Saturday, July 27, 2013

How Do You Find Self-Worth When You Don't Like Yourself?

This piece also appears on HuffPost Gay Voices

A couple of months ago I was asked if I was having suicidal thoughts. I am NOT suicidal. I have no desire to end my life. I enjoy television and wine and sleep too much to not be able to indulge in them whenever I please. The reason for my frank opening statement (other than creating drama) is that lately I’ve been wondering who would miss me if I was actually gone? Who cares that I’m here?

Okay, I know the first response to that question is my mom. I know that she cares if I’m alive as does my dad. I’m sure I’ve other family members and select friends that also care if I’m alive. So then I ask, Do I care? That may seem an absurd question after I’ve said I don’t want to end my life, but it stems from a throb of feeling unworthy and undesired that pulses through me more often than not. This is NOT a cry for help. This is just a moment of honesty that is being put into words even though the words are scary to see.

Being desired is such a basic craving. We all want to be desired: by our family, friends, a lover, our coworkers. What happens when we don’t desire ourselves?

I’m beginning to realize that I don’t like myself very much. All these years of feeling like I couldn’t raise the eyebrow or pique the interest of an attractive man might actually stem from the fact that I’m exuding the pheromones of one who feels unworthy of being loved and therefore thinks he’s undesirable to all. Could it be that simple? I’m sure I’m not the only gay man--or person--who feels or has felt this way. Do you have to love yourself before you can love someone else or be loved by someone else? Is that a myth? 

I keep wondering if I’ll ever love myself enough to be loved by another person. I hate being vulnerable and vulnerability is key to opening ones heart to another person. For years I’ve lived under the guise of When the right person shows up I’ll know and my heart will automatically open. Is that utter bullshit?

Like every gay man I know, I stand in front of my mirror post shower each morning and apply anti-wrinkle moisturizer to my face. I apply deep wrinkle eye treatment under my eyes. I make sure my brows are plucked and even. I add product to my hair and style it as perfect or perfectly messy as I want. I choose my wardrobe (i.e. armor) for the day with perfection in mind. I choose the right bracelet and ring to accessorize my look. I choose the best shoe for the occasion. I put myself together with the precision of an artist. Finally, I apply my lip moisturizer and a spritz (or 7) of cologne then walk out my door with all the confidence I can muster, but it’s all fake.

Underneath it all I’m insecure. I’ve put myself together to attract attention hoping others might envy me, desire to be me, or be jealous of me. (Shallow much?) None of this opens me up to be desired as a person: for my conversation or companionship. No matter. I look good so that makes me “feel” good. Then I realize that no one’s paying attention to my stylish Marc Jacobs bag or my Michael Kors shirt or my Donna Karan jeans. No one cares who made my sunglasses or if my underwear are merely Hanes from the corner Duane Reade. I care, of course, but all of these things are peacock’s plumage: beautiful articles that hide the man who feels unworthy and undesirable, and thereby questions who would miss him if he was gone. Then just like that I pierce my own good feeling from inside the armor.

I want to like myself. I want to love myself. I want to be happy with my life. What I’m learning is that I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. That seems crazy to me, but it’s the truth. At 42, I’m uncomfortable in the skin of a gay man. I think that has everything to do with my feelings of unworthiness and undesirability. I just don’t like myself. I’m looking for outside “liking” in order to feel good about me. That’s never going to cut it. I have to be proud of me:  my life, my accomplishments, my choices. I have hold my head up with pride and confidence and know that I matter, that my ideas and opinions matter.

I recently read an article on Huffington Post by Mark Brennan Rosenberg titled “Are Gay Men A Gay Man’s Worst Enemy?” It really got me to thinking about being gay, having gay friends, and gay culture itself. I have been that catty queen who snarkily strikes down another gay man with bitchy comments. I have also been the gay man who feels like he’s the one being judged by the catty queens. This behavior in our own community coupled with my own insecurities has led me to a place of not taking love chances on anyone. I don’t want to put myself out there in the world. I’m a bystander instead of a participant. It makes me so angry. That anger, initially used as blame and placed on someone else, really reflects back on me. I’m the reason that I don’t go out. I care too much about what other people think because I don’t think too highly of myself. Here’s where unworthiness and undesirability come into play and become immobilizing.

I’m NOT suicidal. I’m a lonely gay man who has let his feeling that no one would care if he lived or died become a room whose walls are closing in. There is no freedom in this room. I’m not saying that I think walking into one of the NYC gay bar’s Posh, Therapy, or Industry is going to change that. I’m not saying that someone I’m interested in showing me a little interest is going to change that. I’m saying that I know I have to find confidence and worthiness in myself. I don’t really know how, but God knows I’m trying to figure that out.

I wish we could bottle up that time in childhood when we feared nothing and were game to try anything. Imagine being able to uncork that bottle and take a small whiff, remembering how it felt to be fearless, to not care what other people thought, to know we were loved, worthy, cared for, desired. 

Go ahead. Imagine that bottle. Uncork it. Breath deep. Find it. Find the courage. Find the confidence. I’m talking to myself here. Breath deep. They’re there. Breath deep, Michael. Now LIVE.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It's Gonna Take a Reset

Sometimes I just need to clear my head of the pollution that’s clogging up the processor. I need a “reset Safari” button for my brain. The cache needs to be cleared of all of its downloaded cookies and previously viewed pages so that I can browse with a cleaner slate.

The past is the past. I have to learn from it, but not live in it. I have to take what has happened in my life and reconcile it like last months bank statement then file it away. The past can’t be changed. Some of it is joyous and some of it is not. It can’t be put on like a sweater in the cold months. I shouldn’t be paraded around like a prized Pomapoo.

Actions of the past are actions of the past. A bad choice, a hateful criticism from a parent, a harsh word from a stranger is not something that is constant and therefore shouldn’t be on a constant loop of remembrance, playing over and over in my mind.

How will I ever learn to truly love myself, be happy with myself, take pride in myself if I allow shame-filled feelings of my past to keep me in a fear-filled present?

I have been stuck in this purgatory rut of wanting to move forward, of wanting to progress to the next level, but continually falling off the platform as I leap for the gold coin hanging above me.

I see the words that I’m typing. I hear them as they run through my brain before making their way to my fingertips. I know that I can live the life I want. I know that I can find happiness. I know that I can love myself. I know that I can care about other people, another person. It's all about choice, and I seem to keep making the safe one.

I keep wondering what keeps me grounded in my fear? Why do I feel so safe in the rut? Why is pushing against the walls sometimes all that I can manage? Do I need someone else to pull me up? Do I want someone else to pull me up? Why can’t I just climb out all by myself? When will I climb out all by myself?

This life that is mine keeps churning through its minutes and hours. The sun rises and sets every day. I have to find a way to enjoy what I’m doing even if its nothing more than sitting on my sofa watching bad television. I judge me a lot. 

I deserve to live the life I want and to be happy with the path I choose. I deserve to see a kinder expression on the face staring back at me in the mirror. 

The past may inform the present, but it doesn’t have the right to dictate it. I think I’m letting my past dictate my present. I’m keeping myself trapped between the murky walls of self-doubt, unworthiness, and fear.  

I’ve had moments of living outside of this rut, but the older I get, the more it seems I’m walking back into its smothering yet comfortable confinement. I’m hiding. I’m hiding and wondering if I’m missed. I’m wondering if I’m missed instead of living in the world, leaving moments of laughter and energy that are missed when they are absent.

I am the only thing standing in my way. I get that. I am the one making this journey more difficult than it has to be. I am the one letting fear keep me from feeling the touch of another human being. I am the one encased in armor. I am the one with the key. I am the one who can unlock the door, release the dusty build up, and let the sunshine of the me I want to be in. 

I am the one. Acknowledging may be the first step but action is required. It’s gonna take a reset and it’s time.

Friday, July 12, 2013

I Swish

I swish. I’m tired of apologizing for it or being scared of it. I’m ready to be comfortable in my own skin. I’m not completely there, but I’m ready to be. Isn’t that the first step? Acknowledging?

I’m a gay man. I was born gay. The question, “What if it was a choice? Would it matter?” has been posed to me a few times lately. I don’t know how to answer that because for me it wasn’t a choice. I’m thinking I wouldn’t choose to live my life attracted to men in a world full of venom-spewing right wingers and so-called Christians who desire a “vomit” button to show their distaste at same-sex love.

I want to be brave and live my life. I want to be comfortable in my skin. I want to be happy. I want to know that Heaven awaits me. I want the fear of Hell to go away. I want to understand why the verses in the Bible about homosexuality still carry so much weight in the 21st Century. I want to know if the translation of those verses are a colossal joke left by the man who translated them so many years ago. 

I want to be proud of myself. I want to know that God is not sitting on his throne in Heaven shaking his head at me in disappointment. I want to bring joy and pride to my parents, not the disappointment that I fear they feel when they think about me.

I want to live my life without shame. I want my attraction to men to be nothing more than that -- an attraction to the same sex. Love is love. 

I want to practice what I preach and fearlessly believe it.

I swish. When I walk down the street with a good jam playing through the earbuds of my iPod I strut it out. I want to live in that happy place without fear. I want to mouth the words carefree of who might be watching me as if I was rehearsing for my next drag performance.

I want to learn to laugh at myself. To not take myself so seriously. "It's only life after all." I want to let go and take a deep breath, feel my shoulders release all their tension and know that life will continue even if I leave my armor lying on the side of the road somewhere.

Life is for living. I’ve read that, heard it in television sitcoms & dramas, in movies. I’ve heard it in songs. Life is for living. I want to live. I want to thrive. I want to know what life is like when my heart is filled to bursting because I’ve opened it up to embrace the help and love of another person.

Imagine what I could accomplish if I would just unlock the lock, embrace vulnerability, step out into the world and swish my way to the fearless life of happiness that I know is out there. The life that I’ve been too afraid to live.