Once, between breakfast shots of rakija -a very potent homemade Serbian plum brandy- my friend turned to me and remarked that I was anorexic. I tried to parry the diagnosis by mumbling something about finding his humour fatuous, but he pressed the point: "No Tom, I don't mean you have a body-image problem. I mean emotionally. You're emotionally anorexic." I don't really remember the rest of the conversation, I believe he moved onto Goethe's poetry, but his statement has haunted me for several years.
It hasn't been the only statement of that nature that I've received, but perhaps the most colourful. Others have made analogous analogies, and have given sweat, blood and tears on my behalf, but I've remained dumb. And numb. And indignant. Their techniques have varied from honey-coated lozenges of compassion, to blunt-force coercion, to baiting, to ultimatums, to attempts at conducive self-exposure. And I somehow rebuffed them all only to feel even more disconnected.
The shortest version as to why is that I hate myself. I like myself less than the people I like the least. I've hidden this from others for the several reasons. Those of not wanting to be subjugated by their judgment (related to pervasive feelings of inferiority, of fear of abandonment, of fear of loss of control and autonomy). Those of not wanting to influence others' already burgeoning emotional spectra. Those of attempting to hide my pessimism, my paranoia, my hurt. Those of simply not knowing what to do, what the source is, where this ceaseless bounty of pain comes from. Those of ignorance.
So instead it has constricted my movements ever tighter. Ruined or at least stymied the emotional growth of my relationships. Hindered my greater powers of memory, of accomplishment, of self-respect and empowerment. It's forced me to hide from people I adore; lash out like a petulant child when I've felt manipulated by others' emotions; and horde any positive thoughts for fear of letting them go. I've been cutting off bits of me and swallowing them for fear of poisoning others.
The one source I can find for all this is my first memory of experiencing how people validate their emotions: they were writ so large and full and real and overwhelming, that I couldn't bear to administer mine to them. If I felt so bad when it happened to them, how could I do the same to them? So I think I told myself a simple phrase: "I don't care". I couldn't be let down if I didn't care. I couldn't be hurt nor hurt others in turn. I tried to become emotionally moot. Instead I've practiced just as much violence. Just to myself.
I've been aware of this deleterious condition for about a decade. In conversations, I've tried to nullify this by practicing non-judgment for about just as long, indirectly judging them via my own emotional chokes. Though we live in a society that rewards positivity, it is as much a judgment as negativity, acting to subsume and punish and inhibit just as much as its antonym. In a way, I've viewed is with just as much suspicion (and, of course, with much envy). So I've argued against people, not for the sake of arguing, but for the sake of suspending judgment and advocating plurality. I've abhorred peoples' arbitrary codes of judgment - only because people hide their mistakes and sense of guilt behind them. It took me a while to apply this heuristic to myself: I've hidden my own hypocrisy behind my loftily stated mandate... all that time I have been judging myself so very harshly. Cruelly, in fact. Today, I try to begin again.
For the next 5 entries, I will endeavor to extrapolate further on my emotional states; memories; previous attempts at healing; my involvements with people I've loved and respected and failed; a soothing yoghurt salve with a diverse mixture of feeled berries. And I will hopefully have the courage to cite a few more recent conversations and personal involvements that have helped me come to realize this much-longed-after need to emerge.
Thank you for listening to me.