When I was between 12 and 14, I tried to kill myself by drinking floor cleaner in the bathroom of my church. While I don’t remember the specific incident that led to my decision to excuse myself from the church sanctuary where I, and the other children of the church, were rehearsing for an Easter performance, to go to the restroom, where I did go after a quick detour to the church’s kitchen to grab a toxic substance from under the sink.
What I remember is looking into my own eyes in the mirror over the bathroom sink and telling myself I was different and that I didn’t fit in. I remember studying my face and wondering how everyone else saw my face and wondering what about me and my face made me so invisible. I felt completely alone and hopeless and I blamed myself. I poured the floor cleaner into an eight ounce paper coffee cup and told myself, “I hate you.” over and over until the cup was empty.
I swallowed, and I felt the thick toxic liquid go down, all the while masking all of the pain and loneliness and unmet needs to be loved, seen, included, and taken care of in anger at and hatred of myself, my fourteen-year-old-self, too young and naïve to understand and process complex emotions, too dependent on the caretakers and religious leaders to direct my anger at them, too innocent to understand that the things I was blamed for were not my fault at all.
The self-hatred was quickly replaced with shame as the would-be poison forced its way out in a putrid vomit that spewed from my guts and into the sink. Now there was a mess I didn’t know how to clean up. I turned on the water and hoped everything would dilute enough to get down the drain and hide my sick regret. Then I slipped out of the bathroom and into the church sanctuary again like nothing happened.
Around the time I was 15 or 16, my church hired a new youth pastor and I immediately trusted him enough to share the deepest darkest part of myself I could recognize at the time. I exchanged emails with both him and his wife in which I talked through struggles with my religion, my self-hatred, my depression. I articulated as best I could the need to belong somewhere and also the frustration of never quite fitting in.
I remember what was intended to be a compliment at a cookout at the youth pastor’s house to celebrate the few of us who’d recently graduated from high school, when the youth pastor told me how far I had matured from the needy teenager who used to send such lengthy emails of petty complaints and tiresome whining.
I remember the sudden and destructive realization that someone I loved and trusted implicitly could tell me they were there for me and everything was going to be okay while secretly thinking of me all the things I was secretly fearing everyone was thinking.
This is the pattern that repeats for me. In my last relationship, I felt safe enough to ask for reassurance in my insecurities. I experienced some severe depression over the course of this relationship and I was constantly asking if I was annoying or exhausting or needy or too much and he told me he loved and I wasn’t and everything was okay. Then we broke up and he told me that loving me was too much work for him, implying I was too much, that I was needy, and exhausting, and annoying.
Logically, how can I ever believe that I am loved? How can I trust that I’m enough, that someone is taking care of me? How do I trust anyone?
I guess the takeaway is that I can trust myself when I’m feeling like I’m too much, even if that knowledge isn’t enough to change.