“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
So I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed today, and I noticed a few key words and hashtags yelling out at me through the rolling sea of text: self-love, self-respect, among others.
I paused for a second because it struck a particular chord, a dissonant note that irks me when I think about past transgressions – a classic record-scratch moment, if you will.
I am a recovering attention-seeker-monger-whore.
Allow me to explain.
For as long as I can remember, I was always an awkward kid – I was extremely shy, my body kept fluctuating from slightly chubby to abysmally skeletal year after year. I was clumsy, naive, and gullible.
In other words, the perfect target.
My social interactions were basically reduced down to yes-or-no answers, and would usually devolve into incoherent babble if I became too excited. It was nearly impossible for me to hold any conversation with my peers – just the mere fact that the immortals chose to come down from Mt. Olympus to tolerate my presence was a blessing that must be respected with reverence and silence, for if I dared utter foolish words I would lose their favor and be banished once again to an existence where only my books and broken heart belonged. I used to walk with my eyes firmly beelining the ground at my feet since more than a second of eye contact with anyone would throw me into a sweaty fight-or-flight fit of discombobulation.
And those were on good days.
As is the status quo of all children who deem others to be inferior, I was to be teased, pushed around, bullied – trips to the principal’s office were a common occurence as I would often lash out violently at my transgressors. For me, school was not about learning – it was about survival.
And so began what became the routine cycle of violence – awkward kid gets beat up at school, awkward kid strikes back, awkward kid gets in trouble, awkward kid has no eloquence to stand up for himself and explain what happened, awkward kid gets sent home, awkward kids gets punished and beat at home by exasparated parental figures, awkward kid cries himself to sleep, hoping he never wakes up again.
Rinse, wash, repeat.
And then puberty hit.
You know those summer growth spurts you see in movies? It’s a thing – by age 14, I reached 5’6″, weighing 160lbs of muscle and anger, which back in 1991 Puerto Rico was NOT a common thing.
I got into sports for a while, but I had the finesse of a drunk rhino – all strength, no coordination.
Not only were other kids annoyed by my awkward demeanor, now they were intimidated by the size that came with it – so they left me alone for the most part; the bullying stopped after I knocked out an upperclassman who kept smacking another shy bespectacled peer – who was afraid to fight back – upside the head one day in PE class. Unfortunately for that knucklehead, I no longer wasn’t.
You see, my bipolar disorder kicked into high gear, nitrous oxide packed, ready to raise some hell and payback.
High school came and went, a haze of teenage rebellion – I entered high school with straight A’s, but by graduation….well, let’s just say there was almost no graduation ceremony for me.
Now, college rolled on by, tabula rasa, the clean slate I was pining for after watching so many 80’s teenage rom-coms and college/frat/bro morality tales – the protagonists always got away with the girl after conquering insurmountable odds against the evil jocks, the stuffy, faculty establishment, handing them their just comeuppance. Let’s party!
Vote for Ogre 2020! NEEEEEEERDS!!!!
College was a fresh start, a blank canvas with which I would paint my masterpiece, subject the world to the ideal me: and thus I created Sebastian.
I created a monster; I became my own worst nightmare.
I thought that what I was missing all those years was a carefree attitude – if you would define carefree as delving into extreme psychological manipulation.
I used exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive methods of manipulation to advance my own interests and agendas, often at the expense of others – textbook negative social influencing aimed at changing other peoples’ perceptions to fit my needs, as distorted and outrageous as they seemed.
I became a hustler, a scammer, a con artist – I could easily sway my way among any manner of crowds and cliques. I thrived in this new environment, because now I had a few dangerous weapons at my disposal – lack of impulse control, manic episodes that would fuel my party-obsessed mind for days on end, and an insatiable appetite for getting people to like me, to love me, to give me the recognition and notoriety I so richly deserved.
Reckless behavior became my modus operandi – “everybody loves crazy Sebas, he’s capable of anything! Look at him go! He’s confident, brash, takes no prisoners, gets along with everyone”, etc. ad nauseam. I was a proverbial walking social network before the Internet was ever a thing – or so I imagined in that delusional wasteland in my mind.
And for a while, it actually worked.
I was the life of the party – everybody wanted me around, I had friends everywhere! I paid endless rounds of drinks, partied hard every night until the wee hours of the next day – an endless cycle of pleasure, endorphins, alcohol, drugs, stimulants, the works.
I lived the lifestyle I so desperately craved and dreamed of for so many years – until manic depression and suicidal behavior reared it’s head.
And then the weight gain ballooned my body exponentially; I went from 160lbs to 345lbs in two years.
That grandiose sitcom world I produced called Everybody Loves Sebastian was cancelled; my world came crashing down.
After years of alcohol and drug abuse, declining health, and a nearly botched bariatric surgery, my brain couldn’t take it anymore – I crashed.
That was then; this is now.
It took me nearly dying, losing so many good people in my life that I took for granted because I was too self-indulgent, egocentric, narcicisstic, it took nearly losing my family, my loved ones, the folks who cleaned up my vomit, who nursed my wounds, who took my verbal and physical abuse, it took looking at myself in the mirror one single day, thick tears cascading unto my cheeks, my chest imploding with hatred and self-loathing, screaming like a child, feeling the backlash of all those years of violence, of fear, for me to realize that all I had to do was one simple act of compassion – to forgive myself.
That single act took every ounce of energy and courage left in me, which honestly at that point was not much – but the moment I forgave myself, the moment I let go of resentment, of envy, of hatred – that day, I learned that all was not lost.
That day, I passed out from the strain, the mental toll it took for me to learn and accept that I am not my sickness; my illness does not define me.
From that day forth, every day I choose:
- To love myself – When you love yourself, you realize that no one can dictate how you feel, how you see yourself, what you give and what you get out of life – you are the sole proprietor of your emotions, the gatekeeper to a better life.
- To respect myself – When you respect yourself, you learn the value of self-esteem, the beauty of self-worth. You also learn the value of others, and how to avoid people and situations that will take away from your hard work on core values and virtues.
- To educate my mind – A healthy mind leads to clarity, knowledge, and wisdom; through introspection, honesty, and self-evaluation you learn to make good decisions that not only favor you, but will do good for others as well.
- To treat my body with respect – Physical ailments will always be a catalyst for emotional breakdown; treating your body with the respect and value it deserves goes a long way to foster mental health and stability, whether it be through exercise, nutrition, or abstaining from reckless, destructive activities.
- To nurture my soul – I personally am not religious, nor do I believe in dogmatic conventions, but I do believe in a higher power, a higher purpose, a higher consciousness; I personally believe in the concept of a soul, as I find it to be the repository for all experience, without a concept of good nor evil – an endless library. And like all libraries full of precious knowledge, I believe they should be curated, protected, and taken care of with the utmost respect and due diligence.
Every day I choose to thank the Universe for every opportunity I have been given and I appreciate the lessons I have learned, however harsh they may seem.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once wrote, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
My understanding of self-love and self-respect did not happen overnight, and I still have much to learn.
The important part, though, is that I choose to continue learning.
Choose wisely, my friends.