When you have low self-esteem and don't love yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?
Life is a monumental pain in the ass. Yeah, sure, life is beautiful and majestic and wondrous and all that jazz, but c'mon. Every now and then it's probably a good thing to admit to ourselves that life is also a series of endless throat punches.
Everything got complicated in my life when I turned eleven. My dad split for the next few decades. I never heard from him again until I was almost 30. I wasn't born rich (or even close to it) but that didn't stop me from wanting stuff/craving things/dreaming of a time when I could be a guy with money and gear and crap, just so people would like me. Just so others would define me as a person of value and substance.
My life wasn't terrible; I was a textbook American teen in a lot of ways. But I lacked direction, and that's where my discontent began. I started to feel uncomfortable in my own skin.
I was a chubby kid. Girls never liked me. I was sharp — and maybe even smart — placing in gifted classes by the time I was 13. But I ate meatball sandwiches for breakfast when I could, and even though I played baseball and basketball and football all through my childhood years, I sucked at all three of them more than I can even tell you.
Yeah, sports were "fun" in the same way that watching other people have sex is "fun." I loved watching my friends hit home runs for the first hour or so of my career but then, it got old.
Then I started smoking weed. Then I quit the teams.
By the time I was in high school, I was an interesting young man who no girl on Earth was interested in. I was a fiction bookworm and a die-hard music fan and a squirrel hunter and I had a car and the same three friends to cruise around in it with me — so we either got baked in the parking lot of the mall or went to Guitar Center to play guitars (while a dude who looked like C.C. DeVille from Poison gave us the evil eye from behind the counter).
By the time I flunked out of college when I was 18 or 19, I couldn't stand the sight of me most of the time.
Then the Gulf War happened and I had nightmares of being drafted into the army. I tried to imagine myself in desert camouflage. Where would I get weed in Iraq? F*ck that noise. I was so scared. And being scared lowered my self-esteem and made me hate myself even more.
It ain't easy to love a dude that hates himself because most people who aren't comfortable with themselves don't know where the discomfort stems from in the first place, which makes it harder for their mates or spouses to catch on to it.
There were signs, sure. I was irritable and moody. Scared and insecure. I was never steady with my emotions. I'd front anger and frustration because I couldn't deal with the true storms in my heart.
Then I met my future wife.
I wanted her to love me unconditionally, to save me from myself with her adoration. I was sure I had signed a contract with salvation and that my wife was going to be my savior. But frankly, that's too much to ask another human. Love isn't forever and love has its limits. (I didn't know that then.)
In retrospect, it sounds insane. But when you lack the poise and calm of a person comfortable with themselves, you set yourself up for fiery crashes at every single turn.
But then, ever so strangely, things began to change — and I have my three kids to credit for that.
I crawled out of the wreckage of a divorce I was too blind to see coming and I just kept getting plowed over by the look in my children's eyes. Eventually, I had to stare them down one morning in my 42nd year of life and set sh*t straight.
I needed to walk out on my past. I needed to survive — for them and for me. But I couldn't survive without a satisfied mind.
I read some Buddhist stuff, began to exercise hard — not for any specific reason except to allow myself control over my mind at long friggin' last. I'd grown exhausted from the battle to like myself; I'd been crippled by the cannons of my own warped mind.
I watched as my kids would play in the summer grass and even though I understood full well that this divorce could hurt them bad, I knew that wasn't something I could ever let happen.
I began to pull away from the projected image of my own ghost, the unfair ghoul I'd been flashing across my own screen for so long. I stopped convincing myself that I was this undesirable fellow whose lack of wealth or lackluster looks were allowed to drag him down. In essence, I had to tell myself to stop bullsh*tting myself, to grow up a little. Or a lot.
Maybe I'd been a coward all along. Maybe I'd been toting around a thousand tons of childhood pain. Maybe both. It didn't really matter, though because I felt a seismic shift in my guts the moment I decided to let the old ways go. I changed on a proverbial dime. I had to — otherwise I don't think I'd be here anymore.
I'm not gonna lie: It's been a slow drag. I've tried on a thousand new mindset wigs since divorce and I still haven't settled on which one is right for me.
But all the pain of heartbreak and love lost has been the catalyst for every inch of weird, muted progress I've been making in the name of three little hearts.
I'm moving along now. I'm talking to myself in new and delicate tones. I'm not crazy or a loser. I'm not afraid unless I need to be.
As it turns out, I'm not the man I pretended to be for so long. As it turns out, I'm kind of a human bad*ss. And even better: I actually like this half decent looking, semi-sad human with a heart the size of fifty suns and a brain the size of a rattlesnake's pecker. And I'll take the heart over the head any day of the week.
And I'm a dad. I'm a freakin' dad!
And I'm an OK writer.
And I'm a pretty good brother and son, and I'm a rock-n-roller, and I'm this dude bouncing back from years of can't standing himself, dropping down at my own two feet like some tattered homerun ball I never even knew I hit.
And I'll be damned. Would you look at that?