a bell. “We taught together at East,” she said.
“Hi!” I said, trying to sound and appear – you know – normal. I’m pretty sure I failed. She asked me how I was doing and what I was up to now; I asked similar questions – it was all very innocuous and she never mentioned the small and slight detail of me being arrested and convicted of a crime and sent to prison in complete and utter disgrace. So my thought, momentarily, was that she didn’t know. But, I needed to know if she knew, for my own peace of mind. Because if I knew she knew, then I’d know what she knew instead of not knowing what she knew or did not know. You know?
“So do you know about my whole . . . situation?” I asked, trying to sound formally candid (if that’s even a thing).
“Yeah,” she said, shrugging like it was either: a) no big deal; b) an understandable fault; or c) ancient history. My inclination is that ‘c’ is the correct answer. And then she said something reassuring and comforting – friendly – and I cannot, for the life of me, remember what she said. My reaction to her subsequent statement was immediate relief, so my sensory recollection leads me to believe that she was being very friendly. We stood for at least ten minutes talking and I began to ramble. I don’t know if I was nervous or not; I don’t think I was, but regardless, I seemed to ramble. I felt like I was rambling. Sometimes I feel like, when I get those limited opportunities to talk to someone in that particular context, I have to do a complete and thorough job of making the case for me being a regular guy who made a bad choice rather than some suck fucking weirdo, and I only have a limited window of time to do that.
After we talked for a few minutes, she made the repeated observation that I “seem so different.” And she said it happily, which made me smile graciously, especially since, when she knew me, I was living an atrocious life as a lying-cheating-son-of-a-bitch. So “different,” at least in my perception, meant “better.” And I certainly hope she meant it that way.
At one point during the conversation, her cell phone rang. I felt like I was beginning to somewhat overstay my conversational welcome, so I made a casual comment that she could take her call and it was good to see her. But she refused. I wanted to give her that opportunity to end the conversation politely, maintaining the proprieties of social convention and taking her phone call.
“Hey,” she said, answering her phone, “I’ll call you right back.” And she said it with the slightest urgency, like she wanted to get back to our conversation. She actually wanted to talk to me – she was actually interested in what I had to say. I was a person to her, not a crime, not a mug shot, not a news article – a person.
As our conversation did eventually conclude, I gave her a small card that had my blog URL on it and told her she could read a little sometime if she wanted. She said she would and we bade one another a pleasant farewell.
As I walked the aisles with my wife after rejoining her near the canned goods, it occurred to me that perhaps the thing that was “different” was my general demeanor – my natural reaction to being approached was humility; when I was her colleague, my natural reaction would have been arrogance.
In retrospect, my arrogant behavior (which was quite apparent and obvious back then) was the biggest clue that I absolutely hated myself. It was, as I see it, a method of compensation; I hated myself so much that I had to project myself as better than everyone and everything in order to simply balance it all out.
So perhaps my instinctive humility was a sign that my self-loathing is decreasing. I doubt it will ever go away – I will forever hate myself for living the life I lived. But maybe this is a step in the right direction.
One question I was asked in Sex Addicts Anonymous, after completing my First Step, was “Have you forgiven yourself?” I think I said Yes, and maybe I meant it at that moment. But now, I’m not so sure. I’ve just simply hurt too many people. If I ever truly let go of what I did – if I ever forgive myself – I feel like that would be a sense of alleviation of the magnitude of my actions and choices. And I don’t want that.
I want to carry this weight for the rest of my life. I need to carry this weight. It’s like a scar that reminds me constantly of an injury I inflicted, not just on myself, but on other people as well. I’ve been told by countless people that it’s not healthy to continue to dwell on my past. And perhaps they’re right. But I’ll never forget an excerpt from The Life of Reason by George Santayana I once read:
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”